Spanish Flu outbreak reaches Ireland

May 1918
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In 1918, the world faced an epidemic worse than the Black Death. The Spanish flu epidemic had spread across the world, and over the course of 20 months, claimed an estimated 18 million lives, most of whom were people under 40 years old. The epidemic is estimated to have killed 23,000 people in Ireland.

The great killer in Ireland in 1918-19, was not political violence nor the Great War, but the ‘Spanish Flu’.

Where it came from nobody knew. The illness was nicknamed the “Spanish lady” because it was first recorded in Spain. Offended Spaniards dubbed it the “Naples soldier”, and the Japanese called it “American influenza”. Sore throat, headache, fever and black skin proved telltale signs (hence it was also known as "the Black Flu").  The more virulent strain of this pandemic was notable in that it primarily killed healthy young adults often within 24 hours of onset.

READ MORE: Black Flu death at Carrick Boarding School

Troops sailing home from WWI took the flu into Dublin and Cork. The first recorded outbreak was on USS Dixie off Cobh in May 1918 and by July it had arrived in Dublin. From the ports the disease swept across Ireland in three waves: mild in spring 1918; lethal in autumn 1918; and moderate in early 1919. 

The top scientists of the day considered the disease was carried by bacteria and was no more deadly than the Russian Flu of 1889-92. Consequently, the authorities did not make it “notifiable” until the third outbreak in spring 1919. (Only in 1933 was it identified as a virus H1N1A).

While the outbreak of ‘Spanish flu’ in Ireland was probably brought back to Ireland by returning soldiers, the epidemic spread due to the intense political activism (i.e. monster rallies) surrounding the General Election of 1918. In addition, being imprisoned, as several thousand Republican activists were, for longer or shorter periods both in Britain and Ireland was probably the worst place to be. The Republicans’ witness statements are full of mournful accounts of comrades who died of the disease in prison. The victory parade for the Great War in Dublin in early 1919 also helped to spread the disease.

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Comments

  • Trinity College have mapped the degree to which each county across the island of Ireland was affected by the Spanish flu here:
    https://www.tcd.ie/news_events/articles/trinity-researchers-shed-new-lig...

    Rua

    Sunday 2nd June 2019, 02:51PM
  • My Paternal Grandmother, Mary Agnes Beirne, was a victim of the Spanish Flu. Here is what I know of her. She is the Granddaughter of William Beirne of Leitrim, Northern Ireland and MaryAnn Gilroy. I beleive that WIlliam and MaryAnn may have been married 11/Feb/1952 in Ardagh,Annaduff. William and MaryAnn had a daughter Bridget M. born 11/Aug/1864 possibly in Jamestown, Leitrim, Northern Ireland. Bridget married Thomas Hunter, born ?1854?.At some point, Thomas and Bridget came to the U.S. and settled in Elizabeth,Union County, New Jersey where Mary was born on 4/Sept/1853. Mary married my Grandfather, Edward Patrick Coughlin, born 10/Mar/1895/1895. They married in St. Patrick's church in Elizabeth, N.J. on 2/Mar/1916.

    Mary and Edward had two children Thomas Edward born 7/May/1916 and my Dad,Jeremiah Joseph born 9/Sept/1917. Mary died on 31/Mar/1919 which was at the very end of the pandemic.I thought that the disease only occure in 1918. Researching my tree at the N.J. Archives in Trenton, I found Mary's death certificate. That is how I learned the date of her death.

    My Grandfather eventually remarried and no mention was ever made of Mary's family. I always knew that my Dad's mother died of the Spanish Flu when he was an infant, but I didn't even learn her name until after I started researching my family tree about 15 years ago! I do have a pendant watch that my Grandfather gave to Mary on their wedding day. I have been unable to find any surviving realitives so I guess I'll never know anything about that side of my family. Such a sad, sad, story.

    jerseygirl1952

    Monday 10th June 2019, 06:55PM

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