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The story of the hundreds of Irish men and women who left Ireland for China up to 100 years ago

The producer of a TG4 documentary series says the story is largely unknown to the Irish public.

HUNDREDS OF IRISH men and women made their way to China as missionaries from 1920 and ended up working in social and disaster relief services.

The TG4 series An Misean sa tSín (The China Mission) is a four-part series that looks at the experiences of Irish catholic missionaries in China between 1920 and 1954.

It was a turbulent time in China’s history with political chaos, famine, floods and war.

unnamed Irish Columban sisters visit rural Chinese parish 1930s Source: TG4

Producer Peter Kelly told TheJournal.ie, “This is not a small story of isolated individuals. Over four decades, hundreds of Irish men and women worked in social, pastoral and disaster relief services and were swept up in epic events at an extraordinarily turbulent but fascinating period of Chinese history.

It is a story that is largely unknown to the Irish public and has not received much attention from academia. And now, with China rising in the East as a potent economic and geopolitical superpower, is a good time to look at a relationship between China and Ireland that is 100 years old.

The series features rare archive film and photographs from missionary collections, much of which has never been seen on television before.

PH2.19.1 Page 19 - College hurling team 1921 College hurling team 1921 Source: TG4

‘Made great contributions’ 

Last week, the programme concentrated on a disaster that killed two million people in the Spring of 1931.

Tragedy struck when the banks burst on the Yangtze River and a massive area twice the size of Ireland was inundated with water.

Many people fled to cities with refugee camps but disease spread from poor sanitation.

The documentary revealed that Columban sisters set up makeshift camps and provided food and clean water and treated people who were ill. A lot of the Columban sisters were qualified nurses and teachers so they had practical skills to offer.

Shan Yuwu, who is carrying out a PhD about the relationship between Catholic Churches and Chinese society said, “An official emergency committee was set up in Wuhan and Bishop Galvin was put in charge.

“Some of the relief supplies from the National Government were given to the Columbans to distribute. They recruited local assistants to coordinate and register relief supplies. For example, the allocation of housing and construction of soup kitchen, etc.

In addition, the hospital of the Colombian sisters opened as a shelter. The Columban Sisters treated the sick and injured. They made great contributions at that time.


Source: Esras Films/Vimeo

The programmes are on TG4 on Monday evenings at 7.30pm. 

Read: Ireland is the 15th happiest country in the world>

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