The Hungarian Revolution, a Hunger Strike, and Ireland's First Refugee Camp
Published by: Indiana University Press
In 1956, a group of 548 refugees escaping the violence of the Hungarian Revolution arrived on the shores of Ireland. With its own history shaped by waves of emigration to escape war, famine, and religious persecution, Ireland responded by creating its first international refugee settlement.
Suitable Strangers reveals the firsthand experiences of the men, women, and children who lived in the Knockalisheen refugee camp near Limerick. For the majority of those living in the camp, Ireland was meant to be a temporary waystation on their ultimate journeys, primarily to Canada, the United States, and Australia. But after almost six months of uncertainty and feeling neglected by the Irish government, the Hungarian refugees began a hunger strike, which garnered national resentment and international headlines. Vera Sheridan explores this revolt and ensuing events by offering a complex and nuanced examination of the daily routines, state policies, and international motives that shaped life in the camp.
A fascinating read for historians as well as those interested in refugee and migrant studies, Suitable Strangers complicates the Irish diaspora by providing a closer look at the realities of Ireland's Knockalisheen refugee settlement.
A Note on Hungarian Names
List of Sources
List of Abbreviations
1. Defining the Context
2. Finding Suitable Refugees
3. Camp Life
4. The Hunger Strike
5. The Lives of Children
6. Domestic Problems, International Solutions, Departures
7. Comparisons, Legacies, and Conclusion
"Suitable Strangers is an example of filling an informative, factual, academic analysis with human warmth, sensitivity, and real empathy. While the book is a case-study of the fate of a relatively small group of refugees, it is also a perceptive and important chapter of the history of Ireland in the early Cold War. The reader will be able to see the world through the eyes of the refugees, while understanding the sources of mutual suspicion, misunderstanding, and the efforts to overcome mistrust. The lessons of Suitable Strangers can help all of us navigate the threatening high tide of the current refugee crisis."~István Rév, Director of the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives and Department of History, Central European University
"This is a powerful and excellently reconstructed history of Ireland's first and tentative step into the post-Second World War refugee crisis. Through careful research, it shows the ambiguity of the Irish state and population to those escaping the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. By placing it in the often disturbing domestic context of Ireland during the 1950s, this study never loses sight of the refugees themselves and their agency in the two years many of them spent in a 'temporary' refugee camp. It draws important parallels with Irish treatment of asylum seekers today and the need to take refugee history and refugee stories seriously. Sheridan provides a sensitive and thoughtful account that brings together the local and the global with great authority."~Tony Kushner, University of Southampton, author of Journeys from the Abyss: The Holocaust and Forced Migration from the 1880s to the Present
"Sheridan's study neatly explores Ireland's reception of Hungarian refugees, placing it within both its own struggles and preoccupations as a nation in the 1950s and the bigger picture of the post-1945 and Cold War years. It also illuminates the relationships between the state, voluntary action, and the refugees themselves—notably the importance of the Catholic church in particular in mediating the selection and reception of 'suitable strangers'—and how Ireland's economic limitations and moral constraints pushed many Hungarians to leave Ireland for more accommodating nations. In demonstrating both how emmeshed Ireland was in the wider world and how its actions were shaped by its national context, this book is a valuable addition not only to the global story of Hungarian refugees but also to 20th-century Irish history."~Becky Taylor, Professor of Modern History, University of East Anglia
"This book highlights the history and experience of 548, deemed 'suitable', Hungarian refugees in camp Knockalisheen, a disused army camp in county Clare. It is a story about thwarted expectations of refugees who had been told their stay in Ireland was temporary pending resettlement in the United States and elsewhere, of deprivation of agency, of silencing their voices, of cruelty to minors, but also sparks of humanity. A story that had to be told not just to foreground their fate in Irish history but also because the experience of those refugees, and that includes that of the author, is highly relevant to today's resettlement practice."~Marjoleine Zieck, Professor of International Refugee Law, Amsterdam Law School, University of Amsterdam
"In Suitable Strangers Vera Sheridan carefully traces the experiences of refugees in Ireland after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. In this deft exploration of Ireland's first foray in international refugee resettlement, Sheridan demonstrates the multi-layered and complex web of cultural and social forces at play during what was a temporary stay in Ireland for many, but not all. Through this detailed historical analysis, we see the personal and political factors that impact on the lives of adults and children displaced by war, the possibilities that were afforded to these Hungarian refugees in late 1950s Ireland, alongside the actions refugees took to articulate their needs, express their ideas and to make their lives. Through this often-overlooked historical case, Sheridan expertly reveals practices and approaches to hospitality, welfare, work, education, and humanitarian support that highlight the historical specificity of these events, alongside showing connections to experiences of, and responses to, forced displacement in Ireland today."~Mary Tomsic, Australian Catholic University
"Vera Sheridan offers readers an exhaustively researched study of the two year period in which several hundred Hungarian refugees resided in Knockalisheen camp in Ireland. Drawing on government, Church and NGO sources, as well as media reports and interviews with former refugees to recover this previously untold history, she painstaking narrates the quick dissipation of the Irish government's commitment to Hungarian refugees who were initially welcomed as heroic Christians fighting "Godless Communism;" confronted with the unanticipated logistical challenges and sociocultural complexities of resettlement, the Irish state quickly resorted to repressing the demands of refugees who demanded not "pity or grudging charity but an opportunity to work out their welfare in freedom," while simultaneously seeking to effect their swift departure from Ireland. Tracing and reflecting upon the how and why of the Knockalisheen Hungarians' fall from official grace, Sheridan ably advances the critical work of integrating refugee experiences into the story of the Irish nation and its people. No one is more qualified to tell this story. "~Anita Casavantes Bradford, University of California Irvine