Bernardo O’Reilly
2 min readMar 8, 2023

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On International Women’s Day 2023 we remember Irishwoman Ruth Ormsby.

Ruth Ormsby was the only Irish woman to be killed in the Spanish Civil War. Born Hannah Ruth Ormsby in 1901 in Sligo, she trained as a nurse in Glasgow and worked in a neurological hospital in London before travelling to Spain in 1937 as part of the International Brigades Spanish Medical Aid Movement.

Franco’s forces aided by nazi Germany and fascist Italy, considered medical staff legitimate targets. Shortly after she arrived in Spain the Germans bombed the Basque town of Guernica.

Ruth joined the push by Republican forces to take Zaragoza from August 24 to September 7 1937 working as a theatre nurse in a makeshift hospital on the frontline which she helped to build. Following the attack on Belchite the hospital was completely overrun with casualties; she would often work for up to 30 hours straight without any sleep.

On 4 May 1938 Ruth was stationed at the British Medical Unit building in Barcelona when a fire broke out on the seventh floor. The city was being bombed indiscriminately and she and another nurse found themselves trapped with the only escape being to jump out the window. Ruth didn’t survive the impact of the fall.

She died aged just 37. She gave her life to defend the freedom and liberty of the Spanish Republic and to fight against fascism.She is buried in an unmarked grave in Barcelona with no coverage of her death in Irish or British media at the time.

A monument was erected in her honour in Dromore West, County Sligo in 2018 by the Friends of the International Brigade, Ireland.

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