Don’t Worry: Spanish Flu 1918-1919/ Covid 19 2019/2020-

Photo by Lalin Swaris
Original photo shown in the Facebook group

A recent Facebook posting got many people in County Longford (Ireland) and beyond interested in the effects of the Spanish Flu in Ireland and worldwide. It was an old photo of Longford (see above) showing a sign painted on the side of a building displaying the words, DON’T WORRY. It was supposed to have been taken around the time of the Spanish Flu. It certainly had an effect on Rosie, a member of Engage Longford.

Rosie says: I saw the original picture when it was posted on Out and About in Longford Face book page and thought it was a simple but powerful message to convey solidarity and hope and it would be nice to re-create it as a ghost image or nightlight on the gable to bring a message of encouragement from the past into the present.

Claire from Durkins and Satishe from Aubergine Nua were also taken with the idea. Grey Wizard did the artwork and stencil and Gerry Conboy from ‘Echo Sound and Light’ helped with tech. to put the image in place.

The old photo is taken from Specsavers looking down towards Main St., so the gable in that pic is the former Xtra vision building. There was also a sign on Durkin’s gable at the time and they were sponsored by Stafford’s Hotel on lower Main St., where Cooneys Menswear shop used to be. I’m not sure if it was the initiative of the hotel owner or the signwriter ( I would like to think it was the signwriter, as that’s what I also do, and back then there was no Creative Ireland funding so the Hotel sponsored it).’

The Spanish Flu In Ireland

‘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.’

This is one personal story:

‘My grandparents moved to London in 1901 where my grandfather was a barrister in the Middle Temple. During the First World War, German Zeppelins bombed them. One of my uncles, 7 year old Benjamin O’Neill, was so terrified that his mother took him back to Ireland to stay with her sister Mrs Minda Webb at her house, Park Place, Taghshinny, near Ballymahon, Co. Longford. It was there that Benjamin caught the Spanish Flu and died.’

In my own family, my great/grand aunt, Lizzie Cummiskey Patten, from Co. Longford, an Irish emigrant who went to America, like many other siblings, died from the Spanish Flu in America.

Lizzie Cummiskey/Patten and Fred Patten

When Elizabeth Lizzie Cummiskey was born on 9 July 1890 in Longford, her father, James, was 47, and her mother, Eliza, was 42. She married Fred W. Patten on 8 October 1910 in Newport, New Hampshire, USA. They had three children during their marriage. She died as a young mother on 4 January 1919 in Newport, New Hampshire, USA, at the age of 28.

Why It Is Called The Spanish Flu

‘In 1918, a flu pandemic swept the world, taking the lives of nearly 50 million people, making it one of the world’s deadliest natural disasters. It is no coincidence the outbreak coincided with World War I—millions of soldiers living in cramped conditions throughout the far reaches of the globe sped up transmission of the virus. Unlike most other influenza outbreaks, this virus particularly affected the young and healthy, leaving a workforce already compromised by the war even further shrunken. In an effort to maintain morale, the Allied Powers, including the United States, tried to hide the flu’s devastating effects from its citizens. The press, however, was free to report the damage in countries that had remained neutral in the war, like Spain. Because accounts of infection and death tolls were limited, many came to believe that Spaniards were hit especially hard by the flu, which is why the illness today is commonly known as the Spanish flu.’

Image for The Spanish Flu
Image for The Spanish Flu

How The Spanish Flu Compares To Covid-19

  • The Spanish flu hit in the fall of 1918; a second surge occurred from January to April 1919, and a smaller one followed in the winter of 1920. Forty million people died from the flu, including 550,000-750,000 Americans. We later learned that the flu was the H1N1 strain of influenza. Secondary bacterial pneumonia was often the cause of death at that time.
  • The Black Death in the 13th and 14th centuries ranks No. 1 in terms of pandemics that wreaked havoc on people’s lives and killed so many. The 1918 Spanish flu ranks second, and the COVID-19 pandemic currently ranks as a close third.
  • In 1918, cities that enacted social distancing measures early on and for a long duration were able to flatten the curve and had lower rates of morbidity and mortality.
  • Herd immunity was never developed as a measure to prevent a new virus from spreading through a particular community. It was based on active immunity and giving many adults and children immunizations.
  • The pandemic will probably end once a safe and effective vaccine is distributed across the population. We will probably be measuring the length of this pandemic in years, not months.

These are scary times as was the time of the Spanish Flu. But let’s take on the message of, DON’T WORRY. We can get through this as a community by supporting each other.

Photo by Lalin Swaris

6 thoughts on “Don’t Worry: Spanish Flu 1918-1919/ Covid 19 2019/2020-”

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