War diaries of Fr Francis Gleeson go online

Irish priest survived the Battle of Loos and became known as ‘the saint of the trenches’

Wounded   troops  during the Battle of Loos in France. Photograph:  Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Wounded troops during the Battle of Loos in France. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

As a young priest* Fr Francis Gleeson asked to be relieved of his duties following the terrible Battle of Loos in September 1915.

Aged 31, “the saint of the trenches” as he became known, had seen so much suffering in his year as chaplain to the 2nd battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, he said he could take no more.

“I am sorry to be leaving the dear old Munster lads, but I really can’t stand it any longer,” he wrote to his superior. “I do not like the life though I love the poor men ever so much.”

The diaries of Fr Gleeson, the best-known Irish chaplain of the first World War, have been digitised and were launched at the Dublin Diocesan Archives in Holy Cross College in Drumcondra.

Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin said the most extraordinary thing about Fr Gleeson was his return to the front in 1917 despite the horrors he had witnessed. His sense of humanity continued after the war as parish priest of Meath Street in Dublin , Dr Martin said.

Among those who attended the archive launch were Fr Gleeson’s great-niece Theresa Phelan and his great-great nephew Damien Phelan.

His diaries are regarded as so important that one of them is in the National Museum of Ireland in Collins Barracks.

Fr Gleeson’s papers can be seen at digital.ucd.ie/ view/ucdlib:36570

* This article was edited on April 28th.