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Weavings Reflection: June 2024

Weavings is a monthly reflection that is the collective effort of the Wheaton Franciscan Covenant Companions and Sisters to provide spiritual nourishment that helps us feel God’s presence in daily living and invite an openness to God.

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One Brave Woman’s Role in the Conflict between Ireland and England

by Sister Julie Walsh, OSF

My great-niece in Ireland was wondering about our deceased ancestors and asked her father to speak with me. That is how this got started. I thought immediately of Julia and decided to tell her story.  Julia lived during a critical time in Irish history.  After I read the book, No Ordinary Women by Sinead McCoole (Dublin, Ireland:  O’Brien Press), my regret was that I failed to get more input from Julia on her experience in the war of independence between Ireland and England.  Julia now rests in eternity. 

A BIT OF IRISH HISTORY 

This is a short review of some Irish history to help clarify Julia’s story, which will follow. Politically Ireland was a province of England and had to abide by English law. Our Holy Father Pope Francis has written: “The purpose of the law is not to forcibly subjugate others, but to bring them to God” (Give Us This Day, 2023).  Many of the laws imposed on the Irish could be considered unjust. 

Here are some of the experiences that the Irish had under English rule.  For example, wealthy landlords confiscated the lands of the Irish, and made them keep paying tax on the land.  The Irish who resisted this law were often evicted.  Some Irish, who in protest kept on using their land, were severely punished by the “Black and Tans” (black clothing, tan shoes). This undisciplined military group from another country shot the people, many of whom were elderly, who were tilling their rightful land.

Another injustice was related to education. Education was prohibited by English law. In strictest secrecy, the people would decide to have Mass and school in the woods. The terms “hedge Mass” and “hedge school” were a reality.  Further, Ireland experienced a great tragedy from 1845–1848. A virus caused all of the crops to decay and many people died of hunger. Those years are called “the great hunger, famine years.” The English put troughs of food for the people to eat, but, before the Irish took food from the trough, they had to take an oath denouncing the Pope of Rome. The Irish refused to take the food. Many died of starvation. Some immigrated to other lands, particularly to America. 

The two countries continued their conflict. England had a claim of treason against Ireland. The years 1922–23 were horrendous in battle. Finally, the Irish Army went into “hiding.” Here is where the Irish women’s branch of the Army came forth; this branch was called Cumann na mBan. An Irish history book reports that the Village  Bard cried out: 

Brave, brave women as well we call you brave.  
You heard the call from far and near,  
You came and amid blood, sweat and tears, You never feared a foe.  
The key to Ireland’s freedom now resides in thee.

JULIA’S STORY

Julia, a pretty young girl from the west of Ireland, was a member of Cumann na mBan. She was delivering dispatches when she was confronted by an English soldier, a bold “English Bobby” as they were known.  He was trying to find out what she had under her shawl.  She refused to open the shawl.  He cracked her with his rifle on her hand and broke her finger. One morning an English soldier came to Julia’s home to arrest her.  While she got ready to go with him, her mother stood by weeping:  “Your own soul a sword of sorrow shall pierce.” (Luke 2: 33).  

Julia was put in a prison in Dublin.  The reason for her imprisonment seemed to be that she was a member of Cumann na mBan and helped the Irish “men in hiding” who were protesters. In prison, Julia found women not only from Ireland but also from other countries who had come to help the Cumann na mBan women in the cause of freedom. Julia found the women in prison very spiritual. They prayed in groups, did arts and crafts, shared letters and parcels—all in the name of peace. Julia was known for her allegiance to the Holy Father. 

After a truce was called, Ireland got its freedom and was no longer a province of England. The prisoners were released and Julia returned home into the arms of loving parents. Later on, she married. I was her third daughter.   

Julia lived in a small village in the west of new Ireland. She could never see an elderly person or a child hungry. So, apart from raising her family, she visited families, especially the elderly who could not care for themselves. At times she made meals for neglected children and mended their clothes. No one was a stranger to her. When she met someone for the first time, it seemed like she knew you all of her life. Visitors were always offered a cup of tea. Julia spoke very little about her time in prison. She held no grudges. Once in a while, some men and women from the government came to visit. We as children were sent off to play or do our schoolwork. We did not hear their conversations. Julia was a woman of strong faith with courage to fight injustice as well as being a very caring mother. 

Thank you for letting me share this reflection with you. It is a memorial to my late mother. It seems God used her in a special way to help people endangered by unjust laws and to bring them from captivity to the freedom bestowed on them by their Creator. Julia went to prison to gain this for them.   

2 thoughts on “Weavings Reflection: June 2024”

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    Eileen Hammersmith

    I am very interested in my Irish heritage, and enjoyed reading your reflection. I had not heard of that book, No Ordinary Women. Thanks for including it, and I am going to read it. 😊☘️

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    Beatrice M Hernandez, OSF

    Wow, what a powerful story of heroism, courage, dedication and faithfulness! Thanks so much, S Julie, for sharing this inspiring story. For those of us who work and advocate for justice and peace, your Mom and all these brave Irish women among those on whose shoulders we stand. Thank you.

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