By Paul Greaney

It is just over one hundred years since the influenza pandemic, commonly known as the Spanish Flu, swept through Ireland and infected one fifth of the population. The death registers for Turloughmore and Headford registration districts indicate that there were at least 25 deaths due to influenza in the Annaghdown area, between September 1918 and May 1919. The first victim recorded is Martin Nally (57) of Tonamace, who died on 22 September 1918. The disease is known to have affected younger individuals more severely, and this is to be seen in the fatalities in Annaghdown, with 17 of those who died aged under 40 years.

Another of those to succumb was James Kilgarriff of Ardgaineen, who died on 9 December 1918. In a letter to a cousin in 1982, Sr Clarencia (Julia) Kavanagh of Ardgaineen and Texas wrote: “I vividly recall, also, that one of the Kilgariff boys, who used to travel “abroad”, was the first to succumb to the World War 1 influenza in our locality”. In fact, James was the third influenza victim in Ardgaineen – his neighbours, siblings Mary (22) and Thomas Concar (23), had died on 17 October and 19 November, respectively. The death of another neighbour, John Skerritt of Kilgill, was to follow on 11 December. The Connacht Tribune of 14 December reported, under the headline Another Influenza Victim, that he had died at his sister’s residence in Bunatober (Cunningham’s), after a few day’s illness. It was also stated that his funeral was the largest seen in the district for a number of years, leading one to wonder how much the contagion might have been further spread at such large gatherings.

The Concars were not the only family to lose multiple members. Husband and wife Martin (48) and Bridget Lardner (38) of Tonagarraun died on 13 and 15 April 1919, respectively. Nor was the loss confined to the farming or labouring classes; one of the early victims was Kate Hosty, housekeeper and sister of the parish priest, who died on 15 October aged 52. In general, though, it was the more impoverished classes who suffered most, due to poorer diet and lack of access to medical care.

Perhaps the most strikingly tragic story from this area is the death of Mary (84), Julia (39), and Sarah Mulryan (3), of Addergoole, all of whom died on 18 March 1919. Their deaths were registered by Patrick Mulryan (known locally as Pat Chormaic), who had lost his step-mother, wife, and daughter. Julia had given birth to a son, Patrick, five days earlier, and he later died 29 March. The tragedy is recounted by John Murphy of Cregduff, in his book By Corrib, Clare and Cregg: ‘One family lost three members. The three corpses were brought to Annaghdown Church by horse cart with keening women sitting on their coffins, as was the fashion then. They were members of the Mulryan family (Charles or Cormac)’.

Many older victims had their cause of death registered as ‘old age and debility’, which makes it difficult to identify the full impact of the pandemic. This is the case of Mary Mulryan above, whose cause of death is not recorded as influenza, although she almost certainly died of it.

It has been observed throughout the country, as reported by Ida Milne in her recent book on the subject, Stacking the Coffins, that survivors were reluctant to speak of the influenza later in life; this too seems to have been the case in Annaghdown, where it seems to have largely faded from memory despite its devastating impact.

Note: This article originally appeared in our Summer 2019 Newsletter.

Further reading

I. Milne, Stacking the coffins: Influenza, war and revolution in Ireland, 1918–19. Manchester University Press, 2018.

Appendix: List of deaths in the Annaghdown area.

  • Martin Nally (57), Tonamace, 22 September 1918
  • Mary Cahill (16), Lisheenanoran, 15 October 1918
  • Kate Hosty (52), Corrandulla, 15 October 1918
  • Mary Concar (22), Ardgaineen, 17 October 1918
  • Thomas Concar (23), Ardgaineen, 12 November 1918
  • James Kilgarriff (28), Ardgaineen, 9 December 1918
  • John Skerritt (25), Kilgill, 11 December 1918
  • Michael Moran (34), Glenrevagh, 17 December 1918
  • Julia Hynes (33), Cloonboo, 18 December 1918
  • Martin Hanley (28), Slieve n, 26 December 1918
  • Mary Allen (16), Abbey Lane/Park, 29 December 1918
  • Francis Dowd (23), Cluide, 14 March 1919
  • Mary Mulryan (84), Addergoole, 18 March 1919
  • Julia Mulryan (39), Addergoole, 18 March 1919
  • Sarah Mulryan (3), Addergoole, 18 March 1919
  • Bridget Flanagan (35), Cahermorris, 20 March 1919
  • William Hughes (60), Castlecreevy, 20 March 1919
  • Annie Morris (33), Corrandulla, 28 March 1919
  • Thomas Greaney (44), Castlecreevy/Cahermorris, 1 April 1919
  • Ellen Forde (2), Lisheenanoran, 09 April 1919
  • Martin Lardner (48), Tonegurrane, 13 April 1919
  • Bridget Lardner (38), Tonegurrane, 15 April 1919
  • Julia Davin (26), Tonegurrane, 16 April 1919
  • William Burke (63), Park, 21 May 1919
  • Pierce Joyce (49), Belleville/Gardenham, 24 May 1919

The 1918-19 Flu Epidemic in Annaghdown

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