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Posted 28 April 2015

World War I diaries of Fr Francis Gleeson digitised and published online

For the first time in its history, papers from the Dublin Diocesan Archive have been made digitally available for scholars, researchers and members of the public. Experts in the Dublin Diocesan Archive and the UCD Digital Library, University College Dublin, have worked together for over 18 months to transcribe and digitise diaries and papers of Fr Francis Gleeson, a Dublin Diocesan priest who ministered to soldiers in World War One.

"The scenes of enthusiasm are extraordinary,” wrote Fr Gleeson on May 8, 1915, the eve of the Battle of Aubers Ridge. “I ride on my horse. Give absolution to [the] battalion during rest in [the] road...The men all sing hymns, ‘Hail Glorious St Patrick’. I go further up — near the trenches, and bid goodbye to all. So sad.”

Diary of Fr. Francis A. Gleeson 17 January 1915 - 4 October 1915 : page 43 & page 44

The new digitised collection was officially launched by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin at a reception in Holy Cross Diocesan Centre, in Clonliffe. The event was attended by members of Fr Gleeson’s family and the British and French Ambassadors to Ireland.

Father Francis Gleeson, a priest of the Archdiocese of Dublin, was Chaplain to the Royal Munster Fusiliers as they faced battle on the Western Front. He was the priest depicted in the world famous painting, The Last General Absolution of the Munsters at Rue du Bois by Fortunino Matania, where he is seen mounted on a horse, giving absolution to the troops on the eve of the Battle of Aubers Ridge in May 1915.

He kept meticulous handwritten diaries of his time with the Munsters. They contain vivid, emotional and very often tragic accounts of his time with the troops near the battlefield. He was often the only person in a position to communicate with the families of soldiers missing or killed in action.

The Fr Gleeson collection consists of diaries, brigade roll books, letters and miscellaneous notes.  These were transcribed by the Dublin Diocesan archivist, Noelle Dowling and volunteer archivist, Peter Sobolewski. They began work in January 2014 and finished nine months later.  As part of the work they created a list of abbreviations used by Fr Gleeson. 

The collection was then given to UCD Digital Library, University College Dublin, to start their work in November 2014. The entire collection was transferred temporarily to the Digital Lab in UCD Library.


The Dublin Diocesan Archive is based at Archbishop’s House, Drumcondra.  It has always been the most important of Ireland’s twenty-six dioceses on account of its location, size, resources and history, and this is reflected in its archival holdings.  The vast bulk of its holdings are confined to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the Archives possessing only a small amount of material covering the reigns of twelve Archbishops from 1600 to 1770. The Diocesan Archive currently holds the papers of eleven successive archbishops of Dublin covering the period 1770 to 2004.

UCD Digital Library, University College Dublin, was officially launched in 2012, incorporating the Irish Virtual Research Library and Archive (IVRLA) which had been in operation since 2005. UCD Digital Library’s mission is to capture digital cultural resources and research outputs of the University College Dublin community, as well as its collaborators and partners; to preserve and sustain the usability of these assets; and to enable their broad dissemination. UCD Digital Library is the first digital repository in Ireland certified as a ‘Trusted Digital Repository’.


(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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