Burning of Ballyconree orphanage


Sir, – The Ballyconree boys’ orphanage in Galway was burned in June 1922 by anti-Treaty forces. The girls’ orphanage was untouched. (An Irishman’s Diary, January 9th). Edward Carson raised the matter in the British parliament with accusations of generalised anti-Protestantism. This had been Ulster unionist strategy since pogroms against Catholics began in July 1920. Most of what Carson alleged was, as usual, untrue.

The Ballyconree boys were required to salute the Union Jack each morning and were marched to church behind it each week. While this can’t have created a favourable local impression, particularly as hostilities centred on the legitimacy of that emblem, that would not appear to be the cause of burning the boys’ orphanage. The warden declared to his royal navy rescuers that he had been acting as an informer under cover of his responsibilities.

The orphanages were among a number run by the Irish Church Missions to the Roman Catholics. The ICM was a Church of Ireland body headquartered in London. It was, as its name implies, designed to convert Roman Catholics to a form of evangelical Protestantism. It was also one of a number of such institutions that effected social controls on childbirth out of wedlock within the Protestant community.

It caused much friction within the Church of Ireland and gradually became a marginal presence within that religious community. I became aware of it when researching the related Bethany Home in Dublin, many of whose residents were treated appallingly. Over 200 are buried in unmarked graves while others still alive are denied restitution by the Irish State.

The 1922 orphans were relocated first to London. The boys were then transported permanently to Australia, like almost 130,000 British (plus Northern Irish) children transported to former colonies up to 1967. It was done largely without parental knowledge or consent and often accompanied by lying and deceit. The ICM’s Banner of Truth magazine summed up the orphanage’s work afterwards: “hundreds of [Ballyconree] boys . . . are now worthy sons of the British Empire in different parts of the world”. The scandal of child “migration” was exposed in Margaret Humphreys’ book, Empty Cradles. The recent film, Oranges and Sunshine, with Emily Watson, dealt with it also. Humphreys now runs the Child Migrants Trust that traces separated siblings and their parents.

Michael Parsons’s Irishman’s Diaryis one way of looking at what happened.

Another is to suggest that the children were kidnapped and transported abroad, where, like thousands of others, they disappeared. – Yours, etc,


Offaly Road,


Dublin 7.