June McDonnell remembers Louis Braille on what would have been his 210th birthday

The 4th January commemorates the birth of a Frenchman who opened up a whole new world to individuals who either through birth or an accident lost their sight.

Louis Braille was born on 4th January, 1809 in Coupvray, near Paris. Fifteen years prior to Louis’ birth his grandfather, a master saddler and harness maker had settled with his family in Coupvray and set up a small business there.

By 1782, Louis’ father had taken over the business and the Brailles had established a reputation for excellence in craftmanship.

Louis was a bright and inquisitive child and loved being with his father in the workshop. One day when his father was in the yard fitting a new harness to a customer’s horse, tragedy struck. Louis knew which tools were for punching and which tools were for stitching or cutting. Looking at all these tools the temptation became too great for young Louis. Taking one of the knives he began to do what he had seen his father do so easily.

While applying a knife to some leather the knife slipped and stabbed him in his left eye. Unfortunately, the nearest doctor was twenty miles away and in their panic the parents enlisted the help of a local woman who applied a herbal concoction to the damaged eye.

Despite the treatment given to the damaged eye, infection soon set in and in a short time spread to the other eye, leaving him totally blind.

When the time came for young Louis to go to school, he attended the local school where he learned by just listening. He was a bright pupil and to help further his education a local priest, Fr. Pulluy would come to his home and give him extra tuition.

When a new school opened in Coupvray Fr. Pulluy arranged for Louis to attend. The headmaster Antoine Becheret helped and encouraged Louis. He developed a keen memory and was usually top of the class at the end of each term.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own