seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Death of Francis Browne, Irish Jesuit & Photographer

Francis Patrick Mary Browne, distinguished Irish Jesuit and a prolific photographer, dies in Dublin on July 7, 1960. His best known photographs are those of the RMS Titanic and its passengers and crew taken shortly before its sinking in 1912. He is decorated as a military chaplain during World War I.

Browne is born to a wealthy family in 1880 at Buxton House, Cork, County Cork, the youngest of the eight children of James and Brigid (née Hegarty) Browne. His mother is the niece of William Hegarty, Lord Mayor of Cork, and a cousin of Sir Daniel Hegarty, the first Lord Mayor of Cork. She dies of puerperal fever eight days after his birth. After the death of his father in a swimming accident at Crosshaven on September 2, 1889, he is raised and supported by his uncle, Robert Browne, Bishop of Cloyne, who buys him his first camera shortly before the younger man embarks on a tour of Europe in 1897.

Browne spends his formative years at Bower Convent, Athlone (1888–91), Belvedere College (1891–92), Christian Brothers College, Cork (1892–1893), St. Vincent’s Castleknock College (1893–97), graduating in 1897. He goes on the aforementioned tour of Europe, where he begins taking photographs.

Upon his return to Ireland, Browne joins the Jesuits and spends two years in the novitiate at St. Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly. He attends the Royal University of Ireland, Dublin, where he is a classmate of James Joyce, who features him as Mr. Browne the Jesuit in Finnegans Wake. In 1909, he visits Rome with his uncle and brother, a bishop and priest respectively, during which they have a private audience with Pope Pius X with the Pope allowing Browne to take his photograph. He studies theology at the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy in Dublin from 1911 to 1916.

In April 1912 Browne receives a present from his uncle: a ticket for the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic from Southampton, England, to Queenstown, Ireland, via Cherbourg, France. He travels to Southampton via Liverpool and London, boarding the RMS Titanic on the afternoon of April 10, 1912. He is booked in cabin A-37 on the Promenade Deck. He takes dozens of photographs of life aboard RMS Titanic on that day and the next morning. He captures the last known images of many crew and passengers, including captain Edward J. Smith, gymnasium manager T. W. McCawley, engineer William Parr, Major Archibald Butt, writer Jacques Futrelle and numerous third-class passengers whose names are unknown.

During his voyage on the RMS Titanic, Browne is befriended by an American millionaire couple who are seated at his table in the liner’s first-class dining saloon. They offer to pay his way to New York and back in return for him spending the voyage to New York in their company. He telegraphs his superior, requesting permission, but the reply is an unambiguous “GET OFF THAT SHIP – PROVINCIAL.”

Browne leaves the RMS Titanic when she docks in Queenstown and returns to Dublin to continue his theological studies. When the news of the ship’s sinking reaches him, he realises that his photos would be of great interest, and he negotiates their sale to various newspapers and news cartels. They appear in publications around the world. The Eastman Kodak Company subsequently gives him free film for life and he often contributes to The Kodak Magazine. It is unknown what type of camera he used to shoot the famous photos aboard RMS Titanic.

After his ordination on July 31, 1915, Browne completes his theological studies. In 1916, he is sent to Europe to join the Irish Guards as a chaplain. He serves with the Guards until the spring of 1920, including service at the Battle of the Somme and at Locre, Wytschaete, Messines Ridge, Paschendaele, Ypres, Amiens and Arras in Flanders.

Browne is wounded five times during the war, once severely in a gas attack. He is awarded the Military Cross (MC) on June 4, 1917 “for distinguished service in the field”. He is awarded a bar to his MC on February 18, 1918. He is also awarded the Croix de Guerre by France.

Browne takes many photographs during his time in Europe. One, which he calls “Watch on the Rhine,” is considered a classic image of World War I. He assembles a collection of his war photographs in an album named after his most famous photograph and distributes copies to his colleagues in the Guards.

After the war, Browne returns to Dublin, where, in 1922, he is appointed superior of Gardiner Street Church in Dublin. Ill health dogs him, however, and in 1924 it is thought that he would recover more quickly in warmer climes. He is sent on an extended visit to Australia. He takes his camera along, photographing life aboard ship and in Cape Town, South Africa, where he breaks his voyage.

On his way back to Ireland, Browne visits Ceylon, Aden, Suez, Saloniki, Naples, Toulon, Gibraltar, Algeciras, and Lisbon, taking photographs of local life and events at every stop. It is estimated that he takes more than 42,000 photographs during his life.

Browne resumes office as the Superior of Saint Francis Xavier Church, Dublin, upon his return. In 1929 he is appointed to the Retreats and Mission staff of the Irish Jesuits. His work entails preaching at missions and religious retreats all over Ireland. As most of this work is necessarily performed on evenings and Sundays, he has considerable time to indulge in his hobby during the daytime. He takes photographs of many parishes and towns in Ireland, and also photographs in London and East Anglia during his ecclesiastical travels to England.

Browne dies in Dublin on July 7, 1960, and is buried in the Jesuit plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. His negatives lay forgotten for 25 years after his death. They are found by chance in 1985 when Father Edward E. O’Donnell discovers them in a large metal trunk, once belonging to Browne, in the Irish Jesuit archives. “When the trunk was opened in 1985, people compared him to the greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau, but his work predated theirs by decades,” archivist David Davison later recalls.

O’Donnell brings the negatives to the attention of several publishers. The RMS Titanic photographs are published in 1997 as Father Browne’s Titanic Album with text by E. E. O’Donnell (Fr. Eddie O’Donnell). In all, at least 25 volumes of Browne’s photographs have now been published. The features editor of The Sunday Times of London calls this “the photographic equivalent to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.” Many of these books have become best-sellers, the latest being the Centenary Edition of Father Browne’s Titanic Album in 2012 by Messenger Publications, Dublin.

The Irish province of the Jesuits, the owner of the negatives pursuant to Browne’s will, engage photographic restoration specialists David and Edwin Davison to preserve and catalogue the fragile and unstable negatives. The Davisons make copies of every negative and are in the process of transferring every usable image to a digital format for future generations. The Davisons later acquire the rights to the photographs and still own the rights as Davison & Associates.


Leave a comment

Birth of Luis de Lacy, Spanish Soldier of Irish Descent

Luis Roberto de Lacy, a Spanish professional soldier of Irish descent who serves in the Spanish and French Imperial armies, is born on January 11, 1775 in San Roque, Cádiz, Spain.

De Lacy is born to Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick de Lacy, an officer in the Ultonia or Ulster Regiment, a foreign unit or Infantería de línea extranjera of the Spanish army. Patrick dies sometime before 1785 and his wife, Antonia, remarries Jean Gautier, another Ultonia officer. His grandfather, General Patrick de Lacy y Gould, came from Limerick. Along with many relatives, he was part of the post-1691 Irish diaspora known as the Flight of the Wild Geese.

De Lacy is commissioned into the Ultonia regiment when he is ten, although his age is recorded as thirteen to satisfy minimum requirements. Issuing commissions to children is not unusual, as they are considered private investments and often used to provide pensions for orphans. Although by now the Ultonia is no longer “Irish,” many of the officers are Spanish-born descendants of the original Irish emigrants, including his uncle Francis and various cousins.

In 1789, de Lacy joins an expedition to Puerto Rico, accompanied by his stepfather. They apparently quarrel and on their return, de Lacy walks to Porto, in Portugal, intending to take ship to the Maluku Islands, before his stepfather brings him home.

Promoted captain, de Lacy takes part in the War of the Pyrenees against France, which ends with the April 1795 Peace of Basel. He is posted to the Canary Islands in 1799, where he fights a duel with the local Capitán-General. Despite being transferred to El Hierro, he continues their feud. He is court-martialed as a result and sentenced to one year in the Royal Prison at the Concepción Arsenal at Cádiz.

De Lacy’s jailers allegedly consider him mentally unbalanced. As a result, he is stripped of his commission and barred from re-enlisting in the Spanish army. He moves to France in order to continue his career and is appointed captain in the Irish Legion, a French army unit formed in Brittany and intended to support an Irish rising. Although many of its officers are Irish exiles or of Irish descent, the rank and file are mostly Polish.

When the proposed rebellion fails to materialise, the Legion is posted to the Netherlands, where it remains until the War of the Third Coalition ends in 1806. De Lacy is appointed commandant of the second battalion, which participates in the 1807 Invasion of Portugal. In March 1808, Charles IV of Spain abdicates in favour of his son, Ferdinand, who is replaced in May by Joseph Bonaparte and held in France.

De Lacy arrives in Madrid shortly before the May 1808 revolt known as the Dos de Mayo. He deserts and is reinstated in the Spanish army as colonel of the Burgos regiment.

In July 1809, de Lacy is given command of the Isla de León, an important defensive position in Cádiz, home of the Regency Council that rules Spain in Ferdinand’s absence. He leads the 1st Division at the Battle of Ocaña on November 19, 1809. The collapse of the Spanish cavalry under Manuel Freire de Andrade exposes him to a flank attack that practically annihilates his division. A second defeat at Alba de Tormes on November 29 leaves the Spanish unable to confront the French in open battle and they resort to guerrilla tactics.

Although Cádiz is besieged by the French from February 1810 to August 1812, support from the Royal Navy allows the Council to send small amphibious expeditions intended to bolster resistance elsewhere. De Lacy leads landings in Algeciras, Ronda, Marbella and Huelva and although unable to hold them, this absorbs French resources. In March 1811, his troops support an Anglo-Spanish attempt to break the siege of Cádiz. The resulting Battle of Barrosa is a significant victory, although command failures mean the siege continues.

After the loss of Tarragona in June 1811, de Lacy replaces the Marquess of Campoverde as Capitán-General of Catalonia, a position held by his uncle Francis from 1789 to 1792. French efforts to capture Valencia weaken them elsewhere and provide the Spanish opportunities for partisan warfare. He leads a series of incursions into the French departments of Haute-Garonne and Ariège. These restore local morale and force the French to send reinforcements.

Most major towns, including Barcelona, Tarragona and Lleida, remain in French hands and in early 1812, Napoleon makes Catalonia part of France. The focus on guerrilla tactics lead to an increasingly bitter war of reprisals and executions by both sides, which severely impact the civilian population. Many of the partisan bands are beyond central control and their operations often indistinguishable from simple brigandage. This leads to conflict between de Lacy and local Catalan leaders and in January 1813, he moves to Santiago de Compostela as Captain General of the Kingdom of Galicia. He assumes command of the Reserva de Galicia, which he focuses on disciplining and reorganising. Following Allied victory at Vitoria in June 1813, the French withdraw from Spain and Ferdinand returns to Madrid in April 1814.

Ferdinand rejects a previous commitment to accept the Spanish Constitution of 1812 and establishes an absolutist regime. Spain also faces colonial wars in the Americas, which begin in 1810 and continue until 1833. This destabilises the regime and leads to a series of attempted coups, by military officers like de Lacy backed by progressive civilian elements, often linked by Freemasonry.

Following failed attempts in 1815 and 1816, de Lacy returns to Barcelona and assisted by a former subordinate, Francisco Milans del Bosch, plan another. This begins on April 5, 1817 but quickly collapses. De Lacy is captured, court-martialed, and sentenced to death. Following public protests against the sentence, he is secretly taken to Palma de Mallorca, held at Bellver Castle and executed there by firing squad on July 5, 1817.

In 1820, a revolt led by Colonel Rafael del Riego forces Ferdinand to restore the 1812 Constitution. This begins the Trienio Liberal, a period of liberalisation that ends in 1823, when a French army allows Ferdinand to re-assert control. However, in 1820 the reconstituted Cortes Generales declares de Lacy a martyr. Along with others including Riego, he is commemorated on a plaque in the Palacio de las Cortes, Madrid, which can still be seen today. De Lacy is buried at the Cementiri de Sant Andreu, in Barcelona.