About the Spanish Flu


Globally, Spanish Flu infected an estimated 500 million people and killed three to five per cent of the world’s population, making it the deadliest pandemic in human history. The flu outbreak in Ireland began in the summer of 1918 and is thought to have been brought to the country by soldiers returning from the Great War on the continent.
 
It was quickly noted that unlike previous flu outbreaks that infected the young and the old in particular, the new strain of infection was concentrated on the able bodied and the strong, those between 20 to 40 years old. As the most productive age group succumbed to flu, services, farms, villages and towns ground to a halt.
 
The symptoms of the flu were as gruesome as they were devastating. Doctors reported patients experiencing extreme loss of blood through projectile nosebleeds, coughing and vomiting. An obvious sign of infection was a person’s skin and lips turning a dark, blackish colour as their blood stopped circulating sufficient oxygen. From the point of infection, death occurred within a matter of a few excruciating days. It was common for autopsies to find serious damage to internal organs. Spells of insanity and suicides were also linked to infection.
 
In all, there were three notable waves of infection throughout Ireland between 1918 and 1919. A second wave began in October 1918 and a third in January 1919. Counties reported varying levels of mortality but all experienced panic and fear as the flu with no known cure appeared almost unstoppable.
 
Further reading

Beiner, Guy, Marsh, Patricia and Milne, Ida,‘Greatest killer of the twentieth century: the great flu in 1918-19’, History Ireland, March-April 2009, pp. 40-3.

Foley, Caitriona. (2011), The Last Irish Plague. The Great Flu Epidemic in Ireland 1918-19, Irish Academic Press.

Marsh, Patricia, 'An enormous amount of distress among the poor’: Aid for the poor in Ulster during the influenza pandemic of 1918-19', in Peter Gray and Virginia Crossman (eds.), Poverty and Welfare in Ireland 1838-1948, Dublin: Irish Academic Press, (2011), pp 207-222.

Marsh, Patricia, ‘The war and influenza: the impact of the First World War on the 1918-19 influenza pandemic in Ulster’ in David Durnin and Ian Miller (eds.), Medicine, Health and Irish Experiences of Conflict, 1914-45, Manchester, (2016), pp 31-45.

Marsh, Patricia, 'Spanish Influenza' in Lurgan and Portadown in Review: Journal of the Craigavon Historical Society, (Vol. 10, No. 3, 2016-2017), pp. 32-34.

Milne, Ida, ‘The Big Flu in Wexford,’ The Past: The Organ of the Uí Cinsealaigh Historical Society, No. 27, 2006, pp. 50-5.

Milne, Ida, 'The 1918-19 influenza pandemic: a Kildare perspective of a global disaster', Kildare Archaeological Society Journal, 2012-2013, vol XX, pp 301-315.

Milne, Ida, 'Through the eyes of a child: childhood experience of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic’ in Alice Mauger and Anne McLellan (eds.), Growing Pains: Childhood Illness in Ireland 1750-1950, Dublin: Irish Academic Press, (2013). 

Milne, Ida, 'Influenza: the Irish Local Government Board’s Last Great Crisis,’ in D.S. Lucey and Virginia Crossman (eds.), Healthcare in Ireland and Britain 1850-1970: voluntary, regional and comparative perspectives. London, Institute of Historical Research, (2015).

Milne, Ida, 'Stacking the coffins: the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic in Dublin' in Lisa Marie Griffith and Ciaran Wallace, (eds), Grave Matters: death and dying in Dublin 1500 - 2000, Four Courts Press, Dublin, (2016).

Milne, Ida. (2018), Stacking the Coffins. Influenza, War and Revolution in Ireland, 1918-19, Manchester University Press.