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National Museum of Ireland announces programme to commemorate 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


Exhibition will explore folk medicines and rudimentary cures used by the public to combat the flu a century ago

The National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, has announced plans to commemorate 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 claimed 23,000 lives and infected some 800,000 people in Ireland over a 12-month period. Despite this devastating loss of life and the resulting chaos, the Spanish Flu pandemic remains an understudied event in modern Irish history.  

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

'Eclipsed'

Mr Noel Campbell, assistant keeper of the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, is coordinating the commemoration. He explained that the Spanish Flu was a hugely important chapter in Irish history but "has been eclipsed in our collective memory" by the political events of that decade.

"It remains an understudied event in history despite claiming more lives worldwide than the Great War," said Mr Campbell.

"The National Museum of Ireland has developed a commemorative programme which will be informative, engaging and also challenging as we attempt to understand the Spanish Flu’s true significance and probe why this pandemic has been almost forgotten in our study and understanding of 20th century Irish history.”

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 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 15 venues across Ireland. 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.