Skip to main content

New podcast recalls how Ireland helped people of Biafra

Press release8 October 2018

A NEW podcast series recalls how ordinary Irish people were galvanised by horrific reports of thousands of children dying from starvation every day during a civil war in Nigeria in 1968.

The three-part series, S.O.S: How Ireland Helped a Nation, was made by Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide, which was formed in 1968 in the Dublin home of John and Kay O’Loughlin Kennedy, who wanted to “do something” to help the people of Biafra in Eastern Nigeria where war caused a major famine a year after the region declared its independence.

Concern’s Clare Ahern, who researched and presents the documentary, said: “Our new podcast series tells the story of the bond between Ireland and Biafra.

“It’s a tale of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help those starving behind a military blockade from secret flights, to dodging bombs, to overcoming press censorship.

“It’s the story of how the people of Ireland were moved to help save the lives of people they'd never met, in a country thousands of miles away.”

Famine meant something to the people of Ireland

The series hears how Concern raised an incredible IR£3.5 million (over €53 million today) in just two years for Biafra in donations from ordinary households and businesses with huge support from the press, advertisers and various organisations.

John O’Loughlin Kennedy explains how Africa Concern, as it was known in 1968, created donation targets for every county in Ireland and pubslihed the results every week.

Concern used the money raised to buy its own ship, The Columcille, which delivered aid to São Tomé Island off the Nigerian coast from where planes flew shipments of food, medicine and other supplies at night through a military blockade.

“Famine meant something to the people of Ireland,” says Mr O'Loughlin Kennedy in the podcast as he applauds the incredibly generous and heart-warming response to the crisis by Irish people.

“Ireland had a huge missionary presence in Africa and everyone knew someone who was on the missions there.”

Concern's Columcille ship, which shipped aid to the Sao Tome Island off the Nigerian coast, from where the aid was flown into Biafra
Concern's Columcille ship, which shipped aid to the Sao Tome Island off the Nigerian coast, from where the aid was flown into Biafra

The podcast tells how at the height of the Biafran War, an estimated 10,000 people, including 6,000 children, were dying from starvation and disease every day – largely because of a brutal blockade that prevented food being imported into Biafra, which had a population of about 13 million.

“They brought out their poor little bodies and buried them straight away. It was horrific. God almighty, it was terrible,” recalls retired journalist Des Mullan (86) from Howth, Dublin, in episode one of the series.

Des reported for the Evening Herald, Irish Independent and Sunday Independent with late photographer John O’Neill.

Mariner Karl Vekins from Donegal, who was just 16 in 1968 when he joined the crew of Concern’s ship, The Columcille, and missionary priest Fr Dermot Doran of the Irish Spiritans (also known as Holy Ghost Fathers) were also interviewed for the series.

The podcast S.O.S: How Ireland Helped a Nation was researched and presented by Concern’s Clare Ahern and produced by Colette Kinsella for Red Hare Media.

It is Concern’s first podcast series and can be listened to at and also in iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and Soundcloud.


For more information or interview requests, please contact Kevin Jenkinson at or on 086 358 2886.

People gather with jerrycans and other containers to collect water from a tanker cistern in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip

Gaza Emergency Appeal

  • 1.9 million people displaced

  • 2.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance

  • People need nutrition support, medical assistance, and water, sanitation and hygiene services

Donate now
Share your concern