Tag Archives: Irish Emigrants

Heritage Week: Dear Father and Mother

There are so many aspects of Heritage to celebrate in Ireland during this Heritage Week August 17th to 25th. So, where to begin? We are surrounded by heritage in the form of ancient  buildings, historic sites, splendid gardens, magnificent scenery, an extraordinary literary and musical tradition, fascinating museums and monuments that commemorate major events in our history. All of these can be experienced, commemorated, celebrated  here in hundreds of locations throughout the country.

There is another part of our legacy, less obvious, less visible,  and most certainly less well-known than it deserves to be, and which may well be overlooked during this week of celebration of  the richness and diversity of our culture and inheritance. It is because the greatest memory and the main monuments are not in our country at all,but  thousands of miles offshore, and far removed from our consciousness. Emigration has been a fact of  Irish life  in one form or another  through the ages. Of the millions who have left these shores – many in tragic circumstances, many not – most have gone on to live relatively ordinary lives in their new countries. There is a substantial number however, who went on to lead extraordinary lives  by being significant participants in both sides of the conflict that shaped the ‘greatest nation on earth’ – America. During the American Civil War  170,000 of our  Irish-born  emigrants played a major role in this conflict – they suffered and they died in their tens of thousands. Their sacrifice goes largely unrecognised  in the country of their birth, and they certainly do not spring to mind in Heritage Week.

Clogheen, Co Tipperary. It was from countryside near here that William left home  for a new life in America. Image Wikimedia Commons

Clogheen, Co Tipperary. It was from countryside near here that William left home for a new life in America. Image Wikimedia Commons

This week when thinking about Heritage Week and how to mark it, I read an amazing story of an ordinary young  boy who left family and Ireland for America at 16 years of age.  Ed O’Riordan, a Tipperary Historian and Damian Shiels, author of Irish in the American Civil War have collaborated to bring the story of  a young emigrant William Hickey, to a wider audience, through a series of very moving letters that William wrote to his parents in Tipperary.  Imagine the feelings of the parents on seeing an envelope from America! William Hickey’s short life  in a foreign land  is very much a part of our legacy and this is an appropriate week  to acknowledge his life and the sacrifice of so many men, women and children who were born here and who changed the shape of the world often at a shocking  cost to themselves and their families. They surely are our ‘hidden heritage’.

A number of enthusiasts have set up a group to further the cause of  having a permanent memorial to these Irish emigrant. They hope too to develop  a tourist trail in Ireland of interest especially to overseas visitors, most especially those from USA who know more about these Irishmen that we do at home. To quote from their site, as President John F Kennedy said   ‘A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honours, the men it remembers’. In this Heritage Week, we remember them.

The full text of the very moving story of  William Hickey, who at age 16 emigrated to America from his Tipperary home, can be seen here. The post includes a number of  letters from William to his parents. A few short years after he emigrated he lay dead in a field at Shiloh in Tennessee.

More information on the Irish American Civil War Trail can be seen here.

With thanks to The Irish in the American Civil War blog which can be accessed here.

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Filed under American Civil War, Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Irish American, Irish Culture, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish History

Titanic 100:We do not wish the memory of this calamity to be perpetuated

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912. Image Wikimedia Commons. Copyright expired

On April 8 1912, Francis Browne, a theology student studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood  left Dublin carrying a First Class ticket for the Southampton- Cherbourg- Queenstown (now Cobh) segments of the maiden voyage of the ‘unsinkable’ liner, the RMS Titanic.

Frank as he was known, was a seasoned  traveller – he had previously wandered across Europe courtesy of his uncle, Robert  Browne,who was the  Bishop of Cloyne. Uncle Robert had  given him a gift of a camera for the European trip, and Frank enjoyed  taking photographs of  a very high standard. The camera was again put to good use during those hours on board the Titanic. A wealthy family on board offered to pay Frank’s fare for the entire trip to New York, and he dutifully sought permission from his religious order, the Jesuits , to continue the voyage. Permission was denied and he was ordered to ‘get off that ship’. A fortuitous order  as it turned out, as not only did it probably save his own life, it meant that the pictures taken on board did not end up at the bottom of the Atlantic.

Early in 1913, Frank contacted the White Star Line looking for approval to use these  photographs and other materials for a series of illustrated lectures which he planned.  He received the following response

”We shall be glad to obtain photographs of the illustrations to which you allude in the Olympic booklet but shall appreciate it if in any lectures you deliver you will abstain from any reference to the Titanic as you will easily understand we do not wish the memory of this calamity to be perpetuated.”

Unperturbed, Browne set out on his  lecture tour  armed with the last pictures ever taken of  the mighty Titanic, with excellent shots of the interior, the crew, and passengers from First to  Steerage class, many of whom had perished.

Ordained in 1915, Fr Browne went on to become chaplain to the Irish Guards and served the dying at many of the bloodiest theatres of World war 1, including Messines Ridge, , Paschendale, Ypres.  Wounded several times and gassed, he went on to become the most decorated chaplain of the First World War, being awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre (First Class) with palms and on two separate occasions, the Military Cross and bar.

This extraordinary man carried his camera everywhere and documented life everywhere he went – all over Ireland,  and including  Australia and England and other places across the world.  Some years after his death in 1960, a fellow Jesuit priest, Fr Eddie O’Donnell,  happened upon an old trunk with ‘Fr Browne’s Photographs’ written in chalk. It contained some 42,000 negatives, with  many in poor condition. The Jesuit order  arranged for the preservation of the negatives by Davison and Associates and they own copyright for all Fr Browne’s photographs. Fr O’Donnell is the curator of the collection and has published several volumes, listed below.

Photographs of the Titanic are much sought after by those interested in the tragic liner.  The photographs of the Harland & Wolff official photographer R J Welch taken during the construction phase  are  housed at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.

In 1985 the wreck of the Titanic was discovered on the seabed by Dr Robert Ballard and some 20,000 new images were taken.

Image of Titanic lying at a depth of 2.5 miles, taken from unmanned submarine Argo in 1985. From the BBC

 Now, to mark the centenary of the loss of the Titanic, National Geographic has produced some spectacular new colour images of the wreck. These can be viewed here.

Whilst  ghostly images of the rusting and mangled Titanic on the sea floor may  continue to become available with the development of new photographic techniques, it is the simple black and white ‘snaps’ taken on a relatively primitive box camera of Fr Francis Browne that tell the real story of the first and last voyage of the RMS Titanic, thereby ensuring that the memory of this calamity will indeed be perpetuated.

Some of Fr Browne’s photographs can be seen at the official website www.titanicphotographs.com. 

Fr Browne’s  Books of Photographs:

  • Father Browne’s Titanic Album: A Passenger’s Photographs and Personal Memoir by Browne, Francis M. and E.E. O’Donnell; Wolfhound Press, 1996; ISBN 0-86327-598-2
  • Father Browne’s Australia by Browne and O’Donnell; Wolfhound Press, 1996; ISBN 0-86327-443-9
  • Father Browne: A Life in Pictures by Browne and O’Donnell; Irish American Book Company, 1997; ISBN 0-86327-436-6
  • Father Browne’s Ships & Shipping by E.E.O’Donnell; Wolfhound Press, 2000; ISBN 0863277586

References

The Irish Times

BBC ‘On this Day’ website

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

Fr Browne

National Geographic

Encyclopaedia Titanica

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Ireland, Irish Heritage, Irish History