Liberation of Sr Kate McCarthy – 75th Anniversary

Sr Kate McCarthy (family archives, courtesy of Catherine Fleming)

Liberation of Sr Kate McCarthy – 75th Anniversary

The 75th anniversary of World War II brought out thousands of stories from veterans, those that lived through it, and family descendants. A heroine nun from Cork is not the story you would expect to hear when talking about the French Resistance.
Sr. Kate McCarthy, was born near Drimoleague, Cork, in 1895. Aged 18, she joined the Franciscans in Cork and was transferred to Béthune, a beautiful French town. When the Great War broke out, Béthune became a major hospital centre. For four years, Kate nursed Allied, and some German, wounded. Spending the interwar years in the United States, she returned to her former posting just prior to the outbreak of the next world war.

Nazi German forces occupied France in 1940. Along with two other women, Kate selflessly risked her life with the early resistance group in northern France saving over 200 British airmen and soldiers. In 1941 disaster struck and Kate was betrayed. She was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to solitary confinement for a year. She was later given the death sentence. Then she disappeared into the night and fog moving from prison to prison each one harsher than the next. Kate was then sent to the notorious Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, 90km north of Berlin. It’s estimated 130,000 women and children were imprisoned there between 1939 and 1945, where they were forced to hard labour. Surviving beatings, little food and Typhus she avoided selection for the Gas Chamber 4 times. On 25 April 1945 Kate was rescued by the white bus rescue mission from Sweden.
Following liberation Sr Kate McCarthy became Mother Superior of the Honan Home in Cork. She died suddenly on 21 June 1971 and is buried in St Finbarr’s Cemetery.
The inspirational story of Sr Kate McCarthy is currently being researched by historian Catherine Fleming. Myles Dungan will be speaking to Catherine about Sr Kate McCarthy at 6.05pm on The History Show, RTÉ Radio 1. Make sure and tune in for the full story on this remarkable women.

Surviving female prisoners gathered when the Red Cross arrived at Ravensbrück in April 1945. The white paint camp crosses show they were prisoners, not civilians. (Swedish Red Cross)

Posted in: County Cork, French Resistance, Red Cross, Second World War, World War Two

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