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National Museum of Ireland announces programme to mark centenary of devastating Spanish Flu

Exhibition, lecture series and online public participation project will remember Spanish Flu outbreak that claimed 23,000 lives and infected 800,000 people in Ireland over a 12-month period


The National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, has announced plans to mark the centenary of the deadly Spanish Flu outbreak - also known as 'The Great Flu' - that swept across Ireland during 1918 and 1919.

The museum is developing a new temporary exhibition, opening in September 2018, and a nationwide lecture series to run from September 2018 to June 2019.

One hundred years ago, what became known as the Spanish Flu, and related infections from pneumonia, claimed 23,000 lives and infected some 800,000 people in Ireland over a 12-month period (research by Dr Ida Milne). Despite this devastating loss of life and the resulting chaos, the Spanish Flu in Ireland remained an under researched topic until the 21st century. Exciting work by scholars in recent years has managed to recover the story before it is too late. That work continues.  

The National Museum of Ireland - Country Life programme is titled The Enemy Within – The Spanish Flu in Ireland 1918-19.

'Eclipsed'

Mr Noel Campbell, Assistant Keeper 1, Irish Folklife Division of the National Museum of Ireland, is coordinating the programme. He explained that the Spanish Flu was a hugely important chapter in Irish history but "has been eclipsed in the nation’s collective memory" by the military and political events of that decade.

"The National Museum of Ireland has developed a programme which will be informative, engaging and also challenging as we attempt to further understand the Spanish Flu’s true significance,” said Mr Campbell.

The Enemy Within is a three-stranded programme. It will include a temporary exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life; a nationwide lecture series; and an online public participation programme.

The exhibition will run from September 11, 2018, to April 2019 at Turlough Park in Castlebar and will focus on the folk medicines and rudimentary cures used by the public to combat the flu a century ago.

Local stories

Mr Campbell will deliver the illustrated lecture series at 16 venues across the country. Each lecture will assess the local impact of the Spanish Flu by focusing on local stories of personal loss and public service breakdown forced by the flu outbreak.

The public participation element of the programme will allow students, communities and individuals across the island of Ireland to share and archive their Spanish Flu stories on the website, OurIrishHeritage.org. Our Irish Heritage is the home of the Irish Community Archive Network (iCAN), a project supported by the National Museum of Ireland. Stories submitted by the public will be linked to an online interactive map of Ireland, which will allow a global audience to view Irish experiences of the Spanish Flu.

The Enemy Within – The Spanish Flu in Ireland 1918-19  forms part of the National Museum of Ireland’s Decade of Centenaries programme.