A Positive-Negative Development


Father Francis Browne

Father Francis Browne


Nationwide Photographic Programme


Last Wednesday night’s Nationwide special brought to us by the Irish national broadcaster, rté, showcased a series of photographs which detail the lives lived by Irishmen and women who volunteered to serve in the Great War. This is the fascinating story of a Jesuit, Father Eddie O’Donnell, who was clearing up a room in the Provincial House in Dublin, where he came across a trunk containing thousands of old negatives relating to the First World War. 


Father Browne with one of his beloved cameras

Father Browne with one of his beloved cameras


Father Francis Browne, better known as the priest who documented the Titanic and also Irish life in the early years of the twentieth century, had volunteered for service as a chaplain during the War and was posted to the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards. Frank’s service took him to the Western Front, where he was wounded on five occasions and rather badly gassed. He returned from the War the most decorated Catholic chaplain of the conflict. There he was able to take advantage of his affable personality and the initially cautious deference accorded to both a chaplain and also a photographer, to document his environment and his men around him in both the trenches and out of them. 


Browne self-portrait

Browne self-portrait

Browne later was seconded to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, where he took part in the Passchendaelle with the famous Father Willie Doyle and his lucky Dug Out. Unfortunately Doyle was to be killed during that battle, Browne being given a handwritten note informing him of the loss, with ‘BROWNE’ scratched out and ‘DOYLE’ written above it, so confusing were those heady days on the Western Front. Although in newly independent Ireland, the war services of thousands of Irishmen who had volunteered to aid ‘small-nations’ like Belgium were put to one side of the historical narrative of the new country, those whom he served with never forgot Browne’s contribution; the British awarded him the Military Cross, the Belgians the Croix de Guerre and the French their Croix de Guerre with Palm.


Father Frank Browne’s story can be read in the book expertly written by Father Eddie O’Donnell, S.J.  Father Browne’s First World War or viewed on rté’s media player for the next few weeks Nationwide Photographic Programme.




About eamonntgardiner

Dr. Eamonn T. Gardiner, is a Consulting Historian. He has previously conducted research into links between wartime traumatic-neurosis and evidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst veterans of the First World War serving as Auxiliary Policemen, during the Anglo-Irish War 1919-1921. He has written extensively on British central and colonial administrative responses to popular insurgencies. In 2009 he published 'Counterinsurgency and Conflict: Dublin Castle and the Anglo-Irish War (CSP, 2009).' Published papers include; 'The training of the Irish Volunteers, 1913-1916' (The Irish Sword, 2017); 'Scattered, Ambushed and Laid Out: War and Counterinsurgency in the greater Tuam area, 1919-1921' (JOTS, 2015). Research interests include De-Colonialisation/Post-Colonialism; Insurgency, Police/Military Histories; Institutional Histories; Modern Irish/World History; History of Conflict, Protectorates and Peace-Keeping; Hegemony; Old and New Terrorism.
This entry was posted in Britain, Commemoration, First World War, France, Ireland, Memory and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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