Irish nun witnessed dropping of Hiroshima bomb in 1945

Julia Canny was just 2kms away from where the bomb dropped 69 years ago today

The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. Photograph: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Inset: Sr Julie Canny

The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. Photograph: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Inset: Sr Julie Canny


The dropping of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima was one of the most important single events of the 20th century and ushered in the atomic age.

Between 70,000 and 80,000 Japanese civilians were killed, most of them immediately incinerated, when the Americans dropped the first atomic bomb at Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945.

A witness to the events was Julie Canny. She was born in Clonbur, Co Galway in 1892. She was a late vocation and joined the Society of the Helpers of the Holy Souls in New York.

Just before war broke out in 1939, she was sent to the convent in Hiroshima. She was briefly interned by the Japanese who thought she was an American citizen before being freed when they realised she was Irish.

She died at the age of 93 in Tokyo in 1987. Two years before she died, she gave an interview to a journalist called Adrian Millar and it was published in the Andersonstown News.

Her convent was just two kilometres away from the epicentre of the blast. She was in the garden of the convent saying her morning prayers when the bomb detonated.

“Suddenly there was a huge bang in the sky, just above the city,” she recalled. “We were all thrown from our seats onto the ground. Realising that it was a bomb, we quickly picked ourselves up and made a run for cover in the direction of the convent.

“We had only just taken shelter inside the convent when the entire building began to shake and give way. We turned and rushed outside again, the convent collapsing at our heels. The convent wall collapsed before our very eyes and beyond where the wall had stood until a few seconds before lay the remains of our neighborhood.

“There was hardly a building left standing. Everywhere people lay either dying or dead, burned — I was to learn later — from the flash of radiation.”

The nuns took shelter in a house owned by the Jesuits. Japan surrendered a month later and Sr Julie used her English to negotiate with the occupying American forces on behalf of those left injured or homeless because of the Bomb.

There was also an Irish eyewitness to the dropping of the bomb at Nagasaki. Dr Aidan MacCarthy from Castletownbere, Co Cork, had been a doctor in the RAF and was a prisoner-of-war in Nagasaki on August 9th, when the Americans dropped the second atomic bomb.

He recalled how the blast from the bomb flattened a nearby Mitsubishi factory and killed 500 female workers there instantly.

“Where the building had been hit,” he wrote, “they had been catapulted out, spread as a human carpet up to a distance of nearly a thousand feet, giving the impression of a nightmare doll factory.

“The majority lay as if asleep, unmarked and unburnt, still in their trouser suits, and seeming as though they were waiting to be replaced on a massive shelf.”

Dr MacCarthy wrote an acclaimed memoir A Doctor’s War which was published after he died in 1995.