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MICHAEL D. HIGGINS UACHTARÁN NA hÉIREANN PRESIDENT OF IRELAND

Seminar ‘Commemorating The Great Flu of 1918-1919’


CONTENTS Foreword by President Michael D. Higgins

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Speech by President Michael D. Higgins, ‘The Great Flu of 1918-1919: Why Remember? Why Forget?’

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Presentation by Dr Ida Milne, ‘Big Picture, Little Picture-statistics and oral history of the 1918-1919 Flu in Ireland’

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Presentation by Dr Patricia Marsh, ‘Woe unto them that are with child: Gender and the Spanish Influenza pandemic in Ulster’

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Presentation by Prof. Guy Beiner, ‘Remembering, Forgetting and Rediscovering the Great Flu’

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PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

RÉAMHFHOCAL Agus an Chéad Chogadh Domhanda ag tarraingt chun deiridh scaip víreas fliú, nach raibh a mhacasamhail ann roimhe sin ná ó shin, trasna an domhain agus threascair sé saighdiúirí agus sibhialtaigh araon. Tugadh an t-ainm fliú Spáinneach go mícheart ar an víreas, go príomha mar go raibh an Spáinn neodrach agus ar cheann den bheagán tíortha in 1918 ina raibh cead ag comhfhreagraithe tuairisciú a dhéanamh ar an ráig. Bhí líon na marbh ar fud an domhain dochreidte: de réir na meastachán is deireanaí, bhásaigh idir 50 milliún agus 100 milliún duine ar fud an domhain le linn na dtrí rabharta paindéime idir earrach na bliana 1919 agus geimhreadh na bliana 1919, agus bhí sé ar cheann de na tubaistí nádúrtha ba mharfaí i stair an duine. Tá a fhios againn anois gur bhásaigh 23,000 Éireannach de thoradh ar an víreas. De bharr easpa na diagnóise agus na cáipéisíochta, ní féidir teacht ar fhigiúirí cruinne, ach creidtear go raibh suas le 800,000 duine ionfhabhtaithe in Éirinn, is é sin aon chúigiú den daonra ag an am. Is annamh ar próiseas simplí nó éasca atá ann dul i ngleic leis an stair, ach tá sé tábhachtach go ndéantar sin ar shlite eiticiúla agus macánta. Is éagóir thromchúiseach dá íospartaigh agus a gclanna atá ann nach gcuimsítear ach go hannamh an Fliú Mór i scéal an 20ú haois in Éirinn, agus go deimhin tugann staraithe áirithe “an phaindéim dhearmadta” uirthi. Mar chuid dár deich mbliana na gcuimhneachán agus le cuidiú fial an Dr Ida Milne, an Dr Patricia Marsh agus an Ollaimh Guy Beiner, socraíodh seimineár a reáchtáil in Áras an Uachtaráin chun comóradh a dhéanamh ar Fhliú Mór 1918-1919 agus orthu siúd go léir a bhásaigh le linn na heachtra tragóidí sin. Bhí daoine ó chlanna na n-íospartach agus na bpearsan lárnach a thug cúnamh dóibh siúd a raibh an phaindéim in Éirinn ag cur isteach orthu i láthair ag an seimineár, chomh maith le daoine eile atá rannpháirteach inniu agus cosc á chur acu le paindéimí agus iad ag troid ina n-aghaidh. Bhí sé spreagúil agus bhí ábhar machnaimh ann, agus thug sé léargas ar réimse dár stair a bhí faoi scáth, agus chuidigh sé le cuimhne na mílte íospartach Éireannach a bhí thíos le paindéim an fhliú a athshlánú. Ba mhaith liom buíochas ó chroí a thabhairt don Dr Ida Milne as Coláiste Cheatharlach, don Dr Patricia Marsh as Ollscoil na Banríona, Béal Feirste, agus don Ollamh Guy Beiner as Ollscoil Ben-Gurion, Iosrael , as a bheith sásta labhairt ar an ócáid, agus impleachtaí tragóideacha an fhliú do na scórtha mílte duine agus teaghlach in Éirinn á dtabhairt chun cuimhne ar bhealach chomh soiléir sin. Ba mhaith liom, freisin, buíochas a ghlacadh le Scoil na Startha agus na nDaonnachtaí i gColáiste na Tríonóide, Baile Átha Cliath, agus le hIontaobhas Ghlas Naíon as taispeántas Iontaobhais Ghlas Naíon faoi phaindéim an fhliú mhóir in 1918-1919 a éascú. Ar deireadh, ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh le gach duine a bhí i láthair ag an seimineár agus ar chuir a gcuid ionchuir agus machnaimh go mór leis an doiciméad seo. Tá spás inár gcomhchuimhne stairiúil tuillte acu siúd a bhásaigh le linn an Fhliú Mhóir, fir agus mná óga den chuid ba mhó. Tá súil agam go gcuideoidh an foilseachán seo le cruthú an spáis sin – spás cuimsitheach atá oscailte do scéalta an uile dhuine.

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SEMINAR: ‘COMMEMORATING THE GREAT FLU OF 1918-1919’

FOREWORD As the First World War was drawing to a close, an influenza virus, unlike any before or since, swept across the world, felling soldiers and civilians alike. The virus incorrectly became known as the Spanish flu, primarily because neutral Spain was one of the few countries in 1918 where correspondents were free to report on the outbreak. The global death toll was inconceivable: according to the most recent estimates, between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide perished in the three pandemic waves between the spring of 1918 and the winter of 1919, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. We now know that 23,000 Irish people died as a result of the virus. Due to a lack of diagnosis and documentation, exact figures prove unattainable, but it is thought that up to 800,000 people in Ireland, about one- fifth of the population at the time, could have been infected. Engaging with the past is rarely a simple or easy process, but it is critical that we do so in ways that are ethical and honest. That the Great Flu is rarely incorporated into the narrative of 20th century Ireland, and indeed has been labelled by some historians as the “forgotten pandemic”, is a grave injustice to its victims and their families. As part of our decade of commemorations, and with the generous assistance of Dr Ida Milne, Dr Patricia Marsh and Prof. Guy Beiner, it was decided to host a seminar in Áras an Uachtaráin commemorating the Great Flu of 1918-1919 and all those who lost their lives during that tragic event. The Seminar was attended by family members of both some of the victims and central figures who helped those affected by the pandemic in Ireland, as well as others who are today involved in preventing and combatting pandemics. It proved to be thought provoking and stimulating, throwing much light on a greatly shadowed area of our shared history, enabling the reclaiming of the memory of the many thousands of Irish victims of the flu pandemic. I would like to sincerely thank Dr Ida Milne of Carlow College, Dr Patricia Marsh of Queen’s University Belfast, and Prof. Guy Beiner of Ben-Gurion University, Israel for agreeing to speak at the event, recalling to us so vividly the tragic implications of the flu for tens of thousands of individuals and families in Ireland. I would also like thank the School of Histories and Humanities at Trinity College Dublin and the Glasnevin Trust for facilitating the display of Glasnevin Trust’s exhibition on the great flu pandemic of 1918 – 1919. Finally, I would like to thank all who attended the seminar and whose inputs and reflections have contributed to this document. Those who died during the Great Flu, mostly young men and women, deserve a space in our shared historical memory. It is my hope that this publication will facilitate the creation of that space – an inclusive space open to the stories of all.

Uachtarán na hÉireann President of Ireland

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PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

President Higgins makes introductory address

‘THE GREAT FLU OF 19181919: WHY REMEMBER? WHY FORGET?’ A chairde, May I begin by wishing you all a warm welcome to Áras an Uachtaráin today and thanking you for taking the time to join us here at relatively short notice for busy people, as we mark a century since the end of one of the world’s worst ever recorded pandemics, that of the so-called, indeed miscalled as we will hear, Spanish Influenza. I wish to pay particular thanks, if I may, to Dr Ida Milne of Carlow College, Dr Patricia Marsh of Queen’s University Belfast, and Prof. Guy Beiner of Ben-Gurion University (Israel) for agreeing to speak at today’s event, and may I also thank the School of Histories and Humanities at Trinity College Dublin and the Glasnevin Trust for their exhibition materials that are displayed here today. Just over one hundred years ago, as the First World War was drawing to a

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fitful close, an influenza virus, unlike any before or since, swept across the world, felling soldiers and civilians alike. The global death toll was inconceivable: according to the most recent estimates, between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide perished in the three pandemic waves between the spring of 1918 and the winter of 1919, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. Indeed, the pandemic caused mortality that was similar in scale to that which resulted from the Black Death in the 14th century. If one adjusts for population growth, the death toll would be equivalent in terms of impact to between 200 million and 425 million deaths today. As with other 20th-century epidemics and pandemics, such as HIV/AIDS, Africans and Asians suffered proportionately more than Europeans and North Americans. Thus, while the average case mortality in what we term the developed world was about 2%, in India, where 18.5 million perished, it was 6%, and in Egypt, where 138,000 died, it was 10%. In isolated regions in which populations had no immunity to flu, the impact was truly astonishing: in Western Samoa, for example, a quarter of the population died, while in Alaska some entire Inuit communities died as a result. Infectious disease had already limited life expectancy in the early 20th century. However, in the first year of the pandemic, life expectancy in the United States was shortened by about 12 years as a direct result. Mark Honigsbaum, the author of Living with Enza: The Forgotten Story of Britain and the Great flu pandemic of 1918, has written extensively about the pandemic’s probable origin. “Few epidemiologists believe the pandemic began in Spain, pointing instead to prepandemic waves in Copenhagen and other northern European cities in the summer of 1918. Where the virus first leapt from birds to humans or some other mammal is even more perplexing, with some scientists favouring a Kansas point of origin and others northern France or China.” Spanish flu was so-called because neutral Spain was one of the few countries in 1918 where correspondents were free to report on the outbreak. To maintain morale in countries at war, wartime censors minimised early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the United States. Papers were free to report the epidemic’s effects in neutral Spain (such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII). This created a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit, thereby giving rise to the pandemic’s moniker, ‘Spanish flu’. In a 2007 analysis of medical journals from the period of the pandemic, it was found that the viral infection itself was not more aggressive than any previous influenza, but that the special circumstances of the context, both structural and contingent of the epidemic (malnourishment, overcrowded medical camps and hospitals, poor hygiene) promoted bacterial superinfection that would kill most of the victims, typically after a prolonged deathbed. However, there remain many mysteries associated with the pandemic, perhaps chief of which relates to why the Spanish flu proved so deadly to young adults. Here, present-day science has some interesting hypotheses to offer but, it appears, no conclusive answers. One suggestion is that the elderly enjoyed greater immunity because, as children, they had been exposed to a pandemic virus with a similar genetic makeup to what was called the Spanish flu. Conversely, those aged 28 and over had an immunological blind spot because their first exposure had been to the 1890 ‘Russian flu’, a virus with a completely different configuration of genes. 7


PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

Sarah Culhone- Canty with her children Alice, Daniel and Thomas, Circa 1910.Daniel Canty (far left) died during the Spanish flu pandemic and was President Michael D. Higgins’ Uncle

Another explanation, posited by Honigsbaum, is that the unusual mortality pattern seen in 1918 was the result of an as-yet unidentified environmental exposure, or stressor, peculiar to young adults at the time. Answering these questions is important because genes from the Spanish flu continue to circulate in human and pig populations to this day. Some of these genes are direct descendants of the 1918 virus; others have reasserted with other pandemic viruses, such as the 1968 Hong Kong flu and the virus responsible for the 2009 swine flu pandemic. The pandemic reached Ireland, most likely in Spring 1918, as troops sailing home took the flu into Dublin and Cork. The first recorded outbreak was on USS Dixie, off Cobh, in May. From the ports the disease swept across Ireland in three waves: mild in spring 1918; lethal in autumn 1918; and moderate in early 1919. It disrupted Irish society and politics, as has been skilfully recounted by Dr Ida Milne, whom I’m delighted is here with us today. Her doctoral research in Trinity College Dublin, which has been published as a book entitled, Stacking the coffins: Influenza, War and Revolution in Ireland, 1918-19, is the first Irish history of the disease that includes statistics where an attempt is made to analyse which groups were most affected. It is all the more valuable for also drawing from personal accounts of individuals affected. Léiríonn an leabhar gur chuir spré an ghalair na bailte ina dtost; dhún sé na scoileanna, na cúirteanna, agus na leabharlainne, laghdaigh sé méid na trádála, líon sé na hospidéal, agus chuir sé brú as cuimse ar na dochtúirí agus iad ag cuir cóir leighis ar na céadta othar gach lá. [The book tells of how the pandemic created a stillness in cities and towns as it passed through, closing schools, courts and libraries, quelling trade, cramming hospitals, and stretching medical doctors to their limit as they treated hundreds of patients each day.] Dr Milne also reveals how the pandemic became part of a major row between nationalists and the Government over interned anti-conscription campaigners.

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Indeed, Dr Milne and Dr Patricia Marsh from Queen’s University Belfast, whom I’m very glad to tell you is also here today, have analysed how, across the whole island of Ireland, there were more than 23,000 recorded deaths as a result of the virus. However, due to a lack of diagnosis and documentation, it is thought that up to 800,000 people in Ireland, about one-fifth of the population at the time, could have been infected. I am also so pleased to be able to welcome to the Áras today some family members of those who died tragically and of central figures who helped those affected by the pandemic in Ireland, as well as others involved in preventing and combating pandemics today. I wish to focus today on the legacy of the Spanish flu pandemic in terms beyond the scientific mysteries and devastating statistics that it gave rise to. By this I mean I would like to consider the link between the pandemic, and indeed other tragic historical events, and human memory. I believe this is a worthwhile endeavour because the Spanish flu began to fade from public awareness quickly, especially over the decades of the 20th century until the arrival of news about bird flu and other pandemics in the 1990s and 2000s. Indeed, despite the fact that it claimed many more lives than the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War combined, the Great Flu is rarely incorporated into the narrative of 20thcentury Ireland. This has led some historians, such as AW Crosby and Caitriona Foley, to label the Spanish flu a “forgotten pandemic”. The challenge of remembering ethically was a significant part of the Ethics Initiative which I launched as the second President of Ireland Initiative of my Presidency. In addressing the need to “remember ethically”, I turned to the philosophical writings of, Hannah Arendt, Paul Ricoeur, Avishai Margalit and Richard Kearney. The emphasis was, perhaps, on the need to respect a pluralism of narratives of shared events, including sources of conflict, its delivery, consequences, as material for revived hate, fear, xenophobia, or indeed by some necessary but rare forgiveness. The concept of collective memory, initially developed by Halbwachs, has been explored and expanded from various angles across different disciplines of research. Our collective memory of events can be constructed, shared, and passed on by large and small social groups. Memories survive and take shape through a relationship with others, evolving over time, and open to re-interpretation and reconsideration as we strive to transact a relationship that will ideally release us from the weight of past events, and that will allow a moving forward, however tentatively, to new beginnings by loosening the lid on, what I call in one of my poems, the “mouldering jar of memory”. The historian Prof. Guy Beiner, whom I’m also very happy to see present today, an authority on memory and history on Ireland, has criticised the unreflective use of the adjective ‘collective’ in many studies of memory. In his book, Troubles with Remembering, or, the Seven Sins of Memory Studies, he asserted: “The problem is with crude concepts of collectivity, which assume a homogeneity that is rarely, if ever, present, and maintain that, since memory is constructed, it is entirely subject to the manipulations of those invested in its maintenance, denying that there can be limits to the malleability of memory, or to the extent to which artificial constructions of memory can be inculcated. In practice, the construction of a completely collective memory is, at best, an aspiration of politicians, which is never entirely fulfilled and is always subject to contestations”. In its place, Prof. Beiner has promoted the term ‘social memory’ and has also demonstrated its limitations by developing a related concept of ‘social forgetting’.

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PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

Why do some major historical events occupy the forefront of the collective consciousness, while profound moments, such as the pandemic we are discussing today, sometimes stand distantly behind? Ricoeur reflects in his book, Memory, History, Forgetting, on whether it is possible that history “overly remembers some events at the expense of others”, revealing how this attempted symbiosis of what are contested and conflicting versions and the mould into which they are poured – influences both the perception of historical experience and the production of historical narrative. The philosophical paradoxes of memory, the aporias of forgetting, and the mediating role of history are all issues we need to consider in understanding such a profound, complex and interconnected question. Our ambivalence about remembering perhaps expresses ambivalence about our own identities. The basic dialectic of memory and amnesia is, thus, not only about remembering and forgetting certain events or people. Viet Thanh Nguyen argues that, in the context of war, it is instead more fundamentally about remembering our humanity and forgetting our inhumanity, while conversely remembering the inhumanity of others and forgetting their humanity: “A just memory demands instead a final step in the dialectics of ethical memory—not just the movement between an ethics of remembering one’s own and remembering others, but also a shift toward an ethics of recognition, of seeing and remembering how the inhuman inhabits the human”. No wonder, then, that for Jorge Luis Borges, remembering is a “ghostly verb”. Memory is haunted, not just by ghostly others, but by the horrors we have done, seen, and condoned, or by the unspeakable things from which we have profited. The troubling weight of the past is especially evident when we speak of war and our limited ability to recall it. Haunted and haunting, human and inhuman, war remains with us and within us, impossible to forget but difficult to remember. According to Avishai Margalit, shared memory in a modern society travels from person to person through institutions, such as archives, through historiographic texts, and through communal mnemonic devices, such as speeches enunciated by public representatives, monuments and the names of streets; all of these reflect a distribution of power. Memory, indeed, constitutes one of the greatest sources of interrogation bequeathed to us by the 20th century, with its cortege of pandemics like the one we are remembering today, mass crimes and fateful experimentations with totalitarianism. How and what are we to remember? How are individual and collective memories articulated? What must never become the subject of amoral amnesia? In what ways does the ‘duty of memory’ summon us to do justice to the dead? To what extent are we to allow ourselves to be changed as we listen to the narrative of the other? What is the relationship between memory and history? These are first-order moral questions. They are central to the work of important thinkers such as Maurice Halbwachs, Hannah Arendt, and Paul Ricoeur – work that I find myself returning to again and again as I attempt an answer to such questions. There really can never be a new moment; rather, it is that from the fragments of the old, as in nature itself, something new seeks to be born, often against the impediments of the old, and thus arrives with a scream that in time may become a smile. Edith Wyschogrod, in An Ethics of Remembering: History, Heterology and the Nameless Others, attempts to answer the question, ‘can the historian ever bring back that which has gone by, ever tell the truth about the past?’. Wyschogrod is concerned with the cataclysm: mass annihilations of the 20th century such as the flu pandemic. Realising the philosophical impossibility of ever recovering ‘what really happened’, Wyschogrod 10


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nevertheless acknowledges a moral imperative to speak for those who have been rendered voiceless, to give countenance to those who have become faceless, and hope to the desolate. Various theories of why there is something of a collective amnesia regarding Spanish flu include: first, the rapid pace of the pandemic, which killed most of its victims in the United States, for example, within a period of less than nine months, resulting in limited media coverage; second, the fact that, as the historical epidemiologist Morrissey pointed out, the general population was familiar with patterns of pandemic disease in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, with typhoid, yellow fever, diphtheria and cholera all occurring near the same time, possibly lessening the significance of the influenza pandemic for the public; third, in many areas the flu was not reported on, the only mention being that of advertisements for medicines claiming to cure it, as discussed by Benedict and Braithwaite; fourth, the outbreak coincided with the deaths and media focus on the First World War which took precedence, according to AW Corsby; and fifth, related to this, the majority of fatalities, from both the War and the epidemic, were among young adults, with the deaths caused by the flu potentially overlooked, according to Simonsen and others, owing to the large number of deaths of young men in the War or as a result of injuries. It seems highly plausible that, particularly in Europe, where the War’s toll was extremely high, the flu may not have had a great, separate psychological impact, or may have seemed just another terrible extension of the War’s tragedies. The flu-related deaths appear to have been absorbed into the public consciousness side-byside with those deaths directly attributable to the War. The duration of the pandemic and the War could have also played a role. The disease would usually only affect a certain area for a month before leaving, while the War, which most had initially expected to end quickly, had lasted for four years by the time the pandemic struck. Historian Nancy Bristow has argued that the pandemic, when combined with the increasing number of women attending college at the time, contributed to the success of women in the field of nursing. This was due in part to the inability of medical doctors, who were predominantly men, to contain and prevent the illness. Nursing staff, who were predominantly women, felt more inclined to celebrate the success of their patient care and less inclined to identify the spread of the disease with their own work, according to Robin Lindley’s The Forgotten American Pandemic: Historian Nancy Bristow on the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Our consideration today reminds me again of how the interpretation of silence, gaps, exclusions, are in assessing the historiography of this time, of the importance of new approaches, reworkings. We have had some good work on the silence that followed An Gorta Mór. We now have to deal with the War of Independence and the Civil War. However, there is a continuing thread we ignore, the thread from which respectability is knitted, a garment commenced, when land was secured, surplus population gone in involuntary migration. An atmosphere where being born from a chesty family damaged marital prospects, but above all the holding on of the land. “Keep yourself nice”, Samuel Beckett has Winnie say in Happy Days. I wish to conclude, if I may, with a short quotation from French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who remarked, “to be forgotten is to die twice.” Initiatives, such as the one I am taking today, may I hope play a modest, but meaningful, role in remembering the tragic loss of the millions of lives that occurred during a catastrophic event in recent history, ensuring these mostly young men and women are not forgotten, and are allocated their rightful space in our shared historical memory. I do so look forward to listening to our eminent speakers’ contributions to this seminar, and I wish you all a stimulating and thought-provoking afternoon. Go raibh mile maith agaibh go léir.

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PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

Dr Ida Milne presenting ‘Big Picture, Little Picture-statistics and oral history of the 1918-1919 Flu in Ireland

‘BIG PICTURE, LITTLE PICTURE-STATISTICS AND ORAL HISTORY OF THE 1918-1919 FLU IN IRELAND’ A Uachtaráin, a dhaoine uasal, Today is an important day for those families who lost members or who suffered emotional and economic damage from the 1918-19 influenza pandemic in Ireland. Their story was not told collectively until the 21st century, and often they suffered without knowing the bigger picture, as for almost 90 years this story was not researched by historians of Ireland, and there was no national Spanish flu narrative. I want to thank President Higgins and his staff for holding this event. I am delighted to share it with my good colleague Dr Patricia Marsh, as the two of us have worked 12


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collegially since 2006, constantly re-evaluating the many puzzles in a fascinating research topic, exploring the massive damage it did to Irish people, the local reasons for higher death rates, the impact it had on the revolutionary period and Ireland’s war contribution, and how the Irish health services struggled to cope. Guy Beiner has been a great support to us both in this work, and indeed the three of us co-wrote an article in History Ireland in 2009, one of the first publications on the topic. I am very glad that we have in the audience people, or representatives of people, who played an important role in helping us to understand this story, both oral history interviewees and people from the front-line medical services who will deal with future pandemics. In 2006, I began my doctoral studies on this topic in TCD, delving first into the big picture, the numbers and rates of deaths. This flu killed possibly up to 100m people globally, out of a world population of 2 billion. In many parts of the world, death certification was not robust. We have no good statistics for China or Russia, and the Indian death toll of 20m has only been worked out in the last ten years and equals the original global toll by Edwin Oakes Jordan in 1927. So, the total must remain vague, if awesome. It’s also important to remember those who survive the disease, as it often had severe health impacts over their life course. Up to half the world’s population may have suffered it. And it might happen again, particularly with increasing myth about and resistance to vaccine. We are already seeing people die or suffer horrible illness because of growing measles vaccination resistance. In Ireland, Spanish flu killed at least 23,000 people, whether from the flu itself or from pneumonias caused by the flu. It spread around the country in three waves, in May and June and the autumn of 1918, and in the spring of 1919, as these maps show. As it passed through communities, entire towns and suburbs would be stilled, business curtailed, public buildings closed, courts postponed, schools closed. Hospitals and the poor law medical service, already suffering staff shortages as so many were away at war, were overwhelmed, and turned most wards over to flu. Poor Law doctors, nurses and pharmacists worked long hours, almost around the clock, trying desperately to save people. Neighbours rowed in to nurse and feed other neighbours. It wasn’t unusual for families to have multiple deaths.

Slides from Dr Ida Milne’s presentation showing the rates of death by county, per thousand head of population in 1918 and 1919

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PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

Young adults aged 25-35 were the unusual age cohort affected, one not normally hit by seasonal flus. This had a severe impact on families, as it was a group that were also parents of children, and breadwinners. Children under five died in higher proportions than other age groups too. This was a sector of Irish society that suffered a huge disease burden at the time, in this pre-vaccination and pre-antibiotic era, an era when parents hadn’t even ready access to fever reducing drugs like paracetamol. One fifth of all the 70,000 or so deaths on the island any year in the 1910s were children under the age of five. They died in hundreds from diseases like measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and in thousands from tuberculosis, pneumonia, bronchitis, diseases whose impact has been annihilated by modern medicine and better living conditions. During the flu, the pages of the Registrar-General’s death certification and the Glasnevin burial records list child after child who died. This page shows death certification for Dublin in mid-November – of the 6 deaths, all influenza related, one is of a 31-year-old woman, the rest are of children aged 7 months to 15 years, children from areas like Summerhill, Dorset St, and Marlboro St, the infamous Dublin tenement areas. The impact on the very poor was massive – the Registrar-General’s reports show that during the second wave in the winter of 1918, the category for street hawkers and casual labourers experienced a death rate of over 37 per thousand living, compared to the domestic service category rate of 17 per thousand living. Over one third of the possibly Influenza related deaths in this sector were children under the age of five. With our modern lens, it is hard to even comprehend how people coped with this scale of death, both during the flu and not.

Slide from Dr Ida Milne’s presentation

But flu was not confined to the lower socio-economic classes: broadly, it impacted more severely on families where the income earner had a job dealing with the public. Newspaper workers, both printers and journalists, teachers, priests, people in banking, postmen, shop workers of all types, prison warders, and of course the frontline services like police, ambulance drivers, doctors and nurses all suffered disproportionately compared to other jobs. Domestic servants were quite protected, probably because they had little time off. And high levels of flu death were not confined to urban areas either, as statistics, newspaper reports and oral histories show. In 2006, as I was wrestling with this big data, with death statistics from influenza and associated pneumonias and bronchitis or heart disease, my supervisor Professor David Dickson suggested that there was still a narrowing window to collect living memory. He even provided the first interviewee, renowned cultural historian and equally renowned TCD eccentric R.B. McDowell, who even in high summer could be seen walking around campus in an overcoat and woollen scarf. R.B. had caught the Spanish flu as a small boy in Belfast; his family was told he would not live through 14


SEMINAR: ‘COMMEMORATING THE GREAT FLU OF 1918-1919’

Picture of RB McDowell from Dr Milne’s presentation

the night. David brought R.B. into his office, and as he was quite deaf, I handed him a list of twelve questions. R.B. answered each one in turn, and suddenly, I was looking at my big data through a whole new lens. This wasn’t about statistics, it was about real people, and their fight to live, to beat off a disease which we now know was killing upwards of 50 million people. Of the perhaps 800,000 who caught it in Ireland, this old man in front of me was one, having survived it as a five-year-old. From RB’s memories, I began to get a sense that this was not something long ago, inactive, but something that was living in the memories of people around me, whether as survivors, or family of the dead. And that sense is growing, 13 years later, as I collect more and more flu stories, particularly at local history talks, where audiences tell their stories. After a promising start with McDowell, I started searching for people old enough to have lived through the pandemic, as children. The challenge was to find reliable witnesses who would be willing to be interviewed, trusting a stranger with intimate details of their illness, or perhaps their family trauma. Some were found by making contacts in nursing homes, through radio interviews, articles in newspapers and in publications aimed specifically at the elderly. I have to admit to having a secret weapon, retired postman Jim Tancred who was a great help in tracking down survivors and interviewing them with me. As my project become better known, and as news stories about the threats posed by Avian flu and the 2009 H1N1 Influenza A or ‘Mexican’ flu stimulated interest in and memory of this last great influenza pandemic, people volunteered to participate. Some participated in formal recorded interviews; others, perhaps because of reticence, distance, or because they had not much to impart, were interviewed by telephone or through written communication. In all, I collected from approximately 50 interviewees (to explain why I say approximately, some scarcely count as interviews being little more than a useful sentence, while others contributed hours of recordings on different days). Their contributions provided a rewarding new resource for the study of the pandemic. These interviews show that the epidemic made a lasting impact on the memories of children, even though the event was puzzling as they did not have enough information to make sense of what was happening; they were missing schema, if you like, evidence to hang their own stories on to. We all need schema to inform our memories, and there was not then the national narrative of the pandemic that exists today. They somehow knew it was important, perhaps internalising the anxious body language of the grown-ups fretting over them. 15


PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

Some became curious listeners, trying to glean scraps of information about it from newspapers and from hushed adult conversations. Some had acute memories. For others, including R.B., the memory was hazy, mediated through a lens of febrile fog, the shadows of people moving around them, tending and anxiously hovering. Others told of family and neighbours who succumbed, sometimes leaving their loved ones to cope with not only emotional loss but changed economic circumstances as well if the family breadwinner died; the loss of the family home and the separation of children are common findings, and something that cannot be discovered or quantified by the Registrar-General’s statistics. These stories not only tell of individual or familial trauma: but also show how the medical system worked, what treatments were given, living conditions at the time, and most significantly, they add the human voice to impersonal records like death statistics and news reports. They tell the little picture behind the big picture of the statistics, of the individual human or family experience, the damage to families and to individual health, the trauma of loss. They point very strongly to the long-term emotional damage done to children as their families were altered or destroyed by this flu. And sometimes to the economic damage, as often losing a parent meant losing the family income earner, and maybe losing a home if the job came with a house. Prison warders, railway workers, teachers, tenant farmers, are some examples where houses came with the job. The more interviews I did, the more I became engaged with the idea of the long term emotional and economic fallout from the flu. Sometimes the surviving parent would decide to leave the country to start a new life, so in those cases children not only lost their parent, and home, but also their wider family circle. These findings of long-term damage were for me the surprising take-home point, and a point that has been reinforced over the past 17 months as I give anniversary talks, and the audience tells me the impact – often over generations – that death, or even a frightened survival had on family life. They have also suggested some conclusions on the nature of memory about the pandemic. These fall into two broad categories: firstly, why it was essentially a forgotten history in Ireland until the 21st century, and secondly, that memory on the pandemic is story still evolving, and even snowballing in the 21st century, one hundred years later, even as direct memory has become almost extinct. I say almost as I still hope to get more, one of my interviewees was 107 years of age. In 1918, Ireland was going through a period of rapid transition from being part of the United Kingdom, to independence. It was about to enter a full-blown revolution and civil war. We had just been through the bloody 1916 rebellion. Many of our people were away serving in the First World War. Historians, both internationally and in the Irish case, tend to observe, when asked why the flu pandemic was not covered in the historiography of this time that there was a focus instead on the military and political events, and that this occluded the influenza pandemic. Obviously, it is particularly pertinent in the Irish case, as it had the added complication of revolution. I would like to offer two other reasons: firstly, at the time, death from disease was an omnipresent feature of life in Ireland, as in most other countries. This is something we tend to forget, from our contemporary perspective. I refer, for example back to the statistic I gave earlier, that in the Ireland of the 1910s, 20 per cent of annual deaths, generally about 70,000 deaths, were of children under the age of five. About forty per cent of all the annual deaths were from all types of infectious disease, with tuberculosis, pneumonias, and bronchitis being the big disease killers. Death from infectious disease happened to most families, and sometimes, often particularly, to families living in Dublin’s notorious tenement slums. So these deaths in influenza pandemic, no matter how dramatic it appears to our 21st century perspective, were not all that unusual in the health context of the times. And this is something I encountered over and over in the flu interviews, people telling me particularly of children who died, from diseases like rheumatic fever, scarlet fever, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles and diarrhoea.

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The third reason we knew so little about it I speculate, is that history from below simply wasn’t popular in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. Oral history really only began to gain traction after World War II, and documenting the emotional experience of suffering from disease, the impact of disease on people’s psyche, on the rest of their life, and on their emotional health is still a relatively new mode of history. The second broad point I’d like to make on memory spans the timeframe of my own work. When I began interviewing in 2006, many of my interviewees had little concept of the national or international context of their disease experience. R.B. McDowell had, as a historian, as did one other early interviewee, Elizabeth Molloy, who was the child of newsagents, and therefore could read about it in the newspapers. But many of the others, like my interviewee Tommy Christian, would ask me, ‘What was this all about?’, as they recalled catching a bad flu as children, or their parents caught it. For these, the interviews became a two-way exchange of information, as I gave them the broader context for their own or their family’s sickness. The 2009 pandemic brought a renewed focus in news media on the 1918-1919 pandemic. After this, interviewees showed a much greater awareness of global effects of Spanish flu. In the last year, with the centenary, I, Patricia and other flu historians, been very busy, writing articles in newspapers, taking part in television and radio documentaries giving interviews and talks, at national and local level. I’ve given 35 local history talks alone since January 2018. At an international Spanish flu conference in Oslo hosted by Sven-Erik Mamelund, Howard Phillips suggested to me that perhaps our published work is now affecting the interviews I collect, that the interviewees have started to incorporate this material into their family memories of the flu. This of course caused me to reflect, and it is something I increasingly notice, particularly at local history society talks. After these talks, people will share their own stories of the influenza, and will often tell that their family member was part of that unusual age cohort who died, young adults, or that of course their father was more vulnerable as he had a job in the police force, or worked as a shopkeeper, or was from Donegal, an area with particularly high mortality from flu, as Patricia Marsh’s work has shown. So our work is informing memory, which is quite rewarding to see, if a little frustrating for a memory historian. People may also produce death certification, now easily available online, which gives the cause of death, and they may be able to reconstruct the family composition, housing, education levels, and income sources from the 1901 and 1911 census data, also online. They may find newspaper sources to add to their family story and now have schema on which to hang the slender evidence of their own flu stories, to construct it into something larger, a more complete story.

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PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

Let me just swiftly introduce you to some more of my flu people. The connections of the people I mention are all in this audience.

Tommy Christian, one of Dr Milne’s interviewees

Tommy Christian caught the flu as a five-year-old, living with his mother, father, and sister in Ardclough in north Kildare. Tommy told me of a pain in his throat that “you would never forget” and of the doctor coming at three o’clock in the morning to look at the family, all down with the flu. Then, he said, the doctor caught it himself, and they were “jiggered altogether”. Tommy’s mother died about a year after the flu, and although she died from another illness, Tommy suggested that her health was never as good after catching the flu, which is a common finding. He told too of the help given by a neighbouring family, the O’Connors, who nursed local people ill with flu, and of having his first taste of whiskey punch as a five-year-old. Whiskey was one of the few useful medicines at the time. Claire Ablett, a curator at the Ulster Museum in Belfast, had a particular interest in hosting a workshop on the flu in the museum, as her great grandmother Minnie Crothers died from the flu at her home in Crumlin Road, Belfast, on 18 November 1918. Claire gave me this beautiful picture of the elegant young woman with her four children. When Minnie died, her husband Thomas took their four children to start a new life in Canada. But when they got there, he could not get work, and the children were taken into care for a time, until he got a job as a postman. So they had lost their mother, their home, their wider family circle, and for a time their father also. This had a long impact on the family, particularly as their experience of orphanages was difficult. The children also did not know the circumstances of their mother’s death – which we were now able to find with the online death certification and census data. They were particularly concerned that Thomas might not have been present when she died, but he had signed the death certificate. All her youngest daughter, Dorcas, Claire’s grandmother, could remember about her mother was the black plumed horses pulling the hearse at her funeral. Ann Burke told me the story of her grandfather James Delaney’s death, and together we figured out the long-term impact it had particularly on her father, Denis, who was five when his father died. James was a police constable in Dublin, and had gone back to work after suffering the flu, but died on the job from pneumonia. In the course

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of the interview process, Ann thinks that Denis’s lifelong fear of uniforms probably came from the police calling to the door to say his father was dead. Two years later Denis’s little sister Rebecca died from scarlet fever. Denis was effectively wrapped in cotton wool by his family, who naturally feared that some disease would take him, too. Ann feels that these losses made a serious impact on her father, long term. As an onlooker, I am pretty sure that he must have worried constantly about the health of his own darling child.

James & Margaret Delaney

Stella Larkin told me of her mother’s family, the Moores, a labouring family who lived in Marlborough Street, in the notorious tenements of Dublin, where housing was so crowded and unhygienic that infectious disease spread like wildfire, and where the conditions were essentially syndemic, as multiple epidemics could coexist, or follow in quick succession. Anna Moore, her mother, was one of ten children, and the only one who survived over the age of five. Some of them died in the diarrhoea epidemic of 1911 and 1913, a hot summer which caused elevated levels of diarrhoea death from Canada right across Europe to Russia. Others died from measles, scarlet fever, and in November 1918, little Mary Moore, aged 4 and three quarters, who was believed to have the gift of sight, asked her mother to dress her in her best dress, as she thought something important was going to happen. She climbed into the one bed in the family one room tenement, and died from influenza. Stella’s thoughtful testimony, and her brutally honest depiction of the family poverty, and how they would have done their best to manage illness under such conditions, carrying buckets of human waste downstairs, and water back upstairs, handwashing clothes and sheets, really brought home to this middle class affluent farmer’s daughter just how hard it was to manage infectious illness under these conditions, and how death became more likely. Families were often split up following the loss of parents to the disease. My grandfather’s cousins, a couple in North Wexford, James and Elizabeth Milne, died within one day of each other in December 1918. Their two early teenage children, who lived in this farmhouse with them, in Clohamon, were sent to different branches of the family after the funeral and had little connection with each other after the deaths.

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PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

John Ralph, of Tombrack, in north Wexford, pictured here with his wife, was a farmer who died from the flu on 13 October 1918, leaving his wife to raise their five children. His family believed that he might have caught it going to Dublin by train to do business, as he often did. They also think that his wife, who remarried quite soon after, did so to protect the family during the revolutionary period, as a widow on her own in a farmhouse where there might be a gun would have been a more likely target of marauders. Again, this is a finding that has also been suggested to me by other families in similar circumstances. John’s eldest son Joe, eleven at the time of the death, was so traumatised by his father’s loss that he never spoke of it. Years later, he and his wife Cissie found that her mother’s first husband, and John had been buried on the same day, both victims of the disease.

John & Lily Ralph

Finally, let me take you to an example of much of the bravery that went on with this disease, where people would step in at great risk to their own families to care for neighbours in need. Bab or Eileen Davitt, also from our area of north Wexford, told me of her mother and aunt, worried that nursing their neighbours the Lancasters, would bring the dread disease into their own house. So, they walked four miles into Ferns to ask the parish priest whether they ought to take this risk. The priest told them to go ahead, that God would protect them, so they returned, and nursed the Lancasters, and felt God kept his promise to them. But Kate Lancaster, the mother, died, and one of her sons. The other son, Denis, then a boy of 13, survived, along with his father. As a small child, I sat on Denis’ knee listening to his stories, never realising that one day, I would research his family’s connection to this global catastrophe. I think this is a lesson for us all, that we all probably have been that close to someone who experienced tragedy in the Spanish flu. I am thankful to all who have shared these dark stories with me, and glad that today we can remember them, in a fitting way. President Higgins, thank you for remembering the ‘Tinneas Mόr’ at Áras an Uachtaráin.

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SEMINAR: ‘COMMEMORATING THE GREAT FLU OF 1918-1919’

Dr Patricia Marsh presenting ‘ Woe unto them that are with Child: Gender and the Spanish influenza pandemic in Ulster’

‘WOE UNTO THEM THAT ARE WITH CHILD: GENDER AND THE SPANISH INFLUENZA PANDEMIC IN ULSTER’

1

William J. Thompson, ‘Mortality from influenza in Ireland’ Journal of the Statistical and Social Inquiry of Ireland, 98 (1920), p. 12.

The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 appeared to be an indiscriminate killer. It attacked and killed the very young, the very old, young adults, rich and poor alike. It is well documented that a global peculiarity of the Spanish flu pandemic is that it targeted young adults in particular. In Ireland the Registrar-General noted in 1918 that 55.5% of all influenza deaths were of people aged between 15 and 451 and in 1919 more than 58% of the total influenza mortality consisted of those

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PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

between the ages of 20 and 65.2 As the graph shows, during 1918, it was those aged 25 to 35 who suffered the highest mortality of any age group.3 But was gender as well as age a factor in one’s susceptibility to influenza? The role of women during the pandemic, as in many other areas, has been overlooked, but women did play an important part in combating influenza. They were the main care givers within the family, looking after family members who contracted the disease. They also worked as professional nurses and stepped up to the mark by working in munitions and other factories during the war. Also, as the title suggests, pregnant women were deemed to be at particular risk from the disease and the susceptibility of these Irish women to influenza will be remembered and examined in this paper. The Registrar-General for Ireland (RGI), Sir William Thompson, estimated that 10,512 males- 4.79 per thousand of the male population and 9,545 females 4.34 per thousand of the female population died from influenza in the thirty-two counties of Ireland during 1918 and 1919,4 indicating more male than female deaths in the country. This was in contrast to Great Britain where in Scotland, England and Wales more female deaths were recorded than male. The Registrar-General for England and Wales calculated that there were approximately 100,000 female and 84,000 male deaths in those countries, which is hardly surprising due to the number of males serving on the Western Front.5 In Scotland, 48% of the male population and 52% of the female population died from influenza between July 1918 and April 1919. However, the Scottish RegistrarGeneral emphasised that this was not an indication that the pandemic was more fatal to females than males as these rates were calculated using estimated populations which were unreliable due to the war.6 Although more male than female influenza deaths were recorded in the 32 counties, in the province of Ulster the official figures record slightly more female than male deaths, with 3,773 male and 3,809 female fatalities in the nine counties for 1918 and 1919. However, it should be noted that based on the 1911 census there was a higher female than male population in Ulster, this ratio would have increased during the war. In reality using the 1911 census population figures, 4.89 per thousand of the male population and 4.69 per thousand of the female population died from influenza in Ulster indicating a higher death rate for males than females.7 However, as the Table shows, there were slightly higher female than male influenza death rates in counties Armagh, Donegal, Londonderry and the Belfast County Borough, and interestingly there was a high female population working in the linen and textile industry in these counties.

Fifty-sixth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland) with general abstract and summary of marriages, births, and deaths in Ireland during the year 1919, SP 1920 [Cmd.997], xi, 629, p. xvi. 3 Mortality figures calculated from Fifty-fifth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland) with general abstract and summary of marriages, births, and deaths in Ireland during the year 1918, SP 1919 [Cmd.450], x, 849, p xvi and Fifty-sixth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), p. Xvii 4 Fifty-fifth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), p. xvi; Fifty-sixth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), p. xvi. 5 Niall Johnson, Britain and the 1918-19 influenza Pandemic: A Dark Epilogue (London, 2006), p. 92. 6 Report on the mortality from influenza in Scotland during the epidemic of 1918-19: A supplement to the annual reports of the Registrar-General for Scotland, [Cmd 282], H.C. 1919, x, 1223, pp. 9-10. 7 Mortality figures calculated from Fifty-fifth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland) (1918), p. xvi and Fifty-sixth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland) (1919), p. xvii. 2

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SEMINAR: ‘COMMEMORATING THE GREAT FLU OF 1918-1919’

Presentation slide from Dr Patricia Marsh

Pregnant women and influenza Within the young adult age group, pregnant women were particularly vulnerable to attack from influenza.8 In Scotland there were 266 pregnancy related deaths associated with influenza, 2.9% of the total recorded female deaths from the disease.9 During 1918 in the United States, 27% of the 1,350 reported influenza cases among pregnant women died.10 Studies found that expectant women in the US had a 50% higher chance of developing pneumonic complications than those not recorded as pregnant. Once complications had developed, such women were 50% more likely to die. Studies in the US of the two subsequent influenza epidemics compared to non-epidemic seasons showed that pregnant women were at particularly high risk from influenza towards the end of their pregnancy.11 The Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for Warrington, Dr Joseph confirmed the dangers that pregnant women faced. He reported that “influenza was especially harmful to pregnant women and women in child-birth”. It was his belief that “the pregnant woman was more liable to the disease than the average woman at the same age”12 and he was in “no doubt that an attack of influenza occurring towards the end of pregnancy was a very serious matter, both for mother and child.”13 In Ireland during 1918, 26 of the 509 pregnancy related deaths were due to influenza and 15 to pneumonia –the most common complication of the disease - 8.1% of pregnancy related deaths.14 In 1919, 53 of the 524 pregnancy related deaths were due to influenza and 6 to pneumonia - 11.3% of pregnancy related deaths.15

Sandra Tomkins, ‘Britain and the influenza epidemic 1918-1919’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1989), p. 28. Niall P.A.S Johnson, ‘Scottish ‘Flu – The Scottish Experience of ‘Spanish Flu’’ The Scottish Historical Review, 83:2 (2004), p. 222; Niall Johnson, ‘The overshadowed killer: Influenza in Britain in 1918-19’ in Howard Phillips and David Killingray (eds.), The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-1919: new perspectives (London, 2003), p. 141. 10 Sonja A. Rasmussen, Denise J. Jamieson and Joseph S. Bresee, ‘Pandemic influenza and pregnant women’, in Emerging Epidemic Disease, 14:1 (2008), p. 96. 11 Alice Reid, ‘The effects of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic on infant and child health in Derbyshire’, in Medical History, 49 (2005), pp. 32-3. 12 G. W. N. Joseph, MD, ‘Report on an investigation of the incidence and effects of influenza among the population of Warrington (Lancs.)’, in Ministry of Health, Report on the pandemic of influenza, 1918–19, p. 549. 13 Joseph, ‘Report on an investigation of the incidence and effects of Influenza among the population of Warrington’, p. 552. 14 Fifty-fifth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland) (1918), p. xxv. 15 Fifty-sixth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland) (1919), p. xxvi. 8 9

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PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

The RGI’s report does not provide specific figures for Ulster or any province in Ireland with respect to pregnancy related deaths; however, it seems that to contract influenza while pregnant would considerably increase the chances of a pregnancy-related death that might otherwise not have occurred. This is evidenced by the deaths in Larne during November 1918 of Catherine Thompson, aged 21 and Ellen Connor, aged 23, who died during childbirth due to complications from influenza In many cases not only the mother but also the premature babies died, but these infants were not counted in the influenza death toll. Such a case was that of Jane Roane from Killygordon in Co Donegal who died on 4th December during childbirth due to influenza, her baby Mary died on the 10th December from debility due to premature birth. In Churchill in Letterkenny Poor Law District, baby Callaghan died on 14th November 1918. Her death was recorded as prematurely born and her mother, Bridget died 2 days later from flu. In the same district Baby Buchannan died as a result of premature birth on 5th December 1918 and his mother Marjory died 4 days later on the 9th December 1918 from influenza and cardiac failure. Although not recorded as such, there is no doubt that these babies died as a result of influenza.

Nursing and influenza- Professional nurses

Nurses treating patients during the Spanish flu pandemic

Pregnancy was not the only area where females were more at risk from influenza, the traditionally female occupation of nursing the sick could also be hazardous.16 Traditional nursing care provided the best and only effective treatment for the disease.17 Nursing during the pandemic was an area where women were to the fore and consequently more vulnerable to infection, as they acted not only as professional nurses in the military and in local infirmaries, but were also the chief providers of nursing in the home for members of their families. In my opinion they were the true heroines of the pandemic. Nursing was an arduous and harrowing job and the highly contagious nature of influenza, as well as the demands it placed on nurses, resulted in many of them contracting the disease themselves.18 Esylt W. Jones, Influenza 1918: Disease, death and structure in Winnipeg (Toronto/Buffalo/London, 2007), p. 65. Carol R. Byerly, Fever of war: The influenza epidemic in the U. S. army during World War 1 (New York/London, 2005), p. 144. 18 Jones, Influenza 1918, p. 68. 16 17

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Dr D. W. MacNamara, a newly qualified doctor working at the Mater Hospital in Dublin during the pandemic, recollected that the hospital was very busy and that many of the nurses were off not only with influenza but also pneumonia.19 Similarly in Ulster many nurses were absent from workhouse infirmaries due to influenza. During the first wave, eight nurses in the Belfast Union infirmary contracted the disease,20 and one probationary nurse, Catherine Fenton, aged 21, died on 26 June 1918 from complications due to pneumonia. She had only been working as a probationer nurse for six week before her unfortunate demise.21 During the second wave, the high numbers of influenza-related absences in the infirmary prompted the Visiting Medical Officer, Dr Gardner Robb to recommend an increase in the nurses’ Bovril rations by one quarter of an ounce per day to boost their diet to help them cope with their increased workload.22 Now this action is not as ridiculous as it sounds as Bovril and Oxo were considered a very important form of nourishment during the pandemic. They were popular beef teas of the day and were thought to strengthen the body against the onslaught of disease.23 Despite the increase in Bovril rations, between 5 November and 3 December 1918, four nurses, Catherine Doocey, Mary Griffin, Josephine Neild and Rosanna Ellison, all in their twenties, died from pneumonia following on from influenza.24 During November 1918, the Londonderry guardians also ordered that the nurses’ allowance in lieu of rations be temporarily increased by five shillings a week so that they might have a liberal diet during the pandemic.25 Nevertheless many nurses contracted influenza and two of them, Margaret McDermott, aged 23 and Rachel Crilly aged 37, died during November.26 In the same month, two of the eight nurses in the Lurgan Union infirmary, Louisa Curran, aged 24 and Kathleen McStravick aged 26 died after contracting the flu.27 Of course not all nurses contracted influenza, nor did all those infected die, but there was still a high morbidity due to the disease. There was also a scarcity of professional nurses due to the war as many of them volunteered to join either the army or naval medical corps.28 Nurses such as Elizabeth Harvey Watson of Dromore, Co. Down who died from influenza in France on 5th November 1918. The month prior to her death was spent working in a ward of soldiers suffering from influenza and pneumonia.29 Rachel Ferguson, from Moneymore, Co. Londonderry also succumbed to influenza in Italy. On 26 June 1918 she was admitted to hospital suffering from Bronchopneumonia, due to influenza, and died later that day.30 More fortunate was Lady Hermione Blackwood who volunteered as a nurse during the war and in a series of letters to her mother, the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, she recorded how she and her comrades nursed soldiers with influenza in France. Her efforts were appreciated by the French authorities as she was awarded the ‘French Medal of Honour for Epidemics’ for her work in nursing those with the disease.31

Dr D.W. MacNamara, ‘Memories of 1918 and “The ‘Flu”’, in Journal of the Irish Medical Association, 35 (July-Dec. 1954), p. 306. Belfast Board of Guardians meeting, 25 June 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Belfast Union Minute books, BG/7/A/99), Irish News, 26 June 1918. 21 Belfast Board of Guardians Meeting, 25 June 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Belfast Union Minute Books, BG/7/A/99); Belfast Board of Guardians Meeting, 16 July 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Belfast Union Minute Books, BG/7/A/100) and Belfast News-Letter, 17July 1918; Irish News, 26 June 1918. 22 Belfast Board of Guardians Meeting, 19 Nov. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Belfast Union Minute Books, BG/7/A/100). 23 Loeb, ‘Beating the flu’, p. 220. 24 Belfast Board of Guardians Meeting, 5 Nov. 1918; 26 Nov 1918 and 3 Dec 1918 (P.R.O.N.I Belfast Union Minute Books, BG/7/A/100). 25 Londonderry Board of Guardians Meeting, 16 Nov. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Londonderry Union Minute BookBG21/A/33). 26 Londonderry Board of Guardians Meeting, 9 Nov. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Londonderry Union Minutes, BG/2/A/33), Derry Journal, 11 Nov. 1918. 27 Lurgan Board of Guardians Meeting, 21 Nov. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Lurgan Union Minute Book, BG22/A/114), Lurgan Board of Guardians Meeting 5 Dec. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Lurgan Union Minute Book, BG22/A/114). 28 Ruth Barrington, Health, medicine and politics in Ireland 1900-1970 (Dublin, 1987), p. 73. 29 Service record of Elizabeth H. Watson (T.N.A., Service record of Elizabeth H. Watson, WO/399/8761). 30 Service record of Rachel Ferguson (T.N.A., Service record of Rachel Ferguson, WO/399/2695). 31 Letter to Harriet Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, 8 Mar. 1919 (P.R.O.N.I., Lady Hermione Blackwood, First World War nursing letters, D/1231/G/7/218) 19

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PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

Rachel Ferguson (left), who was a professional nurse, and Lady Hermione Blackwood (right), who volunteered as a nurse during the Spanish Flu Pandemic

Due to so many nurses serving on the western front, Poor law infirmaries struggled to acquire suitably qualified staff, and this was further exacerbated when existing nurses contracted influenza themselves. Infirmaries in Belfast, Londonderry, Ballycastle and Dungannon to name but a few, had difficulties finding qualified replacement nurses during the first and second waves.32 The contagious and virulent nature of influenza meant nurses risked their lives, as evidenced by the death toll of those working in Belfast, Derry and Lurgan union infirmaries. Nevertheless, despite the risk of infection, many selfless women were keen to volunteer to nurse the sick. The Medical Officer of Health for Cookstown Union praised the action of the St John’s Ambulance Association Nurses under the command of Nurse Milligan of the District Nursing Society. The work of these ladies should not be underestimated. The volunteers took charge of different sections of the district, visiting the sick and distributing food and nourishment to families unable to provide it for meals for themselves due to illness. The Medical Officer of Health stated that if it had not been for this organisation, the death rate in Cookstown would have been appalling and he expressed his appreciation of the devotion and self-sacrifice shown by these ladies as many contracted influenza in the discharge of their ‘self-appointed duties.’33 In Dunfanaghy Union in Co. Donegal, a local lady, Mrs Short, volunteered her services, free of Belfast Board of Guardians meeting, 25 June 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Belfast Union Minute Book, BG/7/A/99); Irish News, 26 June 1918, Londonderry Board of Guardians Meetings, 16 Nov. 1918, 23 Nov 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Londonderry Union Minute Book, BG21/A/33), Ballycastle Board of Guardians Meetings, 3 Dec. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Ballycastle Union Minute Book, BG/3/A/49) and Dungannon Democrat, 23 Oct. 1918. 33 Irish News, 23 Dec. 1918. 32

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charge, for 10 weeks in the fever hospital. The Dunfanaghy guardians appreciated Mrs Short’s “most unselfish action, and of the nobility of mind which prompted her to undertake so arduous and dangerous duties on behalf of the sick and suffering poor.”34 An influenza outbreak in the Friends school in Lisburn during the autumn of 1918 resulted in the deaths of three pupils, Helen Clarke, Anna Magowan and Sadie Walsh on the 31st of October, 3rd of November, and 8th November 1918 respectively. The housekeeper, Miss Emma McCullough, aged 35 and the headmaster’s daughter, Frances Ridges, aged 21, a student from Queen’s University, nursed the students suffering from flu. Unfortunately, they both lost their lives to the disease on 10th and 15th of November 1918 respectively.35 These volunteer nurses were but a few among many women who acted from civic duty. Their selfless actions undoubtedly helped to reduce the fatalities among the sick poor throughout Ireland, often like Emma McCullough and Frances Ridges; they sacrificed their own lives in order to do so. Although these volunteers, unlike Lady Hermione Blackwood, did not receive any medals, it was evident that their efforts were just as heroic and were very much appreciated by the authorities during this medical crisis.

Domestic nurses Nursing of the sick at home was also a common occurrence and those who could afford it employed private nurses. However, this would not have been an option for working class Irish families where the nursing of the sick at home would have been left to the female family members. It has been argued that nursing at home was the key to the survival of influenza patients,36 but the women who nursed the sick were in a dangerous situation as they were susceptible to infection. Dr Joseph, the MOH for Warrington in Lancashire, found a higher percentage of influenza cases in Warrington among those working at home than those working away from home, due mainly to the ‘housewife’ being in continuous contact with severe influenza cases for many days. He found that one in five of those women nursing the sick at home contracted the disease themselves. The Ulster newspapers reported many tragic deaths of women nursing family members, such as Mrs Edward Clarke from Newry who died from influenza, contracted while nursing her large family of sons and daughters.37 In Bessbrook, Mrs R. G. McKee contracted and later died from the disease after nursing her husband and two children through it.38 Unfortunately these incidents were not exceptional during the pandemic as figures show that deaths among ladies described as housewives or housekeepers was high and as Ida has already explained this could mean disaster for a family.

Fermanagh Herald, 1 Feb. 1919. Neville H. Newhouse, A History of the Friends School, Lisburn (Lurgan, 1974), pp. 90-1. 36 Svenn-Erik Mamelund, ‘A socially neutral disease? Individual social class, household wealth and mortality from Spanish influenza in two socially contrasting parishes in Kristiania 1918–19’, in Social Science & Medicine, 62 (2006), p. 936. 37 Belfast News-Letter, 31 Oct. 1918. 38 Newry Reporter, 12 Nov. 1918. 34 35

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Factory working in Ulster

Employees in an Ulster Linen Factory

Ulster was in a unique position in Ireland as it was the industrial centre of the country and because of this the north east of Ulster bore closer comparison to the more industrial regions in Britain than it did with other parts of Ireland.39 Female influenza deaths outnumbered male in the counties of Armagh, Donegal, Londonderry and Belfast County Borough.40 The deaths of 982 females and 848 males from influenza in Belfast during 1918 and 1919 was attributed at the time by the RGI to the extensive employment of females in factories and workshops in the town.41 Similarly in London, there was a high mortality rate of 57% among young women. The spread of influenza in this particular age group was attributed to their widespread employment in factories and other large establishments during wartime.42 During the war years, new employment opportunities opened up to women in the United Kingdom in munitions factories.43 In Belfast, from 1914 to the end of the war, James Mackie & Sons, Limited employed women to aid in the munitions’ contracts. During the war, their workforce doubled from their pre-war numbers of 650.44 In June 1918, influenza at Mackie’s forced the closure of a department which was mostly staffed by women and it was a notice placed in the Belfast newspapers by Mackie’s requesting their lady workers to return to work on Monday 17 June 1918 that was the first mention of influenza not only in Belfast but also in Ireland.45 Although there were no fatalities, or a loss of revenue to the factory because of

Philip Ollernshaw, ‘Industry, 1820-1914’, in Liam Kennedy and Philip Ollernshaw (eds), An economic history of Ulster 1820-1940 (Manchester, 1985), p. 62. 40 Mortality figures calculated from Fifty-fifth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland) (1918), p. xvi and Fifty-sixth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland) (1919), p. xvii. 41 Thompson, ‘Mortality from influenza in Ireland’, pp. 7-8. 42 Andrea Tanner, ‘The Spanish lady comes to London: The influenza pandemic 1918-1919’, in London Journal, 27:2 (2002), p. 56. 43 Arthur Marwick, Women at war 1914-1918 (London, 1977), pp. 57-60. 44 Alfred S. Moore, History of Mackie’s, pp. 54-6 (P.R.O.N.I., History of Mackie’s, D/3964/T/40). 45 Belfast News-Letter, 12 June 1918; Northern Whig, 12 June 1918. Belfast Evening Telegraph, 11 June 1918 39

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influenza,46 the fact that a department was forced to close indicates just how infectious the disease was during the first wave. Although munitions factories offered new employment opportunities to Belfast females, women already played a major part in the Ulster linen industry.47 In towns such as Belfast, Lurgan, Lisburn and Portadown women were employed in factory work in the linen trade. Women textile workers worked out of economic necessity, with many continuing to work in the factory or mill after marriage, even working up to the eve of child-birth, returning to work after a short absence.48 In 1892 this practice was linked to Belfast’s high infant mortality rate because returning to work so soon after the birth of a baby ruled out breast-feeding, leaving infants vulnerable to disease.49 It may have been this practice that contributed to the high mortality rate of both male and female children under five during the pandemic in both Ulster and Belfast. The production of linen was the dominant industry in Lurgan,50 with a large female workforce.51 Many disruptions to the Lurgan textile trade were reported during the first and second waves in 1918. Hundreds of workers from Lurgan’s twenty-two factories were reported as being absent with influenza during July 1918.52 During November 1918 the Lurgan Mail reported that all the factories and warerooms in the town were ‘more or less depleted of their workers.’53 Flu was also rife in Derry and factory workers were particularly affected. In early July, the Irish News reported the temporary closure of a Londonderry shirt and collar factory as over 350 of its employees had contracted flu.54 During the second wave many factory workers in Londonderry were reported to be ill with the disease.55 During the first wave, Sir James Niven, MOH for Manchester interviewed the female employees at a textile factory in the city who had contracted influenza. Niven believed the rapid spread of the disease through the factory was due to the use of common handtowels and wash basins. Women working in close proximity to infected people and handling the same articles also played a part in its circulation.56 Dr M. B. Arnold who surveyed factories in Leicester concurred with Niven. He highlighted the use of roller towels, sharing enamel drinking cups, washing teacups together and the passing of goods in various stages of manufacture from one worker to another as a possible means of spreading the disease.57 In Ulster, even without influenza, the working conditions in the linen industry were already notoriously unhealthy for the women who undertook spinning and handloom weaving in factories.58 Spinning rooms

AGM Minutes of James Mackie and Son Ltd for 1918 and 1919 (P.R.O.N.I., D/3964/P/1); Meeting of the Directors Minutes of James Mackie and Son Ltd., July 1918- Oct. 1919 (P.R.O.N.I., D/3964/P/2). 47 Mary Daly, Women and work in Ireland (Dundalk, 1997), p. 28; Ollernshaw, ‘Industry, 1820-1914’, p. 62. 48 Daly, Women and work in Ireland, p. 33. 49 Daly, Women and work in Ireland, p. 33. 50 Cormac Ó Gráda, ‘Economic status, religion, and demography in an Ulster town in the early twentieth century’, in History of the Family, 13 (2008), p. 351. 51 Francis X. McCorry, ‘The history of Lurgan, 1610-1963’ (Ph. D. thesis, Queen’s University Belfast, 1986), p. 187. 52 Irish News, 1 July 1918. 53 Lurgan Mail, 30 Nov. 1918. 54 Irish News, 4 July 1918. 55 Irish News, 25 Oct. 1918; Irish Independent, 25 Oct. 1918. 56 James Niven, ‘Report on the epidemic of influenza in Manchester 1918-19’, in Ministry of Health, Report on the pandemic of influenza, 1918–19, p. 472. 57 Arnold, ‘Report on an inquiry into the recent epidemic of influenza in the County Borough of Leicester’, p. 450. 58 Daly, Women and work in Ireland, p. 29. 46

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were hot and damp in order to prevent the flax threads from breaking, making them an ideal breeding ground for tuberculosis, while flax fibres covered spinners with a permanent layer of dust and caused serious lung damage.59 Tuberculosis also was a major concern and in Belfast 53% of the female textile workers who died in 1891-2 died from pulmonary tuberculosis.60 In 1920, Dr Arnold, MOH of Leicester, in his report for the Ministry of Health on the town’s factories stated that: “The possibility of droplet infection through the air varies considerably in the various processes. Of those I saw, machining in the shoe factory seemed to offer the greatest opportunity. Workers sit on each side of a long bench and face one another. The distance across the bench is about 5 feet and the lateral distance between the workers about 3 feet.”61 In Ulster, the linen sheds were a particularly crowded working environment as a linen shed of 500 looms would accommodate approximately 250-300 workers.62 The close proximity of large numbers of female workers to one another in enclosed factory environments such as those of the spinning and weaving sheds was instrumental in spreading influenza within a factory workshop. Another common custom carried out in both the cotton factories in England and linen weaving factories in Ulster was the practice of ‘kissing the shuttle’. This was where the thread was pulled through the eye of the shuttle by sucking on it.63 Shuttles were ‘kissed’ hundreds of times daily and by a succession of weavers.64 Blackburn cotton weavers believed that this practice was largely responsible for the spread of influenza in the town.65 As far back as 1902, this custom was thought to be instrumental in the spread of tuberculosis and was considered dangerous not only for the spread of infection but also the weaver could suck up whatever dirt or dust that might be in the shuttle’s eye.66 Even though the ‘Shuttle-Kissing’ Committee, which was set up to look at the practice, reported in October 1919 that the practice should be abolished in the cotton weaving industry,67 and despite the continued dangers of ‘kissing the shuttle’ and its associations with the spread of tuberculosis, it was not officially abandoned in Belfast’s linen mills until 1958.68 Apart from the core processes of spinning and weaving of linen, there were also certain related low-paid industries, in particular dressmaking, shirt-making and ‘making-up’.69 The process of making –up is where the manufacturers provided the materials to the women to make up shirts in their own home. The shirt-making industry was of great importance in both Londonderry and Donegal and was dominated by women. In 1901, shirt makers and seamstresses accounted for 40% of females employed in Donegal and 35% in Londonderry.70 Shirt-making involved a combination of both factory and home-work, with home-work Daly, Women and work in Ireland, pp. 29-30. Greta Jones, ‘Captain of all these men of death’: The history of tuberculosis in nineteenth and twentieth century Ireland (New York, 2001), p. 70. 61 Arnold, ‘Report on an inquiry into the recent epidemic of influenza in the County Borough of Leicester’, p. 450. 62 Jones, ‘Captain of all these men of death’, p. 73 and Notes, p. 92. 63 Jones, ‘Captain of all these men of death’, p. 75. 64 The British Journal of Nursing, 18 Feb. 1911, p. 130. 65 The Times, 14 Sept. 1918; The British Journal of Nursing, 30 Nov. 1918, p. 342. 66 The British Journal of Nursing, 29 Nov. 1902, p. 433. 67 Annual report of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops for the year 1919, [Cmd. 941], H.C. 1920, p. 4. 68 Betty Messenger, Picking up the linen threads: A study in industrial folklore (Austin/London, 1975), pp. 131-2; Jones, ‘Captain of all these men of death’, p. 108. 69 Henry Patterson, ‘Industrial labour and the labour movement, 1820-1914’, in Kennedy and Ollernshaw (eds), An economic history of Ulster 1820-1940, p. 162. 70 Daly, Women and work in Ireland, p. 28; Ollernshaw, ‘Industry, 1820-1914’, p. 62. Margaret Neill, ‘Home workers in Ulster, 1850-1911’, in Janice Holmes and Diane Urquhart (eds), Coming into the light: The work, politics and religion of women in Ulster 1840-1940 (Belfast, 1994), p. 8. 59 60

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Picture of a woman ‘kissing the shuttle’

playing a major role. Some factories in Londonderry employed two to three times more outside workers than inside workers.71 In Donegal the greatest concentration of shirt makers was along the Inishowen peninsula, where one quarter of those detailed in the census lived.72 It is notable that Inishowen Poor Law Union in Co Donegal had the highest death rate per thousand of population in Ulster during 1918, which was a puzzle because it was a rural area. Centred around Lurgan and Portadown, the making up of handkerchiefs, was an important textile trade, again combining both factory and home-work.73 Lurgan was an important industrial town in Ulster, providing employment for thousands of women in the districts of Lurgan, Portadown, Banbridge and Dromore.74 Making-up trades were all outsourced from factories in areas such as Lurgan, Dromore and Portadown75 and most of the factory labour force and home workers were predominantly female.76 Female members of Lurgan households often worked at home; folding, packing, stitching and sewing linen fabrics and home-working became an essential feature of the local linen industry.77 A rough estimate of the influenza mortality figures in Lurgan town during 1918 and 1919 shows that just over 40% of the influenza deaths in Lurgan town were of males and females who worked in the linen industry, or wives and children of the same and around 69% of these deaths were of females. In Portadown town during the same period around 24% of the influenza deaths were of males and females who worked in the linen industry, or family members of the same, and around 71% of these deaths were of females.

Neill, ‘Home workers in Ulster, 1850-1911’, pp. 5-6. Neill, ‘Home workers in Ulster, 1850-1911’, p. 8. 73 Reports of the Chief Inspectors of factories and workshops to her majesty’s principal secretary of state for the home department, for the year ending 31 Oct. 1887, p. 23, H. C. 1888 [Cd. 5328], xxvi, p. 417. 74 Neill, ‘Home workers in Ulster, 1850-1911’, p. 9. 75 Committee of inquiry into the conditions of employment in the linen and other making-up trades of the north of Ireland [Cd. 6509] H.C. 1912-1913, xxxiv, p. 152. 76 Patterson, ‘Industrial labour and the labour movement’, p. 163. 77 C. McBurney, F. Grieg, K. Clendinning & J. Trimble, Lurgan town trial (Craigavon, 1994), p. 19. 71

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The influenza virus can survive for some time in the environment, up to about 24 hours on soft porous items such as cloth.78 In Lurgan, Portadown, Derry and Donegal, women and children collected materials from industrial and infected areas, brought them back to rural communities and worked on them for long hours in close proximity to one another. During the third wave, influenza spread to the country districts outside Lurgan and many were severely affected by the disease. It has been suggested that in 1911, 22% of the rural Lurgan population was involved in some way in the linen and textile trades.79 In Waringstown just outside Lurgan town during 1918 and 1919, rough estimates show that 43% of the influenza deaths were of males and females who worked in the linen industry, or wives and children of the same and around 67% of these deaths were of females. Could the practice of home-working be instrumental in the spread of influenza from industrial town centres to the more rural areas like Inishowen in Co Donegal and thus have caused the high death rates in that area? I believe that it was a significant factor in its spread to these areas. The high proportion of women working in industrial processes in Belfast, Londonderry Lurgan, Portadown and Lisburn coincides with the marginally higher influenza mortality among females than that of males in the 20 to 25 age group in counties Armagh, Londonderry and Belfast Borough County. I propose that the high employment of women in an already unhealthy environment, working in close proximity to one another and sharing utensils, towels and even shuttles could have been a contributory factor in the high mortality of women in Ulster, especially in the more industrial towns such as Belfast. In conclusion, there were many factors that should have made females more susceptible to infection. Pregnant women were in particular danger, especially during the latter part of their pregnancy. Many courageous and selfless women acted as both professional and voluntary nurses putting themselves in danger on a daily basis to care for those sick with the flu. Meanwhile on the domestic front many women looked after other sick family members and neighbours often at the sacrifice of their own lives. Also, in certain Ulster towns, there was high female employment in the linen and textile industry, where women were more exposed to the risks of contracting flu due to the already unhealthy and crowded factory conditions. Therefore, given all of these factors, I would suggest that the real surprise is that the female mortality in Ulster was not even higher.

Health Protection, Scotland, the Scottish government, ‘Pandemic Flu’: Guidance for infection control and childminding (Scotland, 2008), p. 4. 79 Patricia Marsh, ‘The impact of the linen industry on Lurgan’, (M.A. thesis, Queen’s University, Belfast, 2004), p. 74. 78

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Professor Guy Beiner presenting ‘Remembering, Forgetting and Rediscovering the Great Spanish Flu’

REMEMBERING, FORGETTING AND REDISCOVERING THE GREAT FLU Upon laying a wreath at the Armistice Day centenary commemorations in Glasnevin cemetery on 11 November 2018, recently re-elected President Michael D. Higgins, a stalwart supporter of the commemorative pluralism of the Decade of Centenaries, offered thoughtful reflections on the troubled history of forgetting and remembering of the Great War in independent Ireland and the current resurgence of memorialisation: For many years, there was an uncertainty, even a reticence, to recognise the human cost and reality of the First World War, and those who fought and died in it. In our public

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history, the reticence was reflected by a form of official amnesia that left a blank space in our public memory. That has now changed, as citizens across our island have begun to discover a greater – and perhaps too long-delayed – insight into the experience of their grandparents, great-grandparents and neighbors. With this excavation of the past we have a far greater understanding of the motivation of those who enlisted in the war effort, and a better appreciation of the experience of the war, not only for those in uniform, but for civilians.80 In his speech, President Higgins echoed a long-established claim, which can be traced at least as far back as the iconoclastic critique of the jubilee anniversary of 1916 by the historian and memory activist Francis Xavier Martin. In a lengthy essay published in 1967, F. X. Martin wrote of ‘the “Great Oblivion”, an example of national amnesia’ whereby ‘outside of the Six Counties, it is difficult to find men and women who will acknowledge that they are children of the men who were serving during 1916 in the British Army, the R.I.C., the D.M.P., and Redmond’s Irish National Volunteers’.81 But, had the First World War really been forgotten in the Republic of Ireland? The supposedly authoritative repetition of this assertion during the centenary by Kevin Myers and Myles Dungan did not pass without being challenged. An affronted reader shared with the popular magazine History Ireland his own recollections of growing up in the ’60s and ’70s in a working-class area of Dublin: In the area where I lived, most of the people I knew had some relative or other who had taken part in the First World War. For example, I can still recall an old gentleman (the grand-father of a friend of mine), who lived a few doors away from me, walking down the road with a chest full of jangling medals pinned to his overcoat as he headed for Armistice Day commemorations. We all thought that he was a hero, whatever war he had fought in. … We, as part of the ‘wider public’, were well aware of Ireland’s involvement in the Great War … We also knew, by the way, that ‘official Ireland’ had supported the building of the War Memorial Gardens in Island Bridge.82 And yet, official commitment to maintenance of the Irish National War Memorial Gardens at Islandbridge wavered for many years. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, a leading figure in the construction of Britishimperial memorialisation of the war, it took two decades to complete and was never officially opened. The site fell into neglect only to be later rediscovered, as interest in the memory of the war steadily grew following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and in the build-up towards the centenary, soliciting the witty epithet of ‘the gardens we had forgotten we’d forgotten’.83

Reflection by Michael D. Higgins, Uachtaráin na hÉireann Tofa, on Armistice Day 2018; https://president.ie/en/media-library/speeches/ reflection-by-michael-d-higgins-uachtaran-na-heireann-tofa-on-armistice-day-2018. The comments on ‘official amnesia’ were widely reproduced in the press, see for example coverage in the Belfast Telegraph, Irish Times, and Irish Independence of 12 November 2018. 81 F. X. Martin, ‘1916: Myth, Fact, and Mystery’, Studia Hibernica, no. 7 (1967), p. 68. 82 Eoghan Ó hÁinle, History Ireland, 23, no. 3 (May/June 2015); response to Myles Dungan’s review of Kevin Myers’ Ireland’s Great War in History Ireland, 23, no. 2 (March/April 2015). 83 Irish Independent, 10 November 2018 80

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Slide from Prof. Beiner’s presentation

Before delving into the curious history of forgetting and remembering the flu pandemic of 1918-19, I would like to draw attention to the distinction drawn in President Higgins’s pertinent reference to ‘official amnesia’, as opposed to total oblivion. Popular (or, as some might see it, unpopular) memory of Irish, and even Catholic-nationalist, participation in the First World War was not obliterated during the years that followed partition and independence only to be supposedly conjured out of thin air during the centenary. The widespread general interest with which the 2008 Thomas Davis lecture series aptly titled ‘Our War’ was received, with members of the public openly sharing their own family recollections of service in the First World War, is just one of many indications of latent-supressed memories that had persevered under a façade of official commemorative neglect.84 In order to fathom the complexity of such manifestations of historical forgetting, I propose we come to terms with a sophisticated notion of ‘social forgetting’. This concept proves to be more helpful than the more familiar usage of ‘collective amnesia’, a vague term that carries the kind of misleading connotations commonly associated with ‘collective memory’, implying that communal remembrance is homogenous and typically imposed from above, though in reality, as countless studies have demonstrated, memory is almost always contested and multidirectional. A more nuanced approach suggests that social forgetting is a muted form of social remembrance, which pivots on multi-layered tensions between public silence and private expressions of local remembrance.85 Just as social memory develops over time and therefore has a history that can be charted – a mnemohistory, to use the term coined by the German scholar Jan Assmann (with reference to Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory and mother of the muses in Greek mythology), similarly, social forgetting also has a history, which can be labelled lethehistory (with reference to Lethe – the river of forgetfulness that flows through the Greek underworld). Whereas, we intuitively expect forgetting to be final, akin to pressing ‘delete’ on a keyboard, social forgetting is fluid and can be countered by rediscoveries of interest, so that historical episodes that were long neglected can later be reclaimed and commemorated.

John Horne (ed.), Our War: Ireland and the Great War (Dublin, 2008). See Guy Beiner, Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster (Oxford, 2018), pp. 17-30.

84 85

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PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

Slide from Prof. Beiner’s presentation outlining the concept of ‘social forgetting’

I deliberately preceded my discussion of the prolonged neglect in the public sphere of the so-called ‘Spanish’ flu pandemic with ruminations on remembrance of the First World War. A mnemohistory would reveal a century of commemorating World War I in myriad forms. To use the conceptual framework famously developed by the French historian Pierre Nora, the war of 1914 to 1918 has been enshrined as a lieu de mémoire, or, to be even more precise, an assemblage of lieux de mémoire – resonant sites of cultural-social memory. In contrast, a cultural history of the influenza pandemic would uncover a lethehistory, marked by the dearth of official commemoration, so that the disregarded legacy of the pandemic of 1918 to 1919 is a lieu d’oubli – a site of social forgetting. In effect, the Great War, with its countless cultural representations, has overshadowed the Great Flu.86 Take for example, one of the key publications that paved the way for a tidal wave of memory studies on the Great War – Jay Winter’s Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning (first published in 1995 and since reissued in multiple printings and editions). This seminal study, subtitled The Great War in European Cultural History, opens with the tragic demise of the surrealist poet Guillaume Apollinaire. ‘Pity’, Winter observes, ‘is a word appropriate to the circumstances of Apollinaire’s death’. Although exempt from mandatory conscription on account of not being a French national, Apollinaire volunteered for service in the French army in 1914 and experienced the horrors of the Western front over four years, suffering in 1916 a severe head wound which required trepanning in field conditions. Against all odds, he miraculously survived these dreadful ordeals and in November 1918 vacationed in Paris, where he discussed with friends ‘the subject of the day, the epidemic of Spanish flu which had more victims than the war’, only to succumb to the malaise himself and to die within days. Heading for the funeral on the 9th of November, as Parisians celebrated the news of Kaiser Wilhelm’s abdication with cries of ‘A mort Guillaume!’, the writer Blaise Cendrars and his companions fortified themselves against the flu with a warm drink but were then unable to locate the grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery. They were told by the gravediggers: ‘You understand, with the flu, with the war, they don’t tell us the names of the dead we put in the ground. There are too many.’ Although this poignant story of the ‘death of a poet’ flags how the death and grief caused by Spanish Influenza was intermingled with that of the war, Winter goes on to discuss remembrance and mourning over 324 pages without any further reference to the epidemic.87 This disregard is indicative of the voluminous literature on the memory of the Great War, which has barely, if at all, mentioned the Great Flu. The adjective ‘Great’ is used here with reservations, in deference to the sheer scale of the catastrophes (as in the ‘Great Irish Famine’). I am aware that President Higgins in his commentary on the First World War prefers to refrain from its unwarranted association with grandeur. 87 Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History (Cambridge,1995), 18-21. 86

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It took near half a century for a landmark study of the epidemic in the United States, written by the groundbreaking environmentalist historian Alfred W. Crosby, to ignite historiographical interest in the topic. It was first published in 1976 as Epidemic and Peace, 1918 – a title that tried to make a case for the worthiness of its historical subject by putting forward a constrained thesis that the influenza pandemic determined the course of the Paris peace talks (and by extension the fate of the twentieth century), claiming that belligerent delegates availed of President Wilson’s ailment to promote anti-German revanchism. Crosby’s study was later reissued under the more catchy heading of America’s Forgotten Pandemic (1989, with a third edition in 2003). The revised title homed in on Crosby’s fascination with why this episode was so blatantly neglected. In an illuminating afterword, titled ‘An inquiry into the Peculiarities of Human Memory’, he grappled with a striking conundrum: The important and almost incomprehensible fact about Spanish influenza is that it killed millions upon millions of people in a year or less. Nothing else—no infection, no war, no famine—has ever killed so many in as short a period. And yet it has never inspired awe, not in 1918 and not since, not among the citizens of any particular land and not among the citizens of the United States. This inaptitude for wonder and fear cannot be attributed to a lack of information. The destruction wrought by Spanish influenza is memorialized in reams of published statistics in every technologically advanced nation that was not in a state of chaos in 1918. [my emphasis added]

Slide from Prof. Beiner’s presentation

In trying to answer this puzzle, Crosby conjectured that ‘the very nature of the disease and its epidemiological characteristics encouraged forgetfulness in the societies it affected’. He pointed at the rapidity and short duration of the epidemic’s spread: ‘the disease moved too fast, arrived, flourished, and was gone before it had any but ephemeral effects on the economy and before many people had time to fully realize just how great was the danger.’ In his assessment, the transience of its coming and going inevitably rendered the epidemic less memorable: ‘If the virus of Spanish influenza had settled down as a permanent endemic source of misery, then America would have granted this variety of flu permanent fame. But, according to popular perception, it came, scooped up its victims, and disappeared forever.’ Crosby also argued that, unlike the great plagues of history, there was no ingrained tradition of remembering epidemic influenza: ‘if flu were a disease lodged in folk memory as a subject of terror, Americans would have 37


PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

been prepared to panic in 1918, would have done so, and then people would have recalled and discussed such an emotional experience for generations to come.’ Moreover, the unique mortality pattern of the 19181919 pandemic, which took a took a heavy toll on young adults, aged 15 to 35, meant that in the patriarchal societies of the early twentieth-century there were relatively few notable individuals among the casualties: ‘If the pandemic had killed one or more of the really famous figures of the nation or world it would have been remembered.’ Crosby’s conclusion was that ‘it had an enormous influence but one that utterly evades logical analysis and that has been completely ignored by all commentators on the past.’88 Sir Frederic Charles Bartlett, who pioneered the experimental-psychological study of memory in the 1930s, maintained that remembrance is predicated on conforming the narration of our experiences to familiar schemata.89 It would appear that the Great Flu (unlike the Great War) did not correspond to familiar mnemonic templates. It was therefore perhaps inherently unmemorable. Maurice Halbwachs, the French sociologist who first developed in the immediate aftermath of the Great War the concept of collective/social memory, insisted that recollections are shaped by social frameworks invested in maintaining the memory of specific events (‘les cadres sociaux de la mémoire’).90 We are faced with the challenge of identifying the corresponding frameworks that facilitated social forgetting. In this sense, it is less important to ask why the Great Flu was forgotten than to research how it was forgotten. Such an inquiry, as Crosby realised, reveals an intricate dialectical relationship between forgetting and remembrance: ‘As one searches for explanations for the odd fact that Americans took little notice of the pandemic, and then quickly forgot whatever they did notice, one comes upon a mystery and a paradox. Americans barely noticed and didn’t recall—that is exasperatingly obvious to anyone examining the histories, popular magazines, newspapers, and political and military memoirs of the World War I era—but if one turns to intimate accounts, to autobiographies of those who were not in positions of authority, to collections of letters written by friend to friend and husband to wife in the fall of 1918, and, especially, if one asks those who lived through the pandemic for their reminiscences, then it becomes apparent that Americans did notice, Americans were frightened, the courses of their lives were deflected into new channels, and that they remember the pandemic quite clearly and often acknowledge it as one of the most influential experiences of their lives.91 In this tense dissonance between public forgetting and private remembrance lies the crux of social forgetting. Disparities between public silence and private recollections were not unique to the United States. In the 1970s, the amateur English historian Richard Collier collected in twenty-nine countries around the globe no less than 1770 testimonies (of which 1708 were from survivors) of the 1918-1919 pandemic. His book The Plague of the Spanish Lady (first published in 1974 and re-issued in 1996), though largely neglected by historians, forcefully demonstrated the persistence of individual memories and family traditions of the Great Flu over half a century after the events. Inspired by this monumental undertaking, a couple of dedicated emerging scholars collected local recollections in their areas: Howard Phillips documented personal testimonies of ‘Black October’ in South Africa from 127 survivors and Geoffrey Rice compiled a similar volume of eye-witness accounts in New Zealand. It is telling that these recollections were collected in the 1970s but languished unpublished till

Alfred W. Crosby, Jr., Epidemic and Peace, 1918 (Westport Connecticut and London, 1976), pp. 311-28. Frederic C. Bartlett, Remembering: A Study in Experimental Social Psychology (Cambridge, 1932). 90 Maurice Halbwachs, Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire (Paris, 1925); for a partial edited translation by Lewis A. Coser see Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory (Chicago and London, 1992). 91 Alfred W. Crosby, Jr., America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918, 2nd. ed. (Cambridge, 2003), p. 321 [emphases added]. 88 89

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SEMINAR: ‘COMMEMORATING THE GREAT FLU OF 1918-1919’

Slide from Prof. Beiner’s presentation depicting the ‘forgetting curve’

the centenary year, when they appeared in relatively obscure local publications, barely noticeable among the numerous publications on recollections of veterans of the Great War.92 As already noted, histories of social forgetting (lethehistory) do not comply with a model of terminal decline famously depicted in the ‘forgetting curve’, first identified by the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885, but oscillate between moments of revived interest and lapses of renewed forgetting. With this potential for renascence in mind, we can chart the contexts for rediscovery of transnational popular interest that have ultimately led to the current boom of new-found interest in Spanish Influenza. Preoccupation with the 1918-19 pandemic periodically resurfaced when reports of new virulent avian and swine influenza viruses raised the spectre of another looming catastrophe. The first popular publication on the topic, written by Charles Graves (the brother of Robert Graves – an iconic writer of Great War memory, who had fallen sick with Spanish Influenza but made little of it in his famous autobiography Goodbye to All That), was given the sensational title of Invasion by Virus: Can It Happen Again? Its original publication was supressed in order to avoid perceived scaremongering on the background of the Asian Flu epidemic of 195758 and it was only published a decade later, on the background of the Hong Kong Flu epidemic of 1968-69.93 Wider interest in the 1918-19 pandemic peaked after the turn of the millennium, when medical authorities were in need of an impressive historical precedent in order to communicate to the general public the dangers of the 2002-3 outbreak of SARS, as well the recurring Avian flu pandemic alerts from 2003, and in particular the ‘Mexican’ swine flu pandemic of 2009-2010. In light of these concerns, the history and memory of Spanish Influenza is approached as a cautionary tale of the imperative to prepare for future perils. We somehow take for granted that book-length studies on the Great Flu should invariably end with a chapter on the possibilities of a similar reoccurrence. Yet the same standard is not applied to memories of most other historical events, which are normally considered noteworthy historical subjects in their own right. We do not feel a need to justify current commemorations of the Great War, or of the Easter Rising, by adding didactic treatises on Howard Phillips, In a Time of Plague: Memories of the ‘Spanish’ Flu Epidemic of 1918 in South Africa (Cape Town, 2018); Geoffrey Rice, That Terrible Time: Eye-Witness Accounts of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic in New Zealand (Christchurch, New Zealand, 2018). 93 Charles Graves, Invasion by Virus: Can It Happen Again? (London, 1969); Robert Graves, Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography (London, 1929), pp. 341 and 347-51. 92

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PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

the necessity to prepare for the recurrence of an exact same war or rebellion. Consideration of the Great Flu pandemic is apparently still struggling for justification in the public sphere. Another context for the revival of interest in the Great Flu is our present-day fascination with scientific discoveries. The influenza pandemic of 1918-19 punctured the over-confidence of the generation of the finde-siècle in the ability of modern medicine. Doctors were shown to be helpless in an age in which the virology of influenza would remain beyond their grasp, up until the influenza virus was discovered in pigs by Richard Shope in 1931 and isolated from humans a couple of years later. The complete genome sequencing in 2005 of the 1918 H1N1 pandemic influenza virus by a US team lead by the virologist Jeffery Taubenberger, using samples of human tissue excavated by the Swedish-American adventurer Johan Hultin from a grave buried in the Alaskan permafrost at Brevig Mission, was a dramatic news item that captured the imagination. However, these scientific pyrotechnics have done little for solving the many puzzles that remain to be addressed in the still largely under-studied history of the pandemic. Lastly, the centenary has provided the context for reviving a transnational memory of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. A growing awareness of the topic can be monitored in popular culture, with a sharp increase of references to the pandemic in lesser-known works of fiction, television programmes (both documentaries and drama), exhibitions, conferences, and in the new channels of digital social media. Nonetheless, the glaring absence of official commemoration has yet to be redressed. While a number of communities have erected modest local monuments, governments have been slow to pick up on this development. The example of New Zealand is worthy of consideration. In 1988, a memorial to ‘The Victims of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic’ was placed at Waikumete Cemetery in Auckland and in November 2018 a memorial was placed at Waitapu Urupa in New Plymouth. However, the unveiling of a memorial at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington, scheduled for April 2019, has been repeatedly delayed. Memory activists would do well to take on board a lost history of vernacular remembrance of the pandemic. In 1920, Albert Percy Godber took a photograph of a striking wooden cenotaph-like monument at Te Kōura Marae, in the centre of the New Zealand’s North Island (between Ōngarue and Taumarunui), made by the carver Tene Waitere to commemorate the high Māori casualties of the flu epidemic.94 Paying homage to the unrecognised ways in which previous generations, from various societies with diverse memorial traditions, remembered and commemorated, the Great Flu offers a way to reconnect with a history of social forgetting.

94

National Library of New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull Library Collections, APG-0786-1/2-G. For the hitherto unfulfilled plans for a national monument see New Zealand Herald, 11 March 2019.

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SEMINAR: ‘COMMEMORATING THE GREAT FLU OF 1918-1919’

Slide from Prof. Beiner’s presentation

On the background of a century of social forgetting, the decision of President to mark the centennial of the Great Flu stands out as possibly the first event convened by a head of state to commemorate the largest catastrophe in human history. Once the dust settles on the centenary, it remains to be seen whether this historical episode will be remembered as one of the most significant events of the twentieth century.

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PRESIDENT OF IRELAND MICHAEL D. HIGGINS

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Seminar 'Commemorating The Great Flu of 1918-1919'  

Seminar 'Commemorating The Great Flu of 1918-1919'