Anti-Treaty IRA burn Protestant orphanages to the ground in Galway


BACK PAGES July 27th, 1922:IN JULY 1922 the Civil War had begun and violent incidents were reported from all parts of the Free State as its army took control of Dublin and set about taking numerous towns in the west and south from anti-Treaty forces.

Newspapers were censored (by the Provisional Government in Dublin and the anti-Treaty IRA in Cork) and promised meetings of the Dáil postponed. Most accounts of the fighting and other incidents came from official sources: in the House of Lords in London, Unionist leader Edward Carson gave this account of the burning by the anti-Treaty IRA of a Protestant orphanage in Clifden.

In the House of Lords last night Lord Carson asked the Government whether two orphanages in the county of Galway had recently been looted and burned to the ground by Sinn Féiners, and whether the Admiralty sent ships, which brought to England the staff and 33 boys and 25 girls; what had become of these children, and how they were to be provided for in the future.

He said that this particular outrage was one of the very worst of the many hundreds that had been sent to him within the past two months. His information was that last month some Sinn Féiners called at the orphanage, and demanded deliverance of six boys, who were, in the language of Sinn Féin, to be “done in”. By a subterfuge they were got out of the country by the matron.

A few days later the Sinn Féiners went again to the orphanage, and asked for a particular boy, that he might be brought out and shot. They then went to the master, and told him to clear out. They then went to the diningroom, and asked for the boy in charge. The eldest boy stood up. The boys were paraded, and some who were working in the fields were rounded up. The master and the boys were taken away to different parts of the premises.

The matron showed great courage. She pleaded to the men to spare the lives of the boys, and asked for a guarantee for their safety. Surrounded by these fully armed barbarians she asked why this was being done, and the answer was – because the boys were being taught loyalty to England, and the orphanage had sent many of the boys into the great war. The whole place was then burnt to the ground, and 33 boys and 25 girls were left absolutely stranded. Fortunately the founder’s daughter was in England at the time, and through her interposition the Admiralty send a destroyer round to Galway to take away the staff and children.

He wanted to know what was to be the future of these children. Did the Government who had abandoned them hold themselves responsible for their future, or would they be treated like all the loyalists and Protestants in the south and west of Ireland – as outcasts. This was only one of many instances. Further, he wanted to know how long was this to go on. (Hear, hear.) Was there to be any limit to it at all? Did the Government really mean to stand by until the loyalists of Ireland had been blotted out – because that was what it was coming to . . .

The Earl of Crawford, for the Government, regretted that the statement contained in the question was correct. These orphanages contained 33 boys and 25 girls, with a staff, all Protestants. At the beginning of July the orphanage was attacked by the IRA and burned to the ground, and the house in which the girls were accommodated was similarly destroyed. The refugees were brought to London, and accommodation was found for them. The Irish Distress Committee was in constant communication with the treasurer of the orphanages, and it was hoped that arrangements would be made for the future accommodation and welfare of these children at an early date.