Letters of 1916 – Fr Francis Shaw SJ

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One of the recent additions to the Letters of 1916 project by Maynooth University are the letters from Jesuit chaplain, Francis Shaw, while serving during the First World War. They are awaiting transcription here.

Francis Shaw was born in Ennis, county Clare in 1881 and having lost both his parents when still young, his guardian became Fr. Fogarty, later the bishop of Killaloe. (Not to be confused with Fr Francis Shaw SJ (1907-1970) who wrote ‘The Canon of Irish History: A Challenge’, in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, LXI, 242 (Dublin 1972), pp.113-52.) Educated at Christian Brothers’ School, Ennis and St Vincent’s College, Castleknock, Francis went to Newcastle-on-Tyne to study engineering. He cut short his studies to join the Jesuits in 1902. He undertook philosophy at Jersey and Stonyhurst and was Prefect and Master at Clongowes Wood College from 1909-1913. As a chaplain in the First World War, he worked at Casualty Clearing Stations in France and also on the Eastern Front in Mesopotamia, where he suffered malaria and dysentery.

Fr Francis Shaw SJ wrote to his Provincial on May 11th 1916 that: ‘I hope everything is quiet again in Dublin’. Shaw didn’t hide his republican sympathies (complaints were made against him for his views) and he is attributed to having confronted a room full of English Officers in Mesopotamia, who were making ‘disparaging remarks of the 1916 men…an icy frightened silence followed!’. In 1918, on the victory of Sinn Féin, he writes:  ‘Last night’s Reuters contained the result of East Cavan. There must be great rejoicing’. By the end of Shaw’s chaplaincy, he denounces the sending of Irishmen out to fight: ‘The Lord is not going to let poor old Ireland be hunted out as food for the German guns’  and laments the tit-for-tat nature of the war: ‘They can’t see that if German air-raids are wrong, the English retaliation in kind is wrong also.’ He also noted the Irish nature of Mesopotamia, ‘Mesopotamia is, of course, full of Irish priests…At Basra I went to Mass on 2nd February with a Father Farrell from Westmeath to the Syrian and Chalden Catholic Churches….An odd bit of news gets into our local press, The Baghdad Times’. On returning from the war, he worked in Mungret College briefly until he was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1924, aged 43.