How Irish nuns fled from Ypres

How Irish nuns fled from Ypres
The Irish Dames of Ypres Photo: ‘The Irish nuns at Ypres : an episode of the war’, Richard Barry O’Brien [London, 1915]. Via the Internet Archive.

London, 11 February 1916 – Irish nuns who fled from the Battle of Ypres are currently living in Golders Green in London.

The nuns are headed by their Abbess who is 85, and the full community numbers 15. They were originally evacuated from Ypres when the first German bombs landed in the area.

Destruction wrought on St Martin’s Cathedral in Ypres during the German bombing raids in winter, 1914. (Images: Illustrated London News[London, England], 5 December 1914)

The sisters fled from the convent with as many bags as they were able to carry while German shells exploded all around them.

They were initially housed nine miles from Ypres and were then brought to England.

When they first arrived in England they were at the Benedictine Convent at Oulton in Warwickshire. Their current base at Highfield House is one of the finest mansions in the northern suburbs of London and is set in 10 acres of land. It was formerly a high school for young women but is now largely filled with refugees who have fled from Belgium.

A book published about the experience of the Irish nuns at Ypres titled, The Irish nuns at Ypres: An episode of the war, with a foreword by John Redmond MP. Click the image to read the book in full. (Image: Internet Archive)

Back to Ireland
The nuns are soon to be moved to Co. Wexford, although they were clear that their affections still lie with Ypres. One nun said: ‘Our hearts are still there, but we recognise that even if this dreadful war were to come to an end now, it must be several years before our beloved monastery could be rebuilt. There is not now one stone of it left upon the other.’

It was unclear when they would be able to return to Ypres: ‘Who knows? For the present we go to Ireland, and are grateful for the shelter which the generous Irish people are affording us. The future we must leave in the hands of God.’

[Editor’s note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

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