Francis Henry Browning was from Glenageary, Co. Dublin, and was educated at Marlborough College. He studied at Trinity from 1886 to 1890, and went on to become a barrister. He subsequently joined the Land Registry, where he was Examiner of Titles.
As an undergraduate, he excelled in sport, playing on both the rugby 1st XV and cricket 1st XI, of which he was Captain, in his last two years in College. He was described as ‘one of the best cricketers Ireland has produced, and no more brilliant exponent of the game has ever done duty for Dublin University’. In the 1890s, Irish cricket was organised on a national scale, and Frank Browning was appointed President of the Irish Cricket Union.
He was the Captain of the Irish team thirteen times, and played for Ireland in a total of thirty-eight matches as wicket-keeper and batsman. He is included in the book by Siggins and Fitzgerald, Ireland’s 100 Cricket Greats.
Frank Browning continued to be much involved with rugby, and played for Wanderers Rugby Union Football Club. According to one report, he was a reserve for the Irish team in 1901. He is unique in having been President of both the Irish Cricket Union and the Irish Rugby Football Union, a post to which he was elected in 1912.
In September, 1914, he issued a circular to all the rugby clubs in the Dublin region, urging the members to enlist in the Army. A friend of his, Lt. Col Geoffrey Downing, was the officer commanding the 7th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, a regiment with the nickname (among others) of ‘The Old Toughs’. He agreed to keep open ‘D’ Company of the Battalion for recruits from the rugby clubs, and they joined up as a Pals Battalion, known as ‘The Toffs in the Toughs’. They paraded at the stadium at Lansdowne Road, with Frank Browning at the front; many of the men in this photograph died at Suvla Bay in Gallipoli the following year.
He also inaugurated the Irish Rugby Football Union Volunteer Corps, consisting mainly of men who were too old for military service. The Volunteer Training Corps had been set up, throughout Great Britain and Ireland, to satisfy the desire of civilians to be of some military service, though the Army could find little for them to do. Unlike the many other ‘Volunteer’ organisations in Ireland at the time, it was strictly apolitical. They wore an armband with the letters ‘G.R.’, and were nicknamed the Gorgeous Wrecks.
On Easter Monday, 1916, the 1st Dublin Battalion of the V.T.C., including the I.R.F.U.V.C., were on an exercise in the Dublin Mountains when they received news of the rebellion in Dublin. They marched back to their base in Beggars Bush Barracks in Ballsbridge, most of them in a uniform similar to that of the Army; they carried rifles, but had no ammunition. The subsequent events are described in a memoir by Henry Hanna (TCD 10066/192).
Frank Browning, leading about forty of them, came under fire from No. 25, Northumberland Road, which was occupied by Lieut. Michael Malone and Volunteer Séamus Grace, members of the Irish Volunteers who were under the command of Commdt. Éamon de Valera, based in Boland’s Bakery. Frank Browning sustained a head wound and was taken to Baggot Street Hospital, where he died two days later. He was buried in Dean’s Grange cemetery.
The photographs of the Dublin University Football Club have been digitised and are available on the Library’s Digital Collections site.
Michael Pegum, M.A., M.D. (U. Dubl., 1967).
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His sister Etheldred (christened Edith) was remarkable too. As a suffragist in Dublin and later in London the organisation she founded continues to help women today.