Of the 700-800 Irish people thought to be still living in France in 1941, only a handful in and around Paris could legitimately be classed as résistants during the German occupation of 1940-1944.
Samuel Beckett was one of their number. Elizabeth “Lilly” Hannigan (Dublin, 1919 – Dublin, 1992) was another. With her sister, Agnes, Lilly Hannigan worked as a governess for wealthy families in and around Paris. By the outbreak of war, Lilly was working for the wealthy Le Bret family at their mansion at Poigny-la-Forêt to the west of Paris.
When a Canadian bomber was downed in the vicinity in 1944, Lilly supplied food to the surviving members of its crew (two were killed and buried in the local cemetery) and she helped organise their escape south to Spain. Lilly had already helped downed airmen escape on several previous occasions. She became involved in a resistance unit based in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and periodically cycled the 45km from Poigny-la-Forêt to Paris with secret messages from resistance movements in the western suburbs to their peers in the city itself. One of her main points of contact was Fr. Kenneth Monaghan at St. Joseph’s Church on the Avenue Hoche, who she frequently met after Sunday mass to pass on important messages…..even though St. Joseph’s was also used by the Germans as a place of worship.
Like Fr. Monaghan and Lilly Hannigan, Janil (or Janie) McCarthy (Killarney, Co. Kerry, 1885 – Paris, 1964) was closely involved in exfiltrating downed Allied airmen. McCarthy (whose file in the Service Historique de la Défense (SHD) confusingly suggests was a man) was a determined resister right from the start of the German occupation—a record few native French would have been able to emulate. Between 1940 and 1944 she worked successively for four different resistance networks, proving herself amply deserving of her nomination for the Legion d’Honneur in 1950. By that stage, McCarthy, who made a living as an English-language teacher, was still in the same apartment that she had lived in throughout the war at 64, rue Saint Anne (2nd arrondissement) and that she had used as a safe house for Allied evaders. An article in The Kerryman in December 1954 described McCarthy's exploits thus:
For devotion to duty and service in the educational field during the first World War, she received the Palmes d'Academie in 1918, a very rare distinction for a foreigner to receive. She was teaching in Paris when the Germans occupied the city during the last war and within two months was a member of the resistance. She visited at least once a week the civilian camp at Saint Denis near Paris, the Military Hospital Val de Grace and the Sanatorium at Brevannes outside Paris.The money she earned, except just sufficient to pay for the bare necessities of life, she devoted to the welfare of the internees, young Frenchmen in hiding to escape working for the Germans or trying to get to England or the Maquis and Allied airmen who had been shot down. She engaged in many dangerous missions fetching parachutists into Paris to safe hide-outs or guiding them from one refuge to another in the city.
McCarthy died in the British Hospital in Levallois-Perret on December 20, 1964 and was buried in the town cemetery there eight days later. The grave plot was leased for 10 years to a certain Cornelius Healy. The lease was not renewed, and hence the plot was leased out to another party in 1975. Hic transit gloria....
John Pilkington’s known career in the Resistance was briefer and less illustrious. Pilkington (Dun Laoghaire, 1905 - ?) is described as a “man of letters” in his file at the SHD and appears to have made a living as a translator. As a British passport holder, he was detained for several months in 1940 by the Germans, who broke some of his teeth. His file also states that he formally belonged to a resistance group during the liberation of Paris between August 19 and 24 August 1944. He partook in street battles along the Blvd. de Clichy, place Pigalle and Place Blanche (9th and 18th arrondissements) and then helped mop up any residual pockets of resistance. In 1948, when he came looking for a war veteran’s card, Pilkington was living at 10, rue Durantin (18th arrondissement).
Guy O’Connell, whose address is given as c/o Banque d’Indochine, 96, Blvd. Haussmann 8th arrondissement), the bank that employed him at the outbreak of war, was part of a small-scale guerrilla campaign against the Japanese in Indochina. O’Connell (French, but descended from Wild Geese) made himself useful during various parachute drops by the French into Indochina and managed to avoid being rounded up by the Japanese when they seized full control of French territory in March 1945.
Service Historique de la Defense, bureau Résistance et Seconde guerre mondiale :
Dossier « Janie McCarthy »
Dossier « John Pilkington »
Dossier “Guy O’Connell”
"I was terribly frightened at times’—Irish men and women in the French Resistance and the French section of the SOE, 1940-1945” by David Murphy,; In Franco-Irish Military Connections 1590-1945 (2009) Various, ed. Nathalie Genet-Rouffiac & David Murphy
“Irish heroes of the French Resistance”, Sunday Business Post, July 22, 2001
The war years >