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Photographic Collection of Father Frank Browne SJ

30 November, 1999

Probably the best known Irish Jesuit and photographer, Frank Browne’s prodigious work of over 41,000 photographs span from the dying years of the 19th century to the 1950’s.

Probably the best known Irish Jesuit and photographer, Frank Browne’s prodigious work of over 41,000 photographs, span from the dying years of the 19th Century to the 1950’s.

Born in Cork in 1880, Frank Browne joined the Jesuits at the age of 17. Even before joining he had begun to indulge is lifetime’s passion for photography on a European tour. Frank spent two years in the Jesuit novitiate then went to the Royal University in Dublin where he was in the same class as James Joyce. After spending five years teaching at his old school, Belvedere College in Dublin, Frank began his theological studies at Milltown part. It was here that he was given an unusual present from his uncle, the Bishop of Cloyne, a ticket on the maiden voyage of the Titanic from Southamption via Cherbourg to Queenstown (Cobh) Co.Cork.

The Jesuits’ famed obedience probably saved Frank’s life. While on the voyage he got to know an American millionare who offered to pay Franks passage to New York. When he cabled the Jesuit Provincial Superior in Dublin for permission to go the whole way with the ship he received the terse reply; “GET OFF THAT SHIP….PROVINCIAL”. Frank took the only surviving pictures of that ill-fated liner’s maiden voyage.

Frank was ordained priest by his Uncle Robert and soon after volunteered for service as military chaplain in the Irish Guards in the First World War. Some of his photographs of the horrors of that conflict are classics. After the war, where he was five times wounded and awarded the Military Cross and bar, he returned to teach in his old school.

Father Browne, as he now was, was dogged by ill health, and in 1924 it was thought he would benefit by a stay in the warmer climes of Australia. The lens of his camera recorded the journey on board ship, a stop-over in Cape Town, and then a marvelous cross-section of Australian life, from sheep farms through sugar processing to street scenes. The return voyage via Sri Lanka, up the Suez and Mediterranean was also beautifully documented in photographs.

Perhaps the most prolific period of Frank’s life was spent doing parish missions. The schedule of evening preaching gave him unrivaled opportunity to spend the days indulging his photographic talent the length and breadth of Ireland, with occasional forays into England.

Father Browne’s amazing collection of negatives lay forgotten for 25 years after his death in 1960. When found they were restored by David and Edwin Davison under sponsorship of Allied Irish Bank and are being catalogued and published in the form of Calendars and books.

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