First World War diary: who was Fr Ned Dowling?

Co Kilkenny priest served as a British army chaplain from 1914 until 1920

Fr Ned Dowling: known informally as ‘the Colonel’.

Fr Ned Dowling: known informally as ‘the Colonel’.


Born Edward Dowling – in 1886 in Slieverue, Co Kilkenny – but always known as Ned, he was the son of schoolteachers William and Catherine Dowling.

He studied for the Catholic priesthood and was ordained – for the Diocese of Ossory – in Maynooth in 1908. Fr Dowling was then sent to do missionary work in the north of England in the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, where he spent three years before he returned to Ireland and took up a teaching post as a professor at St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny, in 1911.

In autumn 1914, following the outbreak of the first World War, he volunteered as a military chaplain with the British army and was dispatched to the western front. He travelled aboard the ship RMSS Normania and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

He was stationed near the Belgian village Ploegsteert – south of Ypres, on the French border – to which he referred, as did the British army generally, as “Plug Street”.

He served with distinction as a military chaplain in the army until 1920.

Fr Dowling then returned to Ireland, where he served as a curate in four parishes in Co Kilkenny until he was appointed parish priest of Camross, Co Laois, in January 1942. He was known informally as “the Colonel”.

He died in June 1960, aged 74.

Throughout the first World War, Fr Dowling used an engraved silver chalice and paten (a plate for holding the eucharist) that he kept in his knapsack.

They had been given been to him as a farewell gift by his colleagues at St Kieran’s when he volunteered.

The chalice and paten were brought back by him to Ireland after the war and are understood to be in private ownership.