Since its establishment in 1939, the Irish Red Cross Society (IRCS) has played a key part in the medical, social, religious, cultural, political, and diplomatic history of twentieth-century Ireland. Over the decades, the IRCS provided first aid services both in war-time and peace-time, it pioneered public health and social care services, and acted as the state’s main agency for international humanitarian relief measures. The IRCS implemented and developed vital public health and social care initiatives that were subsequently developed by the state. During the early 1940s, the Society’s formation of a national blood transfusion service laid the foundations for the establishment of a national blood transfusion service. The Society’s steering of a national anti-tuberculosis campaign in the 1940s brought the issue of the eradication of TB to the fore and helped to change public attitudes towards the disease. From the 1950s, the IRCS has also been to the fore in caring for the elderly in Ireland, and, for more than two decades, it was effectively the only organization in the state that campaigned and introduced innovative services for the aged. From its inception, the IRCS has been very involved with the settlement and needs of refugees and the provision of international humanitarian relief from Ireland. War-time overseas relief efforts and its post-war work for child refugees earned it significant international recognition and prestige. This history assesses from a national perspective the role, work, and historical impact of the IRC, and examines the important role that this voluntary organization played in modern Ireland.
Shane Lehane, a native of Tralee, Co. Kerry, is a graduate of University College Cork, where he was awarded his PhD for a thesis entitled ‘A history of the Irish Red Cross, 1939–1971.’ His first book The Great Famine in Kerry: a study of its impact in the poor law unions of Dingle & Killarney, 1845–52 was published in 2015.