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Story Of Co.Tyrone WWI Heroines Told at Last

15 November 2018

A new book telling the story of a group of Co Tyrone nurses who established a hospital in France during the First World War has been launched by the Ulster-Scots Agency at the Silverbirch Hotel in Omagh on Thursday 15 November.


Tell Them of Us, by local author Claire McElhinney, tells the story of a courageous group of women who trained as part of the Ulster Volunteer Medical and Nursing Corps during the Third Home Rule crisis and volunteered for active service following the outbreak of war.  Their offer of service had been rejected by the British military authorities, who didn’t think they would need extra nurses, therefore the Tyrone women volunteered to serve with the French forces and established the Ulster Volunteer Hospital at Pau, near the Pyrenees.

Claire, a local history enthusiast, was inspired to research the story of the Tyrone nurses as her grandmother, Edith Harkness, was one of the volunteers who sailed for France in 1914 and to serve at the Ulster Volunteer Hospital during the war. She commented; “During the last four years there has been a huge amount of work done on the Great War, but much of it has focused on the stories of the fighting men.  I hope my book will help to redress the balance, shedding new light on the story of pioneering women from Ulster and letting my grandmother Edith and her fellow Volunteers have their voices heard a hundred years later.”

Speaking at the book launch, Ulster-Scots Agency Chief Executive Ian Crozier said; “The Agency is proud to have been involved in helping to tell the story of a group of courageous women from the Ulster-Scots community who did extraordinary things in extraordinary times, from their activity in Ulster during the Home Rule crisis to their efforts in France and eventually England during the Great War.”

The launch was attended by over 200 people from Co Tyrone and further afield and commenced with remarks from HM Lord Lieutenant of Co Tyrone, Robert Scott OBE.  The audience was entertained with a selection of historically relevant performances by the Omagh Protestant Boys melody flute band and a selection of WWI songs by the Strule River String Band, of which Claire McElhinney is also a member.

The book is the latest of a series of projects undertaken by the Ulster-Scots Agency under the theme of Ulster and the Great War, which has included developing exhibitions and publications, erecting Blue Plaques to commemorate Ulster VC winners and distributing educational resources to every school in Ulster.

To view the gallery of images from the launch click here.