While the Irish contingent within the Resistance was extremely small, it can be shown that a number of them came to the attention of the authorities.
It is known that 10 were arrested, tried and later sent to prison, a labour camp or a concentration camp. Four Irish women were caught and ended up in Ravensbrück. They were Mary Cummins (Belgian Resistance), Catherine Crean, Sr Katherine Anne McCarthy and Sr Agnes Flanagan. Crean died shortly after the camp was liberated in 1945.
Six men were arrested and sent to various camps. Of these, two simply disappeared from the record while another two (Robert Armstrong and Robert Vernon) are known to have been executed by the Germans in 1944 and 1945 respectively.
In the postwar years, the services of these Irish men and women were recognised but this was predominantly by France. The majority of Irish resistors were awarded French decorations, including the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance. Samuel Beckett, for example, was awarded both of these medals. Some, such as William O’Connor, were also awarded certificates of valour.
Those who served in the SOE were awarded both British and French medals. Patricia O’Sullivan received both the Croix de Guerre and the MBE.
There is a whole series of memorials to the Resistance across France. These commemorate local groups and sometimes specific individuals. In the upper corridors of Les Invalides in Paris, where the military history of France is commemorated, there are memorials to different communities of non-French men and women who served in the Resistance.
To date, the Irish resistors remain uncommemorated either in Ireland or France. This is perhaps a good week to pause and remember them and the long and lonely war that they waged.
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Living History 1968-74
A unique, once-in-a-lifetime 10-week course at Stranmillis University College Belfast featuring live, in-depth interviews with leading figures from this tumultuous era in Northern Ireland’s cultural and political history.
Live interviews with: Bernadette McAliskey, Austin Currie, Brid Rogers, Baroness Blood, Dennis Bradley, Baroness Paisley, Lord Kilclooney, Tim McGarry, Danny Morrison, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield and others…