Operation Shamrock

Large archival collections can demonstrate to us institutional processes, providing evidence of activities and speaking to wider societal events. Sometimes, though, smaller collections can focus the historical eye on the most personal of experiences. In 2021, UCD Archives acquired the papers of Friedhelm Krüll, a German man who was brought to Ireland in the aftermath of the Second World War to be fostered by an Irish family.

Friedhelm’s home circumstances in Düsseldorf were extremely impoverished. His mother, Anna, had sixteen children in total, of which Friedhelm was fourteenth. Their situation was common in post-war Germany, and recognition of this led to the establishment of Operation Shamrock: a scheme to bring refugee children from Germany (and occasionally, other countries) to Ireland where they were fostered by Irish families for a period of three years. The scheme was administered by the Irish Red Cross. 

The Cotter family photographed with Friedhelm Krüll, [1951], UCD Archives, P337/34.

In September 1946, Friedhelm arrived in Ireland, travelling via Holyhead. He stayed in St Kevin’s Hostel in Glencree, County Wicklow for several months, where he and other refugee children were cared for by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. Before being released to their foster families, the children were assessed for infectious disease and treated for malnutrition where necessary. Like Friedhelm, many of these children were coming from homes where their parents had struggled to adequately care for them and others were orphans. Between January 1946 and June 1947, over 400 children arrived in Ireland by means of Operation Shamrock.

The family selected for Friedhelm were the Cotters of Clarinbridge, County Galway. William (Billy) and Olive Cotter had at that time three children of their own: Michael, Sheila and Jacqueline. Billy was a Land Commission official. 

Letter from Friedhelm’s mother, Anna Düllberg to the Cotter family. The letter is in German but a translation is included in the archive, obtained by the Cotter family on receipt of this communication (18 July 1947). UCD Archives, P337/8.

Anna, Friedhelm’s mother, tried to stay in touch with the Cotters and to hear about Friedhelm’s progress in Ireland. The papers contain letters and notes from her and from Friedhelm’s older brother Bernhard. Their letters illustrate the hardships they were living through back in Germany: in March 1948, Olive Cotter even arranged for a special export license so that she could send the family clothes. It’s not difficult to imagine how preoccupied Anna must have been with caring for her large family, and how relieved she must have been to know that Friedhelm was well cared for and happy in Ireland. 

An export licence granted to Olive Cotter to send clothing to the Düllberg family in Germany (1948), UCD Archives, P337/11.

And happy he was – Friedhelm and Michael Cotter were ‘best friends’, and Friedhelm came to consider Billy and Olive his parents. When the family moved to Rathfarnham in Dublin, he went with them. While the foster period was planned to be three years, Friedhelm ultimately stayed with the Cotters for nine years, with the agreement of his mother. 

Friedhelm went back to Germany in his teens, and later worked in the construction industry. He is married, and he and his wife Gisela have a son, Oliver – named after his foster mother, Olive Cotter.

Smaller collections of personal papers such as this one shrink the archival view down from the state or institutional level right down to the acutely personal. By acquiring and making available all sizes and types of archival collections, we can provide context for researchers and provide the means by which a fuller view of historical events can be created.

Colour photograph of Friedhelm Krüll (2010), UCD Archives, P337/35.

This post was written by Sarah Poutch, Archivist, UCD Archives.

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