Category Archives: Nursing

The flu Returns

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

Ireland and the great flu epidemic of 1918


‘A Strange Malady’

In June 1918 strange and unsettling reports began to filter into the newspapers about a disease that was doing the rounds. In the beginning the stories only took up a few column inches, subtle at first, then getting more sensational. At the time the First World War was still raging and  most of the population were war weary. Reports of a disease was not uncommon disease spread quickly in the trenches. The first victims did not suffer too badly and most recovered within a few days. This fever was not taken too seriously at first, with reports calling anything from a poisoning to ‘strange maladies’, some reports cited it as a plague. The newspaper clipping from the Daily Mirror of June 21 1918, took a lighthearted approach to the disease;

Even if people were collapsing on the street from the virus it was still not taken as seriously as it could have. The report below from the Hull Daily Mail suggested the same, however it did revel how the virus came to England and by ship. The first reported death in the area was that of an Indian seaman, who arrived at Hull a few days previous. The report states that he contracted it after the ship docked. That is how it arrived in Ireland too, by sea when a ship docked at Cork carrying the virus.

Aberdeen Evening Express 26 June 1918
Daily Mirror 21 June 1918
Hull Daily Mail 28 June 1918

100 Years Ago 1918

Year 1918


1st. Richard Mulcahy, second-year medical student at UCD, is appointed Chief of Staff of the IRA in spring 1918.

11th. In a military base in Kansas, there are outbreaks of an unusually severe form of influenza, which are later understood to be amongst first recorded cases of the Spanish Flu.


21st. A bill was passed by the British Government to enforce conscription on all Irish men of military age, an Anti-conscription pledge signed by Nationalists.


11th. End of WW1


14th. 1918 Elections. Sinn Féin win landslide in general election.

The above are some of the events that shaped 1918. Emily had her own personal ups and downs that year too. The Great War was over and a sort of peace was restored, but in Ireland that would not last.

1917, the previous year saw the beginning of the Russian Revolution. Emily had investments in Russian industry, which were wiped and she lost her income. The realisation of her predicament did not hit her till the following year, 1918, when she returned home from her travels to be met with a pile of bills and bank statements that revealed her dire financial state. Emily had no choice but to return to work. Luckily she had her nursing career to fall back on. Her skills would become a necessity. In March of 1918 the first cases of Spanish Flu were reported.

“In a military base in Kansas, there are outbreaks of an unusually severe form of influenza, which are later understood to be amongst first recorded cases of the Spanish Flu. Over the coming year, this strain of flu kills an estimated 50,000,000 people.”

Later on it would come to Ireland. “Republican women in Cumann na mBan and the Citizen Army opened emergency hospitals during the epidemic.” Emily would find employment in the Meath Hospital, where she would remain for the duration of the epidemic and beyond. Most of her friends and colleagues would catch the flu, most would survive but her friend Cessca Trench would succumb to it. Emily herself escaped it completely.

In the wider world women would get the vote and for the first time. In Ireland after a long campaign they succeeded in getting the right for women to vote too. But they had to be 30 years of age and own property. Emily, who fell into that perhaps tiny category would have embraced the opportunity to cast her vote. 

Sinn Fein won the the General Election of that year, but they did not take their seats in Parliament, abstention being their policy. Emily’s fellow Cumann na mBan member Countess Markievicz was the first woman elected, but did not take her seat in Westminster, probably to Emily’s satisfaction.

Nottingham Evening Post 20 May 1918


The Last Days of Darrell Figgis (1)

Darrell and Millie Figgis spent almost a decade on Achill. They were friends of Emily and possibly knew her from before their arrival on the island in 1913. Emily was possibly related to Millie and may have shared a grandfather Richard McArthur, who was originally Northern Ireland as was Millie. Emily may have known Darrell Figgis too as her family were in the book trade as were some branches of his.

The Figgis’ and Emily lives were closely linked during the Revolutionary years and for a brief period after. The trio attended the historical funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa at Glasnevin Cemetery in 1915, a well documented event. They even appear in photographs of the event, but not together.


When Figgis spent time in jail in 1918 Emily, who was a nurse by trade, took time out from her busy schedule to nurse Millie, when she was struck by the deadly virus, that claimed more that the previous war had. Millie who had a weak heart was not expected to live. Emily forthright as ever took it upon herself to write to the Chief Secretary of Ireland’s office to grant Millie’s husband compassionate leave from his internment. Unfortunately Emily’s word alone did not carry much weight as was noted by the authorities:

“Mrs Weddalll is a Nurse in the Meath Hospital; she belongs to Achill, and is a personal friend of Mrs Figgis. It is said that this Nurse holds Extreme Views.”

Darrell Figgis was granted leave and Millie survived. But the worst was yet to come.


Easter Rising Stories by Marcus Howard
Public Record Office of Britain CO 94/201/141



Typhus fever (Epidemic louse-borne typhus)


Rickettsia prowazekii.


The disease is transmitted by the human body louse, which becomes infected by feeding on the blood of patients with acute typhus fever. Infected lice excrete rickettsia onto the skin while feeding on a second host, who becomes infected by rubbing louse faecal matter or crushed lice into the bite wound. There is no animal reservoir.

Nature of the disease

The onset is variable but often sudden, with headache, chills, high fever, prostration, coughing and severe muscular pain. After 5–6 days, a macular skin eruption (dark spots) develops first on the upper trunk and spreads to the rest of the body but usually not to the face, palms of the hands or soles of the feet. The case–fatality rate is up to 40% in the absence of specific treatment. Louse-borne typhus fever is the only rickettsial disease that can cause explosive epidemics. (World Health Organisation)

One hundred and four years ago there was an outbreak of typhus in Connemara. The poverty in the area at the time was rife, people were malnourished, making them more susceptible to disease. The occasion was reported on in several newspapers including the Irish Independent.

Mrs. Emily M. Weddall,Widow of the late Captain Weddall of Burnby,Yorkshire, and Rockfield House, Keel, Achill, who has hastened to Connemara to nurse the fever-stricken victims there. Founder of the Achill Irish Summer School, who is best known in Gaelic circles as Bean Ui Uadal, and it is for the sake of this last remnant of the Irish-speaking nation she is making such a heroic sacrifice.

The site where the fever hospital in Oughterard one stood

Emily however did not revel in the publicity generated by her kind gesture, but used it to highlight the poverty in that part of the county. She put pen to paper and composed the following letter to the Cliadheamh Soulis telling of the dire conditions in which the patients were living in, and the lack of basic facilities such as decent health care. She praised the Gaelic League for being the first to step up to help the poor of Connemara.

I came away last week to help look after the poor typhus patients here. I found all the typhus cases in Oughterard Fever Hospital, and only a few typhoid patients (who can’t be moved) in their own homes. I was going to write to you to ask you to insist on the establishment of a temporary hospital into which fresh cases (which are sure to occur) could be moved, but today the government representatives have at last arrived on the scene, Mr Birrrell, Sir Acheson McCullagh (Local Government Board), John Fitzgibbon, M.P., C.D.B., and Mr. O’Malley M.P. for the district. The doctor tells me that they have provided the hospital, and it is about time! The people have been treated worse than beasts should be treated, and they are almost all that remains to us of the unsullied ancient Irish race. I am glad the Gaelic League was first on the scene, but we ought to do something efficient to preserve these people and to enable them to find a livelihood in their own country…

Emily joined Rodger Casement, Augustine Birrell, Chief Secretary for Ireland and Jane Tubridy,  who was the schoolmistress at Carraroe, who saw the poverty firsthand on a daily basis, made a big campaign to attract aid to Connemara. Their combined efforts drew it the needed publicity to help remedy the poverty in the area. Under the influence of Rodger Casement a fund was set up. One contributor was William Cadbury a philanthropist and a member of the chocolate making family Cadbury’s. The campaign paid off and by Christmas of that year all children in the area were given a hot meal a day.

This is a good  example of Emily’s generosity and better example of how she used her con

connections to influence.

Connemara 1913 An Claidheamh Soluis


Irish Independent 1905-2011 Date:May 21, 1913;Section:None;Page Number:3
An Claidheamh Soluis May 1913. p 8