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!
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 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