Isabella Croke 1825 - 1888

Isabella Croke was born in Mallow, Co. Cork, in 1825, the second daughter and fourth of eight children born to William Croke and Isabella Plummer. When her father passed away, the family were poor and her uncle Father Thomas S. Croke brought the widow and her children to live in Charleville. Young Isabella was then nine years old. She and her older sister, Margaret, followed the Protestant faith of their mother, while her brothers were Catholics like their father.

Sometime between her father's death and 1847, Isabella converted from Protestantism to Catholicism. She entered the Sisters of Mercy convent in Charleville on 15th August 1847 and made her vows on 10 April 1850. From this point on, she was known as Sister Mary Joseph Croke. Isabella had witnessed the plight of the poor and starving the sick and the dying all around her in Charleville during the famine from 1845 onwards and the Mercy Sisters helped as best they could to alleviate the suffering starvation and those stricken with the famine fever. This experience proved to be good training for some of the Sisters when they were called upon to nurse and care for the injured and dying in the Crimean War1854-56.

The Crimean War like the American Civil war a few years later gave rise to a level of mass suffering injury and fatalities never before seen in previous confrontations. The modern Artillery, Canon, and more powerful and efficient Rifles could mow down men, horses, buildings and bridges alike on a scale which had never before been seen. In England War Correspondent William Russell wrote long detailed, and graphic articles on the plight of the injured and dying on all sides of the conflict and also pointed out that there were practically no doctors or nurses to care for the men. The public could for the first time follow the war and its battles and its atrocities day by day due to more modern methods of communication employed. The public were not pleased about the scale of the slaughter and were even less pleased that the injured and dying had no assistance at all to ease their condition.

The famous Florence Nightingale was one of the nurses who went out to the war to care for those in need. The Mercy order in Ireland and England were also given Contracts by The War Office to travel out to the conflict and provide nursing care. Two of those sisters went from the Mercy Convent in Charleville, Sr. Mary Clare (originally Margaret Lawlor from Kildare) and Isabella Croke known as Sr. Mary Joseph. Without proper hospitals as we know them or equipment or modern drugs or sterilisation the nurses and doctors made a huge difference to the injured and dying. Their heroism courage and hard work was frequently mentioned in accounts of the war and the great improvements they made to the conditions experienced by those suffering and all the lives saved and spared by their dedication.

Sr. Mary Joseph survived and returned to Charleville and later became Reverend Mother of the Mercy Convent there. She held that office until she passed away in 1888. She is buried in the Convent grounds.




“Sister Mary Joseph Croke

Another Voice from the Crimean War 1854-1856”


Associate Professor. Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass. 02167