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


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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.


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Death of Patrick Hennessy, Irish Realist Painter

Patrick Anthony Hennessy RHA, Irish realist painter known for his highly finished still lifes, landscapes and trompe-l’œil paintings, dies in London on December 30, 1980. The hallmark of his style is his carefully observed realism and his highly finished surfaces, the result of a virtuoso painting technique.

Hennessy is born in Cork, County Cork, on August 28, 1915. The son of John Hennessy an army sergeant major from County Kerry and Bridget Hennessy from Cork. His father is killed in World War I at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. In 1921, when he is five years old, his mother remarries in Cork. Her second husband is a Scot named John Duncan and shortly afterwards the whole family moves to Arbroath, Scotland, where Duncan has relatives.

Hennessy is educated in Arbroath at St. Thomas RC Primary School followed by secondary education at Arbroath High School, where he begins to show an aptitude for art, leaving in 1933 with the Dux for Art and an accompanying medal. In the autumn of 1933 he enrolls at the Dundee of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, for a four-year Diploma course in Drawing and Painting under James McIntosh Patrick and Edward Baird. Here he meets Harry Robertson Craig who becomes his lifelong companion. He plays a full part in the social activities of the college, winning a fancy dress award at the Christmas revels in 1935 and producing a ballet “Paradise Lost” the following year. He gains a First Class Pass in each year of the course along with winning first prize in 1934 and 1936 for work done during the summer vacation. He graduates with a First Class Distinction in 1937.

Having gained a scholarship, Hennessy continues his studies at the Dundee of Jordanstone College of Art & Design for a further year by doing a Post-Graduate Diploma course in Drawing and Painting. Within a month of gaining his Post-Graduate Diploma he holds his first joint exhibition at the Art Galleries in Arbroath. In June 1938 he is awarded the Annual Travelling Scholarship for further studies in Paris and Italy. In Paris he meets up with the artists Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde, whom he had met the previous year, the three travelling south together to Marseilles towards the end of that year. On his return to Scotland he is selected for the residential summer school course at Hospitalfield House near Arbroath under James Cowie. Two of his paintings, a still life and a self-portrait, are accepted that year by the Royal Scottish Academy for their Annual Exhibition. However, by the autumn of 1939 with war looming and feeling somewhat disenchanted on his return to Scotland, he decides to return to Ireland.

On arrival in Dublin Hennessy is offered an exhibition in December 1939 at the Country Shop on St. Stephen’s Green which is opened by Mainie Jellett. This attracts favourable attention. During the early 1940s he lives at various addresses in and around Dublin with frequent trips to Cork. In 1940 he is invited to join the Society of Dublin Painters and holds regular annual exhibitions of his work there during the 1940s and early 1950s. These exhibitions are supplemented by an eclectic mix of commissions, mostly portraits which he undertakes during this period. In 1941 he has three of his paintings accepted by the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) for their annual exhibition. This is the beginning of a long relationship with the RHA. He exhibits there virtually every year from 1941 until 1979, the year before his death.

From the early 1940s onwards, Hennessey’s work sometimes incorporates a homosexual visual subtext. He re-unites with Harry Robertson Craig in 1946 and soon after they move to Crosshaven, County Cork, and later to Cobh. In 1947, Time magazine selects him as one of Ireland’s outstanding painters, in recognition of the important position he has then attained in the art world. In 1948 he has an exhibition at the Victor Waddington Gallery, Dublin, and that same year is elected an associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy and a full member the following year. In 1950 his painting De Profundis is selected for the Contemporary Irish Painting exhibition that tours North America. As a result of this tour, the American public and critics begin to take notice of his work. In 1951 he visits Italy, taking in Venice and Sicily and returning to Dublin with many of his canvases painted abroad. One of these paintings, Bronze Horses of St. Marks, is exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1954.

In 1956, a friend of Hennessy, David Hendriks, opens the Ritchie Hendriks Gallery on St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin and it is this gallery that is to be the main outlet for his work over the following 22 years. In October 1956 the Thomas Agnew Gallery in London holds an exhibition of his work comprising 38 of his paintings. However, during the winter of 1959 he becomes seriously ill with pneumonia. As a consequence of this, in the autumn of that year he and Craig decide to winter in Morocco. This is the beginning of a new era in both their lives. They would never again spend a full year in Ireland. His exhibitions at the Ritchie Hendriks Gallery had for many years enjoyed favourable reviews from the art critics but in the 1960s this changes with critics claiming his paintings to be dull, repetitive and suggest he needs to explore new areas. Despite the barrage of criticism, in 1965 the Guildhall Gallery in Chicago offers him a major exhibition. Shortly after this exhibition takes place in 1966 he becomes one of the artists on permanent display at the gallery with an annual exhibition. The North American market is extremely lucrative for him and by the end of the decade he is selling more of his work in the United States than in Ireland. In 1968 he finally moves to Tangier, Morocco on a permanent basis and in 1970 sells his studio on Raglan Lane, Dublin.

In Morocco, Hennessy paints prolifically for nine years to keep up with demand from the Hendriks Gallery and Guildhall Gallery along with the RHA. In 1975 the Guildhall Gallery mounts a highly successful Retrospective of his work. In 1978 he has his last exhibition in Dublin at the Hendriks Gallery. By this time he has moved to the Algarve, Portugal and is beginning to have health problems.

In November 1980, with his health deteriorating, Craig brings Hennessy to a hospital in London for treatment. However, on December 30, 1980 he dies from cancer. Following cremation his ashes are buried in nearby Golders Green Crematorium. He leaves his entire estate to Harry Robertson Craig with the proviso that on Craig’s death the Royal Hibernian Academy should be the beneficiary. This legacy has been used to set up the annual Hennessy Craig Scholarship for aspiring artists.

Hennessy falls into the category of painter who develops a distinctive personal style, labelled at various times in his life as a Traditional Realist, Romantic, Photo Realist, Illusionary and Surrealist. However, he always remains intrinsically himself. His subjects range from still life and interiors to landscapes and portraits.

Examples of Hennessy’s work can be found in the public collections of the Crawford Art Gallery, the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), the Limerick City Gallery of Art (LCGA), the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI), the National Self-Portrait Collection of Ireland (NSPCI) at the University of Limerick (UL), and in the collections of University College Cork (UCC) and University College Dublin (UCD).


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Birth of Louis Brennan, Irish Australian Inventor

louis-brennanLouis Brennan, Irish Australian mechanical engineer and inventor, is born in Castlebar, County Mayo on January 28, 1852.

Brennan moves to Melbourne, Australia in 1861 with his parents. He starts his career as a watchmaker and a few years later is articled to Alexander Kennedy Smith, a renowned civil and mechanical engineer of the period. He serves as a sergeant in the Victorian Engineers under the command of Captain John James Clark. He invents the idea of a steerable torpedo in 1874, from observing that if a thread is pulled on a reel at an angle with suitable leverage, the reel will move away from the thread side. He spends some years working out his invention, and receives a grant of £700 from the Victorian government towards his expenses. He patents the Brennan torpedo in 1877. The idea is trialed at Camden Fort near Crosshaven, County Cork.

Brennan goes to England in 1880 and brings his invention before the War Office. Sir Andrew Clarke alerts the authorities to the possibilities of the torpedo if used in the defence of harbours and channels, and the patent is eventually bought for a sum believed to be more than £100,000 (£ 9,331,100 in 2019). In 1887 he is appointed superintendent of the Brennan torpedo factory, and is consulting engineer from 1896 to 1907.

Brennan does much work on a gyro monorail locomotive which is kept upright by a gyrostat. In 1903 he patents a gyroscopically-balanced monorail system that he designs for military use. He successfully demonstrates the system on November 10, 1909, at Gillingham, England, but fears that the gyroscopes might fail prevents adoption of the system for widespread use.

From 1916 to 1919 Brennan serves in the munitions inventions department. From 1919 to 1926 he is engaged by the air ministry in aircraft research work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, and gives much time to the invention of a helicopter. The government spends a large sum of money on it, but in 1926 the air ministry gives up working on it, much to Brennan’s disappointment.

Brennan marries Anna Quinn on 10 September 10, 1892. The marriage results in a son and a daughter. He is created a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1892, and is foundation member of the National Academy of Ireland in 1922.

In January 1932 Brennan is knocked down by a car at Montreux, Switzerland, and dies on January 17, 1932. He is buried at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, London, in an unmarked plot numbered 2454 that is opposite the Chapel record office. On March 11, 2014, Taoiseach Enda Kenny unveils a new gravestone for Brennan at St. Mary’s in a ceremony honouring the inventor’s life and career.

Gillingham Library retains the archive of his papers.