The Irish poet, author and painter Christy Brown, born on the 5th June, 1932 is popularly known for his autobiography titled My Left Foot which was later adapted into an Academy Award winning film by the same name.
Christy Brown was born in Crumlin, Dublin into the Catholic family of Bridget and Paddy Brown. Christy was one among 13 surviving children of his parents. Unfortunately he suffered from cerebral palsy a disease that denied Christy control over speech and physical movement for many years. Keeping her hopes alive Christy’s mother always provoked him to overcome his disorder by talking to him, the trick worked and one day Christy famously snatched a piece of chalk from his sister and used his left foot to draw a mark on nearby slate. At the age of 5, Christy gained considerable control over his left foot, Seizing the opportunity Christy’s mother taught him the alphabet which Christy laboriously copied holding the chalk between his left toes. Gradually Christy learned to spell out words enabling him to read text.
During her 21st child’s birth, Bridget met Lady Almoner who worked in the impoverished area of Dublin with an Irish doctor cum writer named Robert Collis. Lady Almoner told Dr. Collis about Christy & his mother. Collis used his contacts in the London Hospital & John Hopkins Hospital to realize that Christy suffered from a disease medically known as “double-athetoid cerebral palsy”. The doctor decided to establish a treatment centre for all cerebral palsy victims in Ireland starting with Christy Brown.
Dr. Robert Collis met Christy in his family home in Kimmage and established a life long friendship based on their common love for literature. Dr. Collis was close to established Irish writers like Cecil Day Lewis & Frank O'Connor. Dr. Robert Collis not only introduced Christy to these great authors of their time but also played an instrumental role towards completion of Christy Brown’s first book titled My Left Foot, his own autobiography.
In Collis’s Dublin clinic, Brown was treated for many years. Simultaneously he was taught mathematics, literature, philosophy and language by his family members, Dr Collis, Dr. Warrants and a local priest respectively. After publishing My Left Foot in 1964, Christy Brown painted on an average one painting a week for the next five years for the Disabled Artists Association, but left it after publication of Down All the Days in 1970. Christy smoked heavily and later became an alcoholic.
The autobiography My Left Foot written by Christy was later developed into a novel titled Down All the Days which notched the position of an international bestseller, the book was translated into 14 languages. Down All the Days described Irish society more than Christy Brown's illness. Following this a series of other novels were published including A Shadow on Summer in 1972, Wild Grow the Lilies in 1976 & A Promising Career in 1982. Brown also published 3 poetry collections titled Background Music, Come Softly to My Wake and Of Snails and Skylarks.
Christy Brown’s autobiography My Left Foot was adapted into a film in 1989 under the able direction of Jim Sheridan with Shane Connaughton’s screenplay. The English actor Daniel Day Lewis was cast as Christy Brown while Irish actress Brenda Fricker played the acclaimed role of Brown’s mother, not surprisingly both bagged Oscars for their work in the movie. This movie was a great commercial and critical success receiving nominations for 5 Oscars including Oscar for best film of the year.
On the 5th October, 1972, Christy married his nurse and alleged former prostitute, Mary Carr in Sutton Co Dublin. Brown first settled in Ballyheigue, County Kerry and then moved to Parbrook, Somerset, England. Christy died at age 49, from choking while eating lamb chops and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. The mixed Irish-English rock band The Pogues has dedicated a song by the title Down All the Days to Christy Brown.