Last year, 2016, marked the centenary of the “Easter Rising” which led eventually to the establishment of the modern Irish state.
As part of the commemoration ceremonies, an event was held in Dublin, attended by the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, and several other Irish luminaries, to honour “The Women of 1916”.
At least 300 women were actively involved in the struggle for Irish independence and 77 of them were detained on Richmond Barracks in Dublin in the immediate aftermath. One of the 77 was 31 year old Barbara Retz and for many years very little was known about her in the public domain.
However, research in preparation for “The Women of 1916” identified Barbara Retz as having been imprisoned for a brief period. Subsequent investigation led to the somewhat astonishing finding that that she was a Latter-day Saint!
President Higgins issued an invitation for the Church to be represented at this celebratory occasion and John Connolly, Director of Public Affairs for Ireland, attended with his wife, Eileen.
Barbara Retz (née Böger was born in Stuttgart, Germany, and she, along with her husband, George Retz, and her two brothers and their wives, all of them German, came to Dublin in 1904. All ten of the total group were Lutherans who read about the Church and requested the Mission Office in Preston to send literature. Subsequently, they asked for missionaries to come and baptise them. This group became the founder members of a branch in Dublin. Whilst there had been a branch organised in the 1850s, severe opposition and the economic necessity of emigration meant that Church membership had dwindled dramatically during the ensuing years.
Many of them were pork butchers and had shops in the south inner city. Their positive influence on the development of the Church in Ireland both then and afterwards would be difficult to exaggerate.
Barbara and George Retz had not become UK subjects when her two brothers and their families did so in 1908. As a consequence, George was detained as an enemy alien and spent the years 1915 to 1919 at a camp on the Isle of Man. This left Barbara with two small children to rear and a business to run during this period.
It is not clear why she, as a German, had embraced the cause of Irish freedom. It is understood that she knew Padraig Pearce, and others of the leaders, of the Independence Movement.
Ironically, 22 years later, when in her native Germany, she was arrested again, this time for taking part in an Anti-Nazi rally in Berlin, and was only released after a fortnight’s imprisonment through the good offices of the British Embassy!
Barbara died in New York during May 1948. She was on her way to Salt Lake City and Southern California to visit her siblings who had earlier emigrated.
Barbara’s grandson, Gilbert Retz McCabe, a Church member, grew up in Ireland and now lives in England.