The Limerick priests who served and died in the First World War

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Irish Jesuit students at Valkenburg, Holland, 1898. Features from left to right: Patrick O’Mara, Thomas O’Dwyer, Bartholomew Coughlan, William Byrne, Frank Ryan, Patrick Lyons, Michael Garahy, Esmond White and William Gannon.
Irish Jesuit students at Valkenburg, Holland, 1898. Features from left to right: Patrick O’Mara, Thomas O’Dwyer, Bartholomew Coughlan, William Byrne, Frank Ryan, Patrick Lyons, Michael Garahy, Esmond White and William Gannon.

THE contrasting fates of two exceptionally brave Limerick priests who served with the troops on the front-lines, in the trenches and on the battlefields of the first world war, are retold in a fascinating new book.

Fr Patrick O’Mara and Fr Austin Hartigan were among the eleven Irish Jesuits who volunteered to serve as army chaplains and risk their lives alongside the young soldiers who were used as cannon fodder in the bloodiest conflict known to man.

One of them didn’t make it back from the battlefield and the other was decorated for bravery and lived to a ripe old age.

Patrick O’Mara was born in Limerick in 1875. His father, Stephen O’Mara, owned the bacon factory on Anne Street and was elected the first Nationalist Mayor of Limerick in 1885.

Educated by the Christian Brothers in Limerick and at the Jesuit-run boarding school, Clongowes Wood College, Patrick joined the Jesuits in 1892. Ordained in 1907, Patrick-  who was popularly known as ‘POM’ – was 41 when asked to serve as a First World War chaplain in 1941.

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He spent two years as chaplain working with wounded soldiers 25 miles east of Lille in the Pas de Calais region of northern France. In August 1918, the Limerick priest was asked to lead a pilgrimage of 60 Catholic soldiers to Lourdes. It is believed that it was one of the first, if not the first such pilgrimage.

Fr O’Mara was honoured by the Portuguese Government with ‘The Military Order of Christ’ medal in 1920 and died in 1969 at the age of 94.

Fellow Limerickman and Jesuit priest, Jeremiah Augustine (Austin) Hartigan was born in Foynes, the son of the dispensary doctor in Croom, Dr Jeremiah Hartigan.

He went to the Sacred Heart College, Limerick and later to Mungret College. He entered the Jesuit novitiate in St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly in 1898. He was ordained a priest in 1914 and volunteered in January 1916 to serve as a chaplain.

In May 1916, he left England with the First Battalion of the Connaught Rangers, on the hospital ship Dongola, bound for Mesopotamia. After arriving at Basra, the main port of Iraq, Fr Hartigan volunteered to take up the post of chaplain of the Rangers at Amara.

The Limerick priest died of jaundice in the Amara War Hospital in July 1916 and is buried in the Amara War Cemetery.

‘Irish Jesuit Chaplains in the First World War’, published by Messenger Publications, is available now.

 

‘Irish Jesuit Chaplains in the First World War’ features a collection of articles describing the wartime experiences of 11 brave members of the Jesuits. The book, edited by Damien Burke, is illustrated with letters, photographs and telegrams from the Irish Jesuit Archives and gives a fascinating insight into the lives of men who expected to spend their days in priestly ministry in schools, parishes and churches and not the battlefields of Europe.