Emily nursed the flu victims of 1918-19, but it was not her first brush with such an epidemic. When she began her training at Sir Patrick Dunn’s Hospital in 1891 they were in the midst of an epidemic too, on that occasion, the Russian Flu. It lasted for two years. Sources
This time 100 years ago World War One was in its final days, but death did not stop with the war. Something worse was on the horizon, although nobody could have imagined that in war time. An epidemic called Spanish Flu gripped the world in the winter of 1918-1919 and Ireland was no exception.
It came at a time when the world was in a weak state after four years of war, and took all by surprise. The medics were not prepared this is where Republican forces stepped in:
“Republican women in Cumann na mBan and the Citizen Army opened emergency hospitals during the epidemic”.
Emily, as a member of Cumann na mBan and a trained nurse lent her services. She found employment in the Meath Hospital and worked morning, noon and night, like everyone else with medical training. How she remained healthy is miraculous, but she did and ended up nursing her friends too.
“The influenza epidemic killed about 23,000 people in Ireland in 1918-1919”Read more
In the Autumn of 1918 Emily made the journey to Dublin, she did not know how long she would stay in the capital. She had to leave Achill for some time to secure employment as she was penniless. All her income in stocks and shares had been lost since the outbreak of the Russian Revolution the year before. As things had got worse there, Emily must have realised that the days of financial security from that source was well and truly over.
Reports over the previous months relayed that the Russian Imperial family, the Romanovs were dead, assassinated by the Bolshevik Party. At the time the news was not taken as gospel as not too long afterwards resurfaced that they were still alive. At the time it was impossible to tell truth from ‘fake news’ as it was wartime and propaganda stories were the order of the day. Either way Emily probably knew in her heart that she would have to return to work in order to survive never mind pay off her accumulating debts.
Emily spent time in Russia in her youth. It was rumored that she had some connection with the Tsars family, although nobody can say exactly how. Her biographer Iosold ni Dheirg, reckoned that hers and their paths crossed at one stage. Emily may have talked about them to her but unfortunately the story is lost in time.
The night of their assassination they were ordered out of bed, told to dress for a long journey, and then ushered downstairs to the basement where they were read the death sentence aloud. Then in a barrage of bullets the entire family’s lives were put to an end. Their bodies were removed by truck and buried in a wood, where they remained for decades.
When the accepted fate of the Romanaov’s became known it may have disturbed Emily terribly. She was always one to take sides with the revolutionaries being one herself, but this time it was different, perhaps her connection with the imperial family made it so. She was said to have a photo of three young girls on her sideboard, when any one inquired on who they were she would say; “my three Russian princesses”, could they have been the Romanaovs?
To read more:
Emily had no time to dwell on what was happening abroad even if it was in her interest, there was something looming that would take more lives than the war that was raging at the time. The Spanish flu that was doing the rounds earlier in the year was back again, this time with a vengeance.
Illustrated London News 27 July 1918
Ní Dheirg, Íosold. Emily M. Weddall: Bunaitheoir Scoil Acla. Baile Atha Cliath: Coisceim, 1995
The Sphere 04 August 1928
Wicklow People 04 February 1999
In 1875, when Emily Weddall was seven years old Charles Steward Parnell first came into power. She may not have been aware of politics at such a young age, but a few year later when the Land League was formed by Michael Davitt in 1879 she may have took notice, as it was a cause she followed in her adult life.
“In October 1879, Davitt established the National Land League and installed Parnell as its president. Parnell then traveled around Ireland, delivering fiery speeches at mass meetings organized by the League. Read more in History Ireland
In the 1880’s when he entered parliament, Emily was in her teens and perhaps it was then when she first became politically minded. His leadership style would have captured her imagination. When Parnell died in 1891, Emily was living in Dublin and more than likely was one of thousands who attended the funeral of the “uncrowned king”.
Years later she was a supporter of Michael Davitt and became friends with his son Cahir, who visited her at her home in Rockfield House in Achill.
Above is a poem published in the Evening Herald to mark his first anniversary in 1892, it is simply initialed F. P. H.
Twenty years later when the same ‘poet’ wrote to the Irish Independent, citing the lack of funds to complete the Parnell Monument, Emily stepped in and made a contribution for the monument to be complete. It was in 1911, when thousands arrived to see it inaugurated, perhaps Emily was in the crowd.