Tag Archives: Spanish Flu

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’.


Dublin Evening Telegraph 13 January 1919

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

Cures and Quackery

There was no definite cure for the flu even today, although symptoms can be managed a lot better and much less people succumb to the virus.

“Although there is currently no medical treatment that will cure the flu, there are four medications that may shorten the course of the virus and decrease the severity of the symptoms if you begin taking them within the first 2 days of the onset of the symptoms. All of these medications reduce the ability of the influenza virus to reproduce by attacking enzymes necessary for viral replication.”

Back in 1918, as today there were over the counter medicines to help remedy the flu, but like now they could only ease the symptoms. Worse still there were many newspaper adverts that sold potions that claimed to cure the flu among many other diseases, to the sick and vulnerable.

Below are examples of cures from the time of the Spanish flu some stood the test of time and can be bought today.

Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail 07 October 1918
Coventry Evening Telegraph 18 November 1918
Belfast Telegraph 02 November 1918

History of Flu

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

Waterford Standard 16 October 1918

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


Autumn 1918

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.

The Romanovs

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