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