Tag Archives: Emily M. Weddall

Night of the Big Wind

Storm damage

On January 6th 1839 a storm hit Ireland that is still talked about nearly two centuries later. It did not occur in Emily Weddall’s lifetime, but it did during her parent’s. That year her father was in his early career as a priest, and her mother was a girl of about twelve. No doubt they would both talked about during any night of high wind thereafter.

Today it is 180 years since that storm and 110 years since the Old Age Pension was paid to those over seventy in Ireland. Even though it doesn’t look it the two events are bizarrely linked. In the early 1900’s most people had no formal forms of identification the authorities had to rely on other ways of determining age. A lot of the census records from the 1840’s and 50’s had been destroyed so they had to rely on other sources. One of such was the would be recipients ability to recall the Night of the big Wind in 1839 but:

The truth of course was different: since their ages could not be proven one way or another, tens of thousands of Irishmen and Irishwomen aged well under 70 could not be denied the pension. Throughout the country, old people – and many not so old – testified to “eating a potato out of hand” on the night of the “Big Wind” in 1839, so much so that remembering “Oíche na Gaoithe Móire” soon had to be discarded as a test of old age.

From: “The greatest blessing of all: the old age pension in Ireland”, by Cormac Ó Gráda is professor of economics at UCD published in Past Present in 2002

Below is an example of how the ‘pension qualifying story’ traveled well:

Irish News and Belfast Morning News 16 March 1910

Nonetheless it was still held in memory in 1937 when school children collected folklore from their parents, grandparents and neighbors. Here is an excerpt recorded by Kathleen Glynn, a schoolgirl from in County Galway, told to her by her father:

Long ago the old Irish people witnessed a lot of great storms, thunder and lightening. The biggest storm ever witnessed in Ireland was the Night of the Big Wind in 1839. This was a terrible storm.
It swept the sea water in from the seas, and brought it miles inland. Cattle, sheep, and all kinds of animals were lost. It knocked houses, hay-ricks, and every kind of corn. There was hay and corn brought miles from people.
It knocked houses and plenty of trees all over Ireland. It also left some poor people homeless. Some people were so horrified that they began to say the Rosary and continued praying until the storm was over.

School’s Collection (National Folklore Archive)

If the storm did untold damage in Rural Ireland, it was just as fierce in the Cities and Dublin did not escape its destruction but on a lesser scale

Dublin was described as resembling in many places *a sacked city”. The majority of Dubliners quitted their beds and remained all night in ‘indescribable terror’. The river Liffey rose many feet and overflowed the quay walls. On 6 January the Bethesda chapel in Dorset Street had given thanks at its Sunday noon service for being delivered from a lire which was thought to have been extinguished on Saturday. During Sunday night the wind must have revived the flames, for the chapel, orphan house and female penitentiary, together with five adjoining houses, were burned to the ground. Destruction of property in the capital was estimated, from police statistics, at £6405, or £3 per house on average (Pettigrew and Oulton. 1840). Nevertheless, the Dublin Evening Post (10 January 1839) concluded that the city has suffered less than might have been expected … certainly less — relatively — than other parts of the country.

Emily’s mother lived in Dublin at an address on Clare Street in 1839. She was about 12 years old and no doubt had a memory of the night. She was probably one of the “bed quitters” that took refuge in churches and other more robust buildings. Emily and her siblings may have heard the tale from her mother when they took refuge of a different kind in churches too.

Sources:

https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/curious-tale-of-pension-boon-1.1276289 

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0105, Page 095 National Folklore Collection

https: //www.met.ie/climate/major-weather-events

Irish News and Belfast Morning News 16 March 1910

Flu on Achill

Just as 1918 turned into 1919 the third wave of Spanish Flu stuck the country. The far reaches of Achill was no exception. Glancing through the death records on Achill of early 1919 the majority of deaths were either influenza or related illnesses such as pneumonia. Nobody had medical attendant, as few could afford a doctor. It was a rough winter on the island as it was most places in rural Ireland. Food was in short supply after the end of the war.

Due to the shortage of medically trained, people had to care for their ailing loved ones at home. Emily if she was not in working in Dublin, no doubt would have selflessly attended to the sick, just as she did in the Typhus outbreak of 1913. The district nurse in Achill at that time was Linda Kearns, who like Emily was a Republican and who was involved in the 1916 Rising.


Linda Kearns, a district nurse in Achill in the epidemic, lost no patients to the flu, and attributed her success to her ‘use of poitín as medicine’.

The use of alcohol as medicine during the flu epidemic was not uncommon as there was no other cure.


D.W. Macnamara, who was a junior doctor in the Mater during the outbreak, reflected that whiskey or brandy in ‘heroic doses’ had been a particularly popular option among ‘the older men’.

Sources

Dublin Evening Telegraph 13 January 1919
https://civilrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords/civil-search.jsp

Cultures of Care in Irish Medical History, 1750–1970. Edited By Catherine Cox; Director, Centre for the History of Medicine, University College, Dublin. Maria Luddy; Professor of Modern Irish History, University of Warwick

1919 Dawns

As 1918 changed to 1919, life for Emily remained the same. The Spanish flu was still rampant throughout the world, and as a nurse she worked flat out nursing its victims. Financially she was no better off . She still hung on to her house on Achill, but only just. However, politically things in Ireland were on the brink of great change, that was something she could smile about.

Dail Eireann assembled at the Mansion House on January 21st, 1919, issued its Declaration of Independence, and formally and legally established the Republic of Ireland, electing Cathal Brugha as its first President. De Valera and Griffith, although members of the Dail were in Jail, but Brugha and Collins had escaped the round-up.

The Derry Journal, Wednesday, 21st December, 1955
Mansion House 1919

Sources

The Derry Journal, Wednesday, 21st December, 1955

MS 46 328/2 Coffey and Chenevix Trench papers, 1868-2007. National Library of Ireland. Department of Manuscripts.

“Christmas in the Historic Years”

In the 1955 The Derry Journal published an article “Christmas in the Historic Years”, by Seumas G. O”Ceallaigh. It documented the festive season in the historic or revolutionary years 1915-1920. Below is what he recalled of 1918.

1918

On November 11th, 1918, the Great War ended, and o November 25th the British Parliament was dissolved. December 14th was Polling Day, and Sinn Fein was working under great difficulties.

Most of its responsible leaders were in jail, arrested under “The German Plot” scare in June of that year.

It seemed impossible that an organisation which was practically leaderless could win a General Election, but in Ireland “the impossible, always happens, and the inevitable never,” as a famous Trinity-man once remarked.

Father O’Flanagan, the famous Roscommon patriot priest, who had preached eloquently at Rome before the Pope and who in his day was one of the most noted preachers in Ireland, took over the leadership of the Election Campaign.

He visited the Irish towns and villages, and the result was, as we all know, a resounding victory for Sinn Fein, who came back from the polls with over 70 seats. Before the election they had held only three.

Christmas Day, 1918 saw bonfires burning on every hillside, tricolours flying from tree-tops, and the nation watching and waiting for the first freely elected Irish Parliament since the Confederation of Kilkenny, over 300 years before.

The Derry Journal, December 21st 1955

Sources

The Derry Journal, December 21st 1955

The Easter Rising Stories YouTube Channel by Marcus Howard

Christmas One Hundred Years Ago

Emily spent Christmas in Dublin working in the Meath Hospital, as the flu epidemic showed no sign of abating. Her house on Achill was occupied by her friend Eva O’Flaherty, who kept the home fires burning while Emily attended to to sick. That year there were more patients than usual as the said flu epidemic and the soldiers war needed hospitalization.

Emily’s niece Enid (Siobhan), from Australia, who lived with her was in Dublin too. Like her aunt, she also became a nurse. In the winter of 1918 she was still in training. Nothing could have put her on a better learning curve than nursing children through the Spanish Flu. In a letter to Margo Trench, Emily conveyed the difficulties they were encountering as nurses during that trying time.

Medical advise to the public from December 1918


Below is an excerpt from the Irish Times of December 27th 1918, describing Christmas at Emily’s workplace, the Meath Hospital. The hospital was decorated for the season and gifts were left by philanthropists. The men on the wards were given a special treat of a pipe and tobacco, as in back then it was not considered a health hazard.

MEATH HOSPITAL AND COUNTY DUBLIN INFIRMARY

The entrance hall was very tastefully decorated with holly, ivy and flags and the wards were neat and orderly. Large tables were arranged on the different landings and laden with a great profusion of Christmas delicacies, the gifts of numbers of ladies and gentlemen who take an interest in the hospital. Several soldiers are at present patients and their comforts, as well as those of the other sufferers, were well looked after. All rules, as far as possible were relaxed for the occasion.

Mr. Francis Penros, the Secretary; Miss Broadbourne, R.R.C. Matron; Mr. Tivy and Mr. Hill, House Surgeons, assisted by Sister Nellie, Sister Murphy, Sister Veron, Assistant Matron, were indefatigable, in their exertions to see that all the patients who could partake of it had a good supply turkey and plum pudding and other comforts. Mr. Thomas (Messrs, Kapp and Peterson) presented the male patients with a good supply of tobacco and pipe as he does every year.

Sources

Irish Times 27 December 1918 

MS 46 328/2 Coffey and Chenevix Trench papers, 1868-2007. National Library of Ireland. Department of Manuscripts.

Evening Despatch 28 October 1918

Evening Herald (Dublin) 31 August 1895