Archbishop attacks ‘export of Irish children’
Archbishop Walsh (centre) has been particularly critical of mothers willing to 'send away their little children to be cared for in a strange land, without security of any kind that those to whom the poor children are to be handed over are Catholics, or indeed are persons of any faith at all.' Photo: National Library of Ireland, KE 299

Archbishop attacks ‘export of Irish children’

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Published: 23 October 1913

The Archbishop of Dublin William Walsh has launched a bitter attack on the proposed scheme to have the children of workers affected by the Lockout moved to England where they will be cared for by English families.

Archbishop Walsh set out his ‘consternation’ at the idea and, speaking directly to the mothers of the children, said: ‘I can only put it to them that they can be no longer held worthy of the name of Catholic mothers if they so far forget their duty as to send away their little children to be cared for in a strange land, without security of any kind that those to whom the poor children are to be handed over are Catholics, or indeed are persons of any faith at all.’

Prof Diarmaid Ferriter, UCD, discusses the Catholic Church's attitude towards the labour movement in Ireland.

Acting on the Archbishop’s instructions, Dublin priests intercepted the first group of children who were due to be brought to England. There were remarkable scenes as some fifty children were being prepared for the journey by rail and ship to England. The children had been brought by Ms. Dora Montefiore, the suffragist and socialist, to Tara Street Baths to be washed before the journey.

Led by Fr. Landers and Fr. McNevin, a crowd of 200 people gathered at the baths to protest. Addressing the crowd, Fr. Landers said that if people in England genuinely wished to help, they should send over money so the children could stay with their parents.

Fr. Landers continued: ‘The Irish people would rather see their children perish by the ditches than that they should be exposed to the risk of being perverted in their religion.’

He made clear that he was not passing judgment on the rights or wrongs of the labour dispute, only that Irish children should not be sent to England.

In light of the protests, about 35 children returned to their homes with family or friends. Despite this, however, some fifteen children were brought by steamship to England later during the night.

List of attendees at a joint meeting of Irish societies in Britain, convened to consider how the distress in Dublin, caused by the industrial unrest, might be relieved. Click image to view full document.
(Image: National Library of Ireland, MS 1563)

One of the women who organised the scheme, Ms. Lucille Rand, has been arrested and charged with kidnapping. Commenting on the scheme, Ms. Dora Montefiore said: ‘I think the condition of the children here is so deplorable. Looking from my hotel window I saw three little nippers about four or five years of age turning over the garbage, putting bits of coal and stuff they found into a sack, and wolfing any bits of bread and meat that they got mixed up in the refuse. That is an incredible state of things. It is a disgrace to any civilised country.’

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