Priest’s historic World War I diaries go digital

Priest’s historic World War I diaries go digital

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Press Release 27th April 2015

Historic collaboration makes World War One Diaries available worldwide


“We march out from Tombe Willot (Locon) about 900 strong…

…The scenes of enthusiasm are extraordinary.  I rode on my horse.  Gave Absolution to Batt. during rest on road. Opposite La Couten Church between shrines of “N.D. de la Bonne Mort” & another shrine we have another rest.  The men will sing Hymns esp. “Hail Glorious St. Patrick”.

I go further up – near the trenches & bid goodbye to all. So sad!!”


Extract from the diary of Fr. Francis Gleeson before the battle of the Rue de Bois, Saturday May 8th 1915


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 Digital Library in University College Dublin have worked together for over a year and a half transcribing and digitising diaries and papers of Fr. Francis Gleeson, a Dublin priest who ministered to soldiers in World War One.

The new digitised collection was officially launched this evening (Monday 27th) 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 as well as 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.

Fr. Gleeson 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 30 items in total – 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 to start their work in November 2014.  The entire collection was transferred temporarily to the Digital Lab in UCD Library.  The items were digitised using an i2s SupraScan Quartz HD A1 book scanner, while being stored over-night in UCD Library, Special Collections.  The items in the Fr. Gleeson collection are equal to 670 files in the digital world.   They are the first digital repository in Ireland certified as ‘Trusted Digital Repository’.



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 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’.


The digital archive of Fr. Gleeson’s papers is available here:

Further information:  Communications Office, Archdiocese of Dublin. Tel: (01) 8360723