No. 334 NAI DFA 19/93
Confidential report from Leopold H. Kerney to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
Madrid, 11 May 1936
DISTURBANCES IN MADRID
The Madrid newspapers, owing to strict censorship, did not give any account of certain disturbances which took place in Madrid on Monday 4th May respecting which it is difficult to ascertain the exact truth. A rumour was spread that several children had died as a result of a distribution in the streets and parks of poisoned sweets. Five churches and two convents were set on fire and a number of persons injured. It is said that 11 Nuns were amongst the number. I am told that the Mother Superior of a convent has died in consequence of her injuries and also a French governess. I know for a positive fact that this governess was set upon by an infuriated mob and brutally ill-treated. It is said, amongst other things, that she was stripped of her clothes and dragged along by a rope around her body. I know for a fact that there is considerable indignation among the French colony in Madrid and dissatisfaction with the French Ambassador who is said to have made a tardy and somewhat mild protest to the authorities. I have been told that some nuns actually had to use sheet ropes to escape through the windows of a burning building.
It is certain that the very worst passions of the mob were let loose on this occasion and it is no less certain that many people believed firmly the rumour as to the giving of poisoned sweets. The truth of this rumour was denied not merely by the Minister for the Interior but also by the representative organisation of Socialists and Communists in Madrid.
The most disturbing feature in this latest outbreak of mob passion is that attacks on buildings have spread to attacks on persons.
As I have already reported, this is a city of many rumours and this evil is no doubt attributable in large part to the strict censorship of the press.
I was informed a week ago from 2 sources that it was a definite fact that 3 communists had been hanged in the Retiro Park and red handkerchiefs placed in their mouths. The tale may or may not be true. I am very much inclined to believe that the spreading of rumours is a definite policy on the part of certain extremist elements, no doubt on the Left as well as on the Right, for the purpose, presumably, of creating and maintaining agitation which may be favourable to the designs of those who do not believe absolutely in parliamentary effort.
At 10 o’clock this morning the Mother Superior of las Damas Irlandesas telephoned to inform me that 10 minutes previously she had been called to the telephone and told by some presumably Spanish person, who did not disclose his or her identity, that the Convent was going to be burned down. She so advised the 2 policemen on duty who telephoned to headquarters accordingly and received instructions to be on the alert. I expressed to Mother Aloysius my belief that this was a false rumour as otherwise the person who went to the trouble of telephoning to her would have given his or her name. I had enquiries made and ascertained that everything was quiet in Madrid. On communicating with Mother Aloysius again at about 2 p.m. she informed me that the guards on duty expected that there might be some trouble in Madrid to-night.
I mentioned this rumour to the Under-Secretary for State when I met him in the Diplomatic Tribune at the Cortes this afternoon. He said that he had been at the Ministry for State up till noon and that up to that time there had been no indication of trouble brewing anywhere and he hoped, of course, that there would be none.
[signed] L.H. Kerney