Tuesday 20 August 2019

Unseen snapshots of a nation

New book hails work of priest who was 'Ireland's greatest photographer'

A woman and child in Oughter, Co Offaly, in 1929
A woman and child in Oughter, Co Offaly, in 1929
Children play on the beach on Valentia Island, Co Kerry, in 1909
At the loom in Kilmurvey, Aran Islands, in 1938
'Unrivalled': Fr Frank Browne

Ken Sweeney Entertainment Editor

HE is most famous for the pictures he took of the Titanic.

But the work of Cork-born Jesuit priest Father Francis Browne extended to four continents and nearly 42,000 prints.

Hailed as "Ireland's greatest photographer", a new book has revealed never-seen-before images taken by the cleric in Ireland from when he first picked up a camera in 1897, until shortly before his death in 1960.

Coupled with the poetry of WB Yeats, 'The Father Browne Yeats' features the Jesuit's pictures of people, panoramic scenes, ships, trains and landscapes, all shot on his primitive Kodak Box camera.

"Father Browne created a body of work unrivalled by any Irish photographer during the first half of the 20th Century.

"Various authorities have compared his work to that of Doisneau and Cartier-Bresson, but much of his work predates them," said Father EE O'Donnell, curator of the Father Browne SJ Photographic Collection, who gathered the pictures for the new book.

Father Browne's great collection of negatives lay forgotten for 25 years after his death in 1960. It was by chance in 1986 that Father O'Donnell discovered the lost collection in a large metal trunk and brought the negatives to the attention of the features editor of the 'Sunday Times' in London, who dubbed them "the photographic equivalent to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls".

All rights to the Father Browne collection are owned by the Jesuits in Ireland.

As a result, this new book is published by Messenger Publications, publishers of 'The Scared Heart Messenger'.

Born in 1880 in Sunday's Well, Cork, the young Francis Browne was a fellow student of James Joyce at Belvedere College and at University College Dublin.

In 1897 he entered the Jesuit order and was ordained a priest in 1915. He became a chaplain in the Irish Guards during World War I, going on to be the most decorated Roman Catholic padre in the British army.

He spent three years in Australia recovering from mustard gas and on his return to Dublin became superior of Gardiner Street Church.

In 1929, he was appointed to the Jesuit Retreats and Missions staff, a post in which he served until his death in 1960.

His legacy was a collection of nearly 42,000 photographs, including the ones he took aboard the Titanic in 1912. Fortunately, he disembarked at Queenstown, now Cobh, on the orders of his superiors.

'The Father Browne Yeats' is available for €24.99 through Messenger Publications.

Irish Independent

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