The Enemy Within – The Spanish Flu in Ireland 1918-19, a new exhibition on the Spanish Flu that swept across Ireland 100 years ago, will be opened tomorrow at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life in Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo.
The Spanish Flu claimed 23,000 lives and infected some 800,000 people in Ireland over a 12-month period from 1918 to 1919. No group, location or aspect of life was spared. However, the epidemic remains an almost forgotten event in 20th-century Irish history.
The exhibition will explore the folk medicines and rudimentary cures used by the public to combat the devastating illness and will be officially opened by Professor Ingrid Hook, former Head of the School of Pharmacy at Trinity College and a current member of the Board of the National Museum of Ireland.
The Enemy Within – The Spanish Flu in Ireland 1918-19 is a three-stranded programme. As well as the exhibition, there will be a nationwide lecture series and an online public participation programme.
The lecture series will be delivered at 16 venues across the country, assessing the local impact of the Spanish Flu and 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. 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.
Noel Campbell, curator with the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, is co-ordinating The Enemy Within programme. He stated:
“The Spanish Flu has been eclipsed in our collective memory by the political events of that decade and the loss of life during the Great War in particular. It remains an understudied event in history despite claiming more lives worldwide than the Great War. The National Museum of Ireland has developed a programme of remembrance and research which will be informative, engaging and also challenging as we attempt to understand the Spanish Flu’s true significance and probe why this epidemic has been almost forgotten in our study and understanding of 20th-century Irish history.”
Lynn Scarff, Director of the National Museum of Ireland, added: “The Enemy Within will, for the first time, provide an opportunity for people across Ireland to tell their personal histories and narratives about the impact of this epidemic on their communities. We are especially excited about the participative element of this exhibition that will be facilitated through the iCAN project which is supported through Creative Ireland and provides a digital archive for local communities across the country.”
Professor Ingrid Hook said: “People today looking back 100 years, must realise that viruses were not well understood and those causing influenza were not correctly identified until the early 1930s. Because of this ignorance, treatments could only be for the symptoms of ‘flu’, mainly body aches and joint pains, a sore throat and cough. As this was the ‘pre-antibiotic era’, there were no effective treatments for secondary bacterial infections, such as pneumonia. A general advice for ‘flu’ patients was to stay in bed, take food and plenty of fluids. Medicines, as we recognise them today, were not yet available, except Aspirin (available since 1899). Many therapies were suggested, such as traditional herbs and oils, as were strange remedies (now considered dangerous). This exhibition hopes to illustrate some of these ‘potential cures’, describe their effectiveness and highlight the devastating impact that this influenza virus had, not only on the people in Ireland, but also on the world in general”.
The Enemy Within – The Spanish Flu in Ireland 1918-19 forms part of the National Museum of Ireland’s Decade of Centenaries programme.
For further information on the exhibition, lecture series and public participation programme, visit www.museum.ie/country-life.