Christy Evans on WW1 hero, the Jesuit priest Fr Browne
THÁINIG mé ar grianghraf le déanaí. Ba ghrianghraf den eaglais san sráidbhaile in a bhfuil cónaí orm. Tógadh an grianghraf den Eaglais Shenfield in Essex i 1919. Ba é an Fr Browne, an t-Iosánach clúiteach a ghlac é. Bhi iontas an domhain orm gur thug Fr Browne cuairt ar mo shráidbhaile beag féin. Rugadh Francis Mary Hegarty Browne i gCorcaigh i 1880. Sagart, saighdiúir agus múinteoir a bhí ann.
D’fhreastail Fr Browne ar an Ollscoil Ríoga i mBaile Átha Cliath agus bhí sé in aon rang le James Joyce. Chuir Joyce é i ‘Finnergan’s Wake’ mar an carachtar ‘Mister Browne the Jesuit’. I rith an Chéad Chogadh Domhanda bhí an Fr Browne ina shéiplíneach san Irish Guards. Bhí sé i láthair ag an Somme, Ypres agus Paschendaele. Gortaíodh é cúig huaire agus gásadh é uair amháin. Dúirt an toifigeach i gceannas dá chuid gurbh é “An fear is cróga ar bhuail mé riamh”.
In Irisleabhar de chuid na Irish Guards scríobh an Tiarna Nugent “Bhí grá agus meas ag gach duine sa chathlán idir Oifigigh agus fhir, Chaitlicigh agus Phrotastúnaigh ar an Fr Browne”. Tar éis an cogaidh, lonnaíodh an Fr Browne ag Beairic Warley in Essex. Lean sé don taisteal go forleathan mar shagart. Fuair sé bás i 1960.
I 1985, thángthas ar bhailiúchán grianghraf de chuid an Fr Browne. Ghlac sé thar a bheith tábhachtach. Mar shampla, ghlac an Fr Browne grianghrafanna de Chuan Sydney na hAstráile. Taispeáneann a chuid grianghraf Sydney sar ar tógadh an droichead ná an tÁras Ceoldhrámaíochta. Ghlac sé grianghraf den Tiarna Astor agus é ag dul ar bord an Titanic i 1912. Ba iontach an fear é Fr Browne. Bhí áthas an domhain orm nuair a fuair mé amach gur thug sé cuairt uair amháin ar mo shráidbhaile Shenfield.
Recently, I found a remarkable photograph. It was a photo of the church in the village where I live. The photo of Shenfield Church was taken in 1919 by the famous Jesuit writer and soldier Father Browne. I was amazed that he had visited my little village. Francis Mary Hegarty Browne was born in Cork in 1880. He attended the Royal University in Dublin, where he was a classmate of James Joyce. Joyce featured ‘Mister Browne the Jesuit’ in Finnegan’s Wake. During the First World War, Fr Browne was chaplain to the Irish Guards. He was at the Somme, Ypres and Paschendaele. He was wounded five times and gassed once. His commanding officer, Field Marshall Alexander, described him as “the bravest man I ever met”.
Lord Nugent wrote in The Journal of the Irish Guards that ‘Everyone in the battalion, officer or man, Catholic or Protestant loved and respected Fr Browne’. After the war, Fr Browne was stationed at Warley Barracks in Essex. He continued to travel widely as a priest. He died in 1960.
In 1985, Fr Browne’s collection of photographs was re-discovered. He had taken at least 42,000 photographs. This huge and varied archive is very important. Fr Browne took numerous photos of Sydney Harbour in 1925, before the famous bridge and opera house were built. He also took a long-forgotten photograph of Lord Astor boarding The Titanic in 1912. Father Francis Browne was a remarkable man. I was delighted to find that he had once visited the little place where I live.