Irish Jesuits were connected to the Middle East in the early years of the twentieth century. In Alexandria, Beirut and Damascus, they studied Arabic, taught in schools and universities and worked as missioners.
One such Jesuit was Limerick man, Jeremiah Augustine (Austin) Hartigan. Born in Foynes in 1882, his father Jeremiah T Hartigan, was the dispensary doctor in Croom. The Hartigan’s of Tarbrook, Croom were known for their involvement in horse breeding and racing. After attending the two Jesuit schools in Limerick (the Crescent and Mungret College), Austin entered the Jesuit novitiate aged sixteen. Four years later, he was sent to Beirut to study oriental languages in the Jesuit-run St Joseph University. After two years of study, he was awarded a Doctorate in Oriental Letters and he spent a further year studying at St Francis Xavier College in Alexandria, Egypt.
In The Mungret Annual, 1905, Frs Michael Bergin and Austin Hartigan wrote about their experiences in ‘Scenes and Manners in Syria’.
Returning to Ireland, Austin taught at Clongowes Wood College and studied in preparation for his ordination in 1914. In January 1916, he volunteered as a chaplain in the First World War. The Hartigan’s three other sons (Joseph, Patrick and Martin) also served in the war. Joseph died of pneumonia in Port Said in 1918 while serving as a surgeon with the navy and Martin was awarded the Military Cross for service with the 13th Hussars in Mesopotamia. Patrick and Martin subsequently became successful horse trainers in England.
On enlisting, Fr Hartigan acted as chaplain on the hospital ship Dongola, bound for Mesopotamia. Arriving at Basra, the main port of Iraq on the Persian Gulf, Fr Hartigan became chaplain to the Connaught Rangers. The Rangers had been involved in the defence of the garrison at Kut al Amara which fell on 28 April 1916. Fr Hartigan accompanied the Rangers on a difficult march across the desert in extreme heat to the ‘Twin Canals’ rest camp on 19 May 1916. Many of the soldiers died of hunger, thirst and fatigue. Fr Hartigan reports:
We were off again over a level, barren, mud plain, infinitely monotonous and gradually getting baked by the sun. Water grew scarce, the sun more scorching…The men began to fall out in dozens…Much of the time we could see in front a delightful, cool, silver lake and green trees – alas! it was only a mirage.
Fr Hartigan fell ill with jaundice and he recovered his strength to some degree however he refused the offer to send him to India for a rest. He wrote to his mother that he was well, and that he hoped to return to his regiment in the near future. The day after she received this letter, his mother had a telegram from the War Office informing her that her son had died in the Amara War Hospital on 16 July 1916.
Fr Austin Hartigan SJ is buried in Amara War Cemetery, Iraq.