By Mary Angland
In 2015, Mary Elmes from Cork, became the only Irish person to be awarded the honorary title ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ by Israel for risking her life numerous times in Occupied France to save Jewish children from Nazi concentration camps during World War ll.
In the early 1900s, Edward Elmes, a chemist and originally a native of Waterford, ran a successful pharmacy in Cork’s Winthrop Street. He had two children, Mary and John. John would eventually succeed to his father’s business but it would be Edward’s daughter Mary who would go on to become famous throughout Europe.
Mary was born in 1908. An extremely intelligent girl, she attended Trinity College, Dublin, where she graduated with a 1st class degree in French and Spanish. In 1935, she was awarded a scholarship to the prestigious London School of Economics in International Studies. She was also awarded a scholarship to continue her studies in Switzerland.
By the time Mary completed her studies in 1937, civil war had broken out in Spain between Franco’s conservative, right-wing Nationalists, supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and the left-wing Republicans.
Mary did not, however, return to Cork and safety. Neither did she embark on what would have undoubtedly have been a brilliant academic career. Instead, turning her back on success and personal safety, she joined the University of London Ambulance unit and was sent as an aid worker to war-ravaged Spain, to the city of Almeria in the southeast of the country where she worked in a children’s hospital.