Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Mark Hone

'Last Absolution of the Munsters'

Recommended Posts

Mark Hone

As a matter of interest has anyone ever established the exact location of the blessing of 2nd Munsters in the Rue De Bois, prior to their attack on Aubers Ridge, as immortalized in the painting by Fortunino Mantana?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Morval Ross

post-3727-1123670400.jpg

Hi Mark,

I also have been trying to locate the exact location of this painting. I havebeen unsuccessul sadly. This painting is quite close to my heart as i am from Ennis, County Clare in Munster. Copy attached.

Regards

Ross.

post-3727-1123670497.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ianw

Where is the original now ? Was the painter there or is he depicting an event he was told about. I presume the latter. A very moving and powerful image.

I presume the Rue de Bois may still be extant in the Aubers Ridge area . Would the 1915 Official History be able to help with where the battalion attacked from and therefore an indication of what place a bit to the rear that the painting is set in.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Mark Hone

Is the mounted figure next to the priest supposed to represent Colonel Rickard, who died in the battle? Rue Du Bois certainly exists but it's not clear exactly where the event took place. If it was in the vicinity of their attack on 9th May they would have been rather close to the German front line, as at that point Rue Du Bois actually runs between the British front and support line trenches! Mantana is a wonderful artist, originally born in Naples, who died in 1963 I believe.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ian turner

Here's another view of the painting, for general interest.

Ian

post-7046-1123684614.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Mark Hone

Thank you, Ian, that gives us a view of the wayside shrine where the service was held. Incidentally has anyone ever seen the German painting by the war artist Weinberg depicting the Munsters' attack? It is called 'The II/55 in the Battle of May 1915 near La Bassee'. It is referred to in several of the books on the battle but I have never seen a copy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Morval Ross
Is the mounted figure next to the priest supposed to represent Colonel Rickard, who died in the battle? Rue Du Bois certainly exists but it's not clear exactly where the event took place. If it was in the vicinity of their attack on 9th May they wuld have been rather close to the German front line, as at that point Rue Du Bois actually runs between the British front and support line trenches! Mantana is a wonderful artist, originally born in Naples, who died in 1963 I believe.

My understanding is that the Original is held by the IWM in Lambeth. But it is not on display. My Grandfather knew the priest quite well after the war. He is Father Gleeson from Castlelough in County Tipperary (at least that is where he is buried) this is about 2 miles across Lough Derg on the river shannon from my Fathers home. The officer in the back ground is indeed Colonel Victor Rickard. Fatehr Gleesons story is a sad one. He was much loved by the men of the munsters for his bravery in administering the sacrements to fallen on the field. Upon his return to Ireland after the war the Bishop of Cork, who was a fanatical narrow minded republican treated him vary harsly for his assosication with the british army and would send him to the most difficult and republican parishes in Cork and Kerry. It is well known that the bishop blackend his name not only with his superiors but also with his congregations.

This story makes me feel very ill when I think of what he saw in his time with the munsters who were mainly catholic, not that mattered to a dying man. This fat bigot of a bishop made his life a misery. ( I am catholic so I am not slagging them off) It pains me greatly to think of how our Irish fallen and those that returned were treated.

Sorry for banging on.

Ross.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
curranl

Hello All,

I have done a bit of checking with a very helpful lady from Schull Books in County Cork, who sell prints of this picture.

She reckons that Matania did in fact witness the scene himself. The painting was commissioned by the Sphere magazine for a Christmas edition. The original was hung in a church in England, but was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.

I have more details on it in The Cross on the Sword, but the book is at home, so I'll check it out tonight and post the rest of the details tomorrow.

Regards,

Liam.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Bob Coulson

Matania's painting of the Green Howards at the crossroads close to Ypres also sparked the Hitler/Tandey story.

Bob.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Muerrisch

I had never seen the painting before today, and find it deeply moving, so, thank you to all. I find it sad that the original was destroyed. I am not an RC, rather, a highish C of E Communicant, but I identify strongly with the moment portrayed, especially poignant on the eve of battle.

Fascinating and it stopped me in my tracks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Mark Hone

Thank you all for the further information. I was very interested to learn of the sad later story of Father Gleeson. I hope to take my pupils to the area of the Munsters' attack near Aubers Ridge and shall incorporate this addiitonal info into my talk. I would like to get hold of a print of the painting.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
burlington

This picture is now my desktop background.

Makes you think.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
marina
Matania's painting of the Green Howards at the crossroads close to Ypres also sparked the Hitler/Tandey story.

Bob.

I don't know this story, Bob. Do you have the time to tell it?

Marina

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Bob Coulson

Marina,

Didn't want to sidetrack this thread so put some info in Soldiers under Henry Tandey.

Bob.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
marina

Thanks, Bob - on my way!

Marina

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
curranl

Hello All,

Just to add a few bits of info:

From Orange, Green and Khaki -

"On the evenng of 8th May, under command of Lt-Col. V.G.H. Rickard, 2nd Munsters once again marched towards the Front. At a French wayside shrine, Rickard halted the the Battalion and formed a hollow square before it. On three sides were the rifle companies, and facing them on horseback were Col. Rickard, his adjutant, Capt. Filgate and the Chaplain, Father Gleeson. Gun flashes added to the semi-light of a spring evening; gunfire and shell explosions reminded all of the ordeal to come. All bared their heads and the light breeze ruffled hair and caused to flutter the green company standards. Father Gleeson's stole made a splash of soft colour. The chaplain raised his right hand and intoned general absolution and all sang the Te Deum. Then, to the barked command of RSM Ring, the march resumed towards the sound of the guns."

A footnote says:The scene was well captured on canvas by Fortunino Matania from a description obtained by Mrs. Rickard. The original painting was presented to the Royal Army Chaplains Department(RC) by Major Henry Harris, author of The Irish Regiments in the First World War

This means that Matania was not in fact present and it is based on the recollections of eyewitnesses.

From The Cross on The Sword

"In early May 1915 on the eve of the attack on Aubers Ridge, Father Gleeson watched the battalion at rest before going into the line for an assault the following morning.

I gazed out over the scene, there were hundreds of giant men sitting in the fresh grass under the shade of the thickly-blossomed fruit trees, praying, meditating, reading their prayer books, saying their rosaries - silent, absorbed, reverential to a degree.

A chaplain who served long with a predominantly Catholic infantry battalion could become emotionally involved with its welfare. When that battalion sustained repeated heavy casualties, the mental anguish of a chaplain was very great. He was, after all, closer to the dying and the dead than any other person in the unit, the medical officer being spared the burial. After the battle of Loos, where the 2nd Munsters were again annihilated, Fr. Gleeson wrote to the senior chaplain (RC) asking to be relieved:

I am sorry to be leaving the dear old Munster lads, but I really can't stand it any longer. I do not like the life.......though I love the poor men ever so much.....will you please send me the papers regarding my discharge.

Mgr. Keatinge relieved Father Gleeson with another chaplain, Fr. O' Flynn, until Fr. Gleeson overcame his grief and was able to 'soldier on' with the battalion, as he did until 1918."

In reply to the original question, none of my sources identify the spot where the Absolution took place, other than to say that it was a wayside shrine.

If you look closely at the picture, you will notice a line above Father Gleeson's head that continues below the horses belly. The lady I spoke to from Schull books told me that the prints now available are prints of a print taken from the original Sphere magazine, and I suspect the line is where the original fold was in the print.

Whether it was painted from eyewitness accounts or is a print of a print doesn't take from the power of the picture - I think it's a particularly poignant scene. The Munsters lost 19 officers and 374 men that day on Aubers Ridge - many of them to their own artillery.

Regards,

Liam.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Patrick H

I have been following this thread without comment and have found it fascinating ! The picture itself is so evocative and gives so much to think about. How sad that after all the service of the Chaplain, his love for the men, and his exhaustion, he should have been treated so badly by his Bishop. Does anyone know what eventually happened to Father Gleeson ie death, funeral etc. I would imagine it would have been well attended by the munsters?

Patrick

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
marina

The picture is beautiful indeed. It is galling to think that a brave and compassionate man like Gleeson should have been caught up in the mean spirit of the Bishop. There is one comfort - Gleeson's name is remembered. The Bishop 's isn't.

Marina

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ianw

You make a telling point , Marina. I suspect Father Gleeson should have a better billet in the great here after than the mean-spirited bishop.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
marina

Let's hope so, Ian. But we can be sure he was well billeted in the memory of the Munsters and in the minds of anyone who read his story.

Marina

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Patrick H

Still be good to hear what happened to him though

Patrick

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
ian turner

First, thanks to Mark for starting this interesting thread. Indeed a moving picture and, as with much in our pursuits on these pages, the more you look the more you see!

In the meantime, I suspect Father Gleeson would have a big enough heart to forgive his Bishop's excesses.

Ian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
curranl

Hello All,

Sorry Patrick, but I can't find any information on what happened to him after the War. Ross may well know what the story was. There is one other mention of him in The Cross on the Sword;

" Jovial Father Gleeson of the Munsters, when all the officers were killed or wounded at the first battle of Ypres, had stripped off his black badges and, taking command of the survivors, held the line."

In many ways the treatment of Father Gleeson by his bishop after the war illustrates the difficulties faced by many returning Irish ex-servicemen. Ireland in 1919 had a radically different political landscape to the one they had left.

Regards,

Liam.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Mark Hone

Thanks for all the contributions. Going back to the original question, I suppose if the location of the wayside shrine could be established, we might identify the scene of the painting. Sad to think that it might be tarmaced over by a new motorway in a few years time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Patrick H
" Jovial Father Gleeson of the Munsters, when all the officers were killed or wounded at the first battle of Ypres, had stripped off his black badges and, taking command of the survivors, held the line."

In many ways the treatment of Father Gleeson by his bishop after the war illustrates the difficulties faced by many returning Irish ex-servicemen. Ireland in 1919 had a radically different political landscape to the one they had left.

Regards,

Liam.

I find that amazing, that he took command. I assumed that all Chaplains/Padres were non-combatants. I wonder what actions he took in "holding the line", did he hold a rifle? Did he order men to shoot? Fascinating.

The radically different political landscape in Ireland was very much due to the executions of the leaders of the Easter Uprising in 1916. This was IMHO a great mistake by the British government since it drastically altered attitudes in Ireland. Upto the Rising there was very little support in Ireland for rebellion against the British among the general population. Indeed the percentage of volunteers from catholic ireland was high. The executions changed much of this.

Patrick

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×