FR. LAURENCE STAFFORD, WITH THE IRISH IN FRONGOCH

by ehistoryadmin on July 9, 2016

Fr. Laurence Joseph Stafford, with the Irish in Frongoch 1916

James Durney

When Fr. Laurence  Stafford, P.P., died in May 1943 he was buried in the little cemetery at Ballitore, County Kildare. His obituary in the Leinster Leader said he had been an army chaplain during the Great War, or World War One, but there was no mention that he had been chaplain to the Easter Week patriots in Frongoch Internment Camp and was the sole remaining Irishman there when the camp was emptied at Christmas 1916.

Laurence Joseph Stafford was the son of John and jane Stafford, Glen House, Waterford, where he was born in 1867. He was eductaed at the Old College School, Waterford; Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, and later at Maynooth, where he was ordained in 1896, by the then Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev. Dr. Walsh. After his ordination he was appointed to the parish of Finglas, Co. Dublin, where he was responsible for the building of the Church of St. Margaret. He later went to St. Michael and John’s, and then to Dolphin’s Barn.

In August 1914 when the European war broke out Fr. Laurence Stafford had asked to become a military chaplain. He was sent to Gallipoli with the 10th Irish Division where Major Bryan Cooper, in praise of the army chaplains, wrote of ‘the recondite knowledge of Fr. Stafford’. He later served in Serbia, Egypt, Salonika and France. In 1916 he returned on leave and was appointed by the British War Office as chaplain to Frongoch Camp, in Wales, where his fellow Irishmen were not so enthusiastic of him.

The majority of Irish prisoners of Easter Week were held in a former distillery at Frongoch, in North Wales, which had housed German POWs and so were ministered to by an Austrian priest. This priest was moved because the Irish prisoners were getting too used to him and he was replaced by a British military chaplain, Fr. Stafford.

W. J. Brennan-Whitmore, in his book With the Irish in Frongoch, said the Austrian priests’ ‘place was taken by an English clergyman. We were at first inclined to give him the cold shoulder, partly because he was an Englishman, and partly because we wanted an Irish priest. But this clergyman was so unostentatious and so obliging that he won our hearts; and a great affection sprung up between us, though officially we still resented his appointment to us’.

Fr. Stafford arrived in Frongoch in a military chaplain’s uniform, so the prisoners looked at him as being a sort of ‘khaki chaplain.’ Even though he knew some of the republican prisoners, they did not take to him initially. However, through his good work and well intentions the men finally did accept him. The British authorities had assumed, that as a fellow Irishman he would be well received by the prisoners. Lt. Joseph Lawless, Swords Company, Irish Volunteers, in his Witness Statement said,

‘The poor man failed entirely at first to appreciate our dislike to his appearance amongst us, dressed as he was in the full regalia of an officer of the enemy forces. I suppose we were rather shocked at the idea of a priest in khaki, and for quite a time could not bring ourselves to look upon him as a real priest, though, of course we knew he was… Certainly, as time went on he was admitted to more friendly terms, and he in turn discarded the khaki for a cassock as much as possible, so that, before we left the camp finally, he was accepted as quite a decent, kindly old fellow who did his job well, but could not be expected to view the prospect of Irish Nationalism through our eyes.’

In fact, when the camp was evacuated of prisoners in the days before Christmas Fr Stafford was the last Irishman in Frongoch. In a letter written on 23 December 1916 to Archbishop William Walsh of Dublin Fr. Stafford, wrote: ‘Five months ago when they were releasing the men interned here in hundreds, I said I should be the last Irishman left in Frongoch; and today I am.’ Outlining to the archbishop how he lobbied the British authorities for the prisoners’ release he had argued ‘that Christmas was Christmas. Today the gates of the compound are thrown open and tonight there will not be a single Irishman (save myself) left in Frongoch’.

After the closure of Frongoch Fr. Stafford became senior chaplain to the British forces in Italy. On his return home he was appointed to Lucan, and in 1926 he became parish priest of Ballitore, Co. Kildare He retired from there in January 1942 and died at 1 Upper Pemroke Street, Dublin in May 1943.

LEINSTER LEADER 22 May 1943

OBITUARY

DEATH OF FATHER STAFFORD

We regret to announce the death of Lieut.-Col. the Very Rev. Laurence Joseph Stafford, P.P. Eldest son of the late John and Jane Stafford, Glen House, Waterford, he was aged 75 years.

Father Stafford received his earlier education at the Old College School, Waterford; later went to Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, and was ordained at Maynooth by the late Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev. Dr. Walsh on June 21, 1896. After his ordination he was appointed as curate in the Finglas parish, where he was responsible for the erection of the beautiful church of St. Margaret’s. Later he went to St. Michael and John’s and Dolphin’s Barn parishes, Dublin and then left for Gallipoli as a chaplain.

After the war he was appointed Parish Priest of Ballitore and prior to the breakdown of his health some two years ago, he was actively identified with the public life of Co. Kildare.

 

 

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