The first Dublin Arts and Human Rights festival to showcase and highlight the extraordinary work of human rights defenders, past and present, in Ireland and around the world will take place in Dublin in mid-to-late September. Here Freda Manweiler focuses on the courageous Irishwomen active during WWII including Katherine Anne McCarthy, Mary Cummins, Catherine Crean, and Margaret Kelly, all who will be featured in the Escape Routes and Freedom Trails – European Solidarity between Nations event which takes place on September 19th.
Katherine (Kate) Anne McCarthy, also known as Sr Marie-Laurence, was originally from Drimoleague in County Cork.
Aged 18, Kate joined the Franciscan religious order as a nun. This is where she received the name Sir Marie-Laurence.
She was transferred to the market town of Béthune, in Northern France, where she worked as a religious nurse and was there when the first World War broke out.
She worked as a nurse and joined the Musée de l’Homme resistance group in Northern France, assisting Allied servicemen to escape. She was arrested by the Gestapo in June, 1941, and was tortured and spent over a year in solitary confinement.
She was sentenced to death but instead, after time spent in several prisons, she was sent to the notorious Ravensbruck Concentration camp for women north of Berlin, where she nearly starved to death.
Kate contracted typhus and was four times designated for the crematorium by the ‘huntsman’ who selected women unfit for hard labour.
Kate witnessed women being beaten to death and recalled how she and others were forced to stand in silence for hours in rain and snow, as fellow prisoners collapsed around them from exhaustion and hunger.
She was forced to do hard labour for 12 hours at a time – her only food a ladle of turnip. Dogs were unleashed on the prisoners if they were not working hard enough.
Prisoners were also severely beaten, a fate Sr. Kate also suffered.
Kate helped over 120 allied servicemen escape from German occupied France during the war.
Sister Kate survived the war and returned to Ireland where she lived for the rest of her life becoming Mother Superior of the Honan Home Convent in Cork until her death in 1971.