A New Collection In The Letters 1916 Project Coming Soon

This is my first blog post regarding my practicum with the  Letters of 1916 project. As one can deduce from the title, my practicum will be related to a new collection of letters, which has been identified by Professor Susan Schreibman, the Project Director and Editor-in-Chief of the entire project. The collection is housed in the (http://www.jesuitarchives.ie/) and includes almost 100 letters from 1916 to 1919. However, before discussing these letters, lives, and work, I would like to draw attention to some facts regarding the initial stages of my involvement in the project.

During the first discussions I had with my supervisor, Susan Schreibman, and my mentor, Neale Rooney, they described a new collection of letters concerning  Belgian refugees. These would be the letters that I would be digitalizing, so the team working on Letters 1916 and I started researching them. The result was of great interest. Belgian refugees began to come to Ireland and Britain in 1914, after the start of the WWI, since Belgium lay in the epicentre of the global conflict (1). The first appointment at the Irish Jesuit Archives had already been arranged; my mentor and I, our camera and tripod all were there to photograph the letters. Damien Burke, assistant archivist to the Irish Jesuit Province, was also there to help us with the letter manuscripts and give us ample helpful and useful information. As the photographing process flowed smoothly, we noticed that some of the letters were written in 1914. This time period was outside the time limit in which the current project was focusing on. Thus, we discussed the issue with the supervisor and we decided to leave this collection and start from the beginning with a new one. The Belgian refugees will have to wait for another researcher, unfortunately!

Fr John Fitzgibbon
Fr John Fitzgibbon

The senders and the receivers, Fr John Fitzgibbon, Fr Thomas Nolan and Fr Frank Shaw, constituted a team of priests and soldiers who lived and active during World War I (WWI). As a result, the new collection refers to priests who had left their flocks and joined the army during the WWI and more specifically the letters written by Fr John Fitzgibbon SJ, Fr Thomas Nolan, and Fr Frank Shaw SJ. Fr John Fitzgibbon SJ was born in 1882 and died in 1918. His adopted name was Jack. The name of his father was John Fitzgibbon and we know that he was a successful draper and subsequent Member of Parliament (PM) the time period from 1910 to 1918. His brother, Michael Fitzgibbon, was captain in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and was killed in the Battle of Gallipoli.  Jack was educated at Clongowes and was ordained a priest on 31st July, 1915. Subsequently, he served in the 6th Division of the British Army, and enlisting shortly after the death of his brother. He was promoted to senior chaplain in 1917, and in the same year he was gassed at Loos on 5th September and was awarded the military cross. Next year, on 18th September, Jack was killed in action by an artillery shell at Attilly and buried at Trefcon, St. Quentin, Picardie.

Fr Thomas Nolan was born in 1867 and died in 1922. From 1912 to 1922 he became the Provincial of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus. Besides that, he was a Distribution Committee member responsible for the welfare and distribution of the Belgian refugees who had found refuge in Ireland on account of the WWI.

Fr Frank Shaw

Fr Frank Shaw SJ born in 1881 in Ennis, country Clare, and died in 1924. He was ordained on 31st July, 1916 at Milltown Park in Dublin. However, he joined the war earlier in 1916, working in the 16th General Field Hospital at Le Tréporte. In 1917, Fr Shaw was dispatched to India, and later to Mesopotamia, possibly due to his nationalistic views. At the same time, he got into trouble for republican views, as it was reported he had confronted a room full of officers in Mesopotamia, making “disparaging remarks about the 1916 men.”

To date, Neale and I have been to Irish Jesuit Archives, taken pictures of the letters’ collection and spoken with Mr Damien Burke, assistant archivist, who has significantly helped us ever since the first meeting that we had with him. Except for the information regarding the letters, he has shared with us valuable details for the lives of priests and their actions and brought us old books, also belonging to the collection of the archives, in order for us to extract additional information. I think that this would be an appropriate time to thank him for all his help he was extended us and to the project in general.

However, taking pictures is not enough. I now have to edit them and then follow the appropriate procedure which will lead to the final publishing of each letter. So, an entirely new and fascinating collection awaits me which brings a deep sense of responsibility towards the team of Letters 1916. Hope to reciprocate their trust!

(1) Mulvagh, Minute book of the Belgian Refugees’ Committee,http://historyhub.ie/belgian-refugees-committee-minute-book

McNally, An Irishman’s Diary on the Belgian refugees of 1914-18, http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/an-irishman-s-diary-on-the-belgian-refugees-of-1914-18-1.2135190


Burke, Damien, Irish Jesuit Chaplains in the First World War, Messenger Publications, 2014

Irish Quarterly Review Studies: The Pity of War 1914-1918, Summer 2015, Volume 104: No. 144

Creating a Video for the Project Letters 1916

Part 4-9

While exploring the module AFF 606B Digital Scholarly Editing, which I attended this last semester as a part of the MA in Digital Humanities in the National University of Ireland Maynooth,  we asked to participate in an outreach activity. For this activity, each student, in conjunction with the module coordinator (Prof Susan Schreibman) and the Letters 1916 team, would undertake the design of an outreach activity to support the project of Letters 1916. Outreach could take the form of a twitter campaign, podcast, video, or other activity designed with Letters 1916 staff. I found it a very good and interesting idea! This would be a special opportunity for all of us to show our best creative side. So it happened! But let’s take things from the beginning.

At the beginning, I thought about creating a podcast, believing that it could be quite direct and more people will have the opportunity to reach it.  But, in the aftermath, a conversation with my professor and the team of the project changed my mind. I realized that a video would be more appropriate for this purpose. So, I started to think about the script and what would be my focus point. It would be something which underlined more the historical part, the public participation or something else? After all, I decided to create a video narrating part of the irish history in the year of 1916 and also the importance of mass participation for the Letters 1916 and feel that this is not just a volunteer work, but an active involvement with their history. This sense of personal involvement played a very important role in the final creation of the video and it was in the centre stage.

Speaking more specifically for the video’s story, the main idea was to inspire people to participate in the project. To do this, I thought that the video should contain some pieces of the history of that period; so, the audience have the opportunity to remember the events through black and white photographs and have a small taste of the 1916s. Photos from camps and foxholes are there to transfer a little bit of the conditions then prevailing.  After that, a small story starts to unfold, with a young soldier who writes a letter, sitting in his camp, and sends it to his family. This is a very common picture in the camps of that time period. The soldiers and their families or friends exchanged letters very frequently. We should not forget that there was not any other way to communicate with each other (you can see the numbers of letters in the website of Letters 1916 images3http://letters1916.maynoothuniversity.ie/learn/index.php/outreach/progress-update/).  This way, with the depiction of a familiar situation, I wanted to point that all these people who came from this period are not some distant ancestors or just people from the past generally, but people who have lived just a few years before, having the same need for communication.

In the next part, we move on the present and the modern post offices. The letter which the young soldier wrote “travels” to nowadays; it reaches to our homes and to our hands. All the letters of the year 1916 have the potential through the research of the team of Letters 1916, to reread from us. Moreover, not only there is a chance to read, but also to process them by editing, publishing or transcribing. And like this, we go to the next part of the video, where the public is encouraged to participate and to offer their help in the project with one of the above ways. In the last part, I chose to be given away some information on the work already done within the three years of operation of the project. Part 4-6Because the main purpose is to attract as many people as possible, willing to offer their help, the elements chosen to highlight in this video were those referring to existing volunteers, the letters that have been published in institutions and organizations that work with the Letters 1916 and with the collections, private or not, by which gained all this valuable material. Of course, in the end, it could not miss the reference to the project site and the exhortation of individuals to join.

At the individual level, what I gained through my involvement in the creation of this video, are plenty and important. Firstly, I saw how complex could be something like that. Many of us think that you can just put images side by side, a music in the background and that is all. A video needs a scenario, a good initial design is the most important part. The ideas someone has could be many, but the beneficial thing is to know which ones are really good and original and which serve the purpose of the video. After the clarification of the final concept follows the formation of the final script. So, in this part, I did clear my mind what I was exactly to say through the video and what I want viewers like to receive seen it. I started to select the pictures and tried to find out the proper music. At this point, I would like to thank the team of the project for the provision of the material and the latest statistics related to the project. Then, I gathered the material and chose the order in which they will cite the images, I had to browse to the video maker software and learn how to use it. With the online tutorials and forums, it is quite easy to find the answer to any question. After some days and a lot of trial videos, I came to the end result.

To sum up, I am grateful to my professor and to the team of Letters  1916 because they give me the opportunity to present one more artistic part of me and to learn a totally new skill. It was something different than the other assignments we had to do and I am very happy for my participation on that.  Learning new things never cease to be a new challenge!

You can watch the video here: https://vimeo.com/199312574

Please feel free to leave your comment!