image001

 

As Ireland prepared for one of its most important moments in its history as a Republic this Easter time, the centenary of 1916 and the Easter Rising, a small town in Normandy, France were also remembering and preparing to celebrate the Irish, but for a different reason.

 

The Irish Red Cross arrived in St Lo after the allied bombing that destroyed 95% of the town in the days after D-Day, and they opened a Hospital, (‘L’Hopital Irlandais’ or in English ‘Irish Hospital’), which was a collection of wooden buildings. The impact that the Irish Hospital had on the rebirth of St-Lô and the local people was immense. It was one that was not forgotten by the thousands of local people who benefited from the care that they received by the Irish – many of them as orphans children. Of the Irish Doctors, nurses and volunteers that arrived from Ireland to St Lo to care for the war torn civilians, one was the playwright Samuel Beckett.

 

The Irish Hospital continued to function as a hospital until 1956, after which date it became a school, the school still flies the Irish flag even today. A large hospital has been built on the other side of St Lo and not much remains of the original Irish Hospital. The secondary school Collège Pasteur today stands on the site of the Irish Hospital and just one of the original timber shacks remains intact.

 

This Month and for the beginning of April the Irish flags will be flying all throughout the town of St Lo, Normandy, in memory of the 70th anniversary of the Inauguration of the Irish Hospital and those Irish people who came to care for the French civilians. Shamrock and Irish harps are gracing the doors of French shops, Irish music is playing and for this moment in time I feel like I’m home…

 

Events such as a 20 hour marathon Irish movie festival, plays from Samuel Beckett, a dinner organized for all those babies born in 1946 into caring Irish hands, conferences and of course the Irish Ball…

 

So while Ireland celebrate the 100 year mark of the rising, this town in the middle of Normandy also celebrate the memory of those Irish who traveled there in the aftermath of war to reach out and care for them… a moving tribute towards the well renowned generous Irish spirit.

 

*Our thanks to Catherine Connors for sharing this blog post with the Irish Red Cross