The establishment of Young Christian Workers in Ireland in 1937 was due largely to the dedication and enthusiasm of two priests, Fr. Declan O’Sullivan, C.P., Ardoyne, Belfast and Fr. William Browne, C.C., Our Lady’s Island, Wexford who had obtained J.O.C. literature from Belgium whilst they were studying for the priesthood. When they were appointed to parishes, the opportunity was taken to set up YCW sections.
The first boys’ sections were started in 1937 in Belfast and Wexford followed by a girls’ sections a year later. Within a few years there were 18 boys’ and girls’ sections in Belfast and the surrounding areas. By 1945, there were 29 sections with four Federations throughout Ireland with a total active membership of more than 1,200.
During the war years, many young worker rallies were held in Belfast and Wexford culminating in one in Belfast on the 20th anniversary of the founding of the JOC at which more than 5,000 young people attended. The publication and distribution of YCW newspapers for young workers averaged 7,000 copies each month.
There were numerous on-going campaigns such as:
- proclaiming the dignity of marriage as a sacrament and a vocation
- exhibitions showing the human consequences of bad housing in Northern Ireland
- publicising the exodus of 3,000 young people leaving Ireland each month
- focusing on breaches of the Factory Acts by employers
- promoting the advancement of Irish culture and language
- distributing 70,000 leaflets and prayer cards on Good Friday. One year, the mainly Protestant shipyard and aircraft factory in Belfast joined in a one-minute silence at 3 p.m.
Numerous services were provided for young workers such as:
- Vocational Advice Bureau
- Preparation for Marriage centre
- Youth Hostel
- Savings Service
- Sick Service
- Overseas Service, YCW members wrote on a regular basis to fellow workers in England
YCW Congress 1945
Mick Rea, the first full time YCW Regional President, Nora Davey and Father Declan O’Sullivan, Regional Chaplain, represented Ireland at the first International Study Week after the war in 1946. Delegates attended further meetings during the 1950’s and the International Congress in Rome in 1957. There were continuing exchange visits with the YCW movements in Scotland and England.
Although six diocesan bishops gave their approval to the YCW, it never received national episcopal approval. The movement’s activities and membership gradually dwindled during the latter part of the 1950’s and it eventually ceased in 1960. Several reasons can be attributed to its demise namely the failure to obtain the support of many clergy, the neglect to train future leaders and the scarcity of full-time activists due to insufficient funding.
Mick Rea, Danny Lennon and Father Declan OSullivan
Mick Rea, Danny Lennon
& Fr. Declan (May 1945) Mick Rea, Danny Lennon and Father Declan OSullivan
YCW Belgian Troops visit
our Belfast section (May 1945)
Willie Roberts of Wexford and Danny Lennon of Belfast
Willie Roberts of Wexford & Danny Lennon,
Regional Secretary, of Belfast (1940) London_YCW_HQ_23May195
At London YCW
Head Quarters (1950)
Irish YCW 1974 – present day
The YCW was partly revived in the South of Ireland during the late 1960’s but it was not fully restored until 1974 when Frank Foley, Kevin Hayes and Fr. Charles Walker from the English YCW visited Ireland. Fr. Denis Laverty had already formed an excellent group in Donnycarney Parish, Dublin. About this time Fr. Micheál Liston, Limerick, who had been appointed Diocesan youth chaplain, went to London to enquire about the YCW. On his return he established a number of sections in the Limerick area unaware of the existence of the group in Dublin. Fr. Micheál eventually became the Ireland’s first National Chaplain and wrote a book entitled “A Movement for Young Workers”.
During the 1980’s the movement began to spread throughout the country with groups in Limerick, Cork, Galway, Belfast, Newry and Kildare and at least sixteen sections in the Dublin region alone. In 1984 the Irish YCW celebrated its 10th anniversary with a rally in Raheny, Dublin. At about this time a headquarters was acquired and with it came the first full-time workers.
In November 1994 a new National Office was established in Dublin with Fr. Eoin McCrystal, National Chaplain and Vicky Rattigan, National Development Worker at its helm. The reformed YCW set about establishing a national movement of young workers in Ireland and began to play its part within the European youth movement. YCW gained a seat on the Board of the National Youth Council of Ireland and set about highlighting the issues of its members through the Standing conferences.
In 1999 with the help of an external facilitator a new mission statement and strategic plan was devised. This plan helped to set specific targets to develop the movement over the coming years. In the same year a European Meeting of YCW was held in Dublin which attracted 35 delegates from around Europe. YCW continued to maintain its links with YCW in England and Europe. This helped to keep alive important links with other YCW groups outside of Ireland. In 2000 two new people were employed by YCW to support existing groups and to help to establish new YCW groups. They met with different parishes and dioceses around Ireland. As they attempted to raise the awareness of the YCW profile it would seem that this was a third chapter in the story of YCW to in Ireland.
A new IMPACT! Programme was developed specifically for working with young people 16-18 years. The “Change Through Action” was designed to enable young people to explore an issue of concern in a fun way, debate it and plan actions to bring about change. Along with the programme the Movement also developed a training programme for Chaplain / Animators which included a session on Child Protection.
The Cardijn Association, Northern Section was established in 1998 and consists of former members of the Movement who subscribe to the principles of Joseph Cardin, founder of the YCW Movement.