At the outbreak of the war, the Guinness Brewery at St. James’s Gate was the world’s largest brewery. The company actively encouraged its workers to enlist for war service and an article on the Herald.ie website in February 2015 estimated that a fifth of the Guinness workforce served. Like many other industrial and commercial concerns, the company guaranteed that the jobs of men enlisting for war service would be there for them on their return. However, Guinness went further, and paid half of the men’s ordinary wages to their families during every week in which they were engaged in the conflict.
After the war, those men who returned expressed their gratitude to the
company for its philanthropic attitude by presenting the Directors with an
illuminated address on 16th February 1920.
A duplicate address was prepared to enable a number of employees, who had
not had the opportunity to subscribe to the address in the first instance, to
similarly express their thanks. The two
addresses were installed in the Board Room at St. James’ Gate in Dublin.
The company subsequently produced a parchment Roll of Honour and a Roll
of Honour book in which the names of 645 employees who served in the Great War
are listed by Department. 104 Guinness
employees (16% of those who enlisted) died, with 96 being killed in action or
dying of wounds. One of the Roll of
Honour books is on display at the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast.
Two of the company’s directors served in the Great War. Captain Edward Guinness, Viscount Elveden,
served with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was an Aide de Camp to His
Majesty King George V from 1916 to 1918.
Lieutenant-Colonel, the Honourable Walter Edward Guinness served with
the Duke of York’s Own Loyal Suffolk Hussars and was awarded the Distinguished
Service Order (with Bar) and was Mentioned in Despatches on three occasions.
The company had its own steamers for making deliveries to Great Britain and one ship was lost to enemy action. The SS “W M Barkley” was built by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company of Troon in 1898 for William M Barkley & Sons (coal merchants, steamship owners and agents) of Wellington Place in Belfast but was later sold to John Kelly & Company before being purchased by Guinness in 1913. On 12th October 1917, the SS “W M Barkley” was transporting a cargo of stout from Dublin to Liverpool when she was torpedoed by German submarine UC-75 and sank seven miles east of the Kish lightvessel. Five men from the crew of 14 were lost and their names are commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial in London. Whilst the Guinness Genealogy Archive lists all five men as employees of the company, only Able Seaman Ernest Arthur Kendall (40) of Meany Place in Dalkey is listed in the Guinness Roll of Honour. The other fatalities were Ship’s Master, Edward Gregory (46) of Meadows Lane in Arklow, First Engineer Alexander Corry (48) of Victoria Villas in Dublin (who is commemorated on family memorials in Belfast City Cemetery and Movilla Cemetery in Newtownards), Second Engineer Owen Francis Murphy (27) of South Main Street in Wexford and Fireman Thomas Murphy (29) of Lower Sheriff Street in Dublin.
Another anomaly on the Guinness Roll of Honour is William Geoghegan, who
had joined the company in 1889 at the age of 24 and worked as a labourer in the
Brewhouse Department. He is listed as a
Sergeant with 8th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers and he had given his age as
52 when enlisting in October 1914. He was
discharged as “unlikely to make an efficient soldier” on 21st
November 1914 and died of pulmonary tuberculosis at his home address in Dublin on
22nd February 1916. The Register of Deaths records his age as 51 and his
occupation as “Sergeant R.D.F.”.
However, he is not listed as a war fatality by Commonwealth War Graves
Commission as he was not a serving soldier and his death was not attributable
to war service.
The first Guinness employee to die was Private Thomas McDonagh, 1st
Battalion Irish Guards, who died of wounds at Coulommiers on 8th September 1914
at the age of 25 and is commemorated on La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial in
France. The Guinness Genealogy Archive records that Thomas
McDonagh was born on 30th May 1889 and had joined the company as a cleaner in
the Engineer’s Department on 13th November 1911. He left the company on 5th August 1914, being
recalled from the Army Reserve, and was deployed to France on 13th August 1914.
He was a son of Thomas McDonagh and the
husband of Elsie McDonagh, later of 24 Pancras Square in London.
The last Guinness war fatality was Private James Kennedy, 1st Battalion
Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who died of influenza at a Military Hospital in
Shropshire on 9th April 1919, aged 31, and is buried in the Dean’s Grange
Cemetery in Dublin. The Guinness
Genealogy Archive records that James Kennedy was born on 19th March 1888,
joined the company as a labourer at the Cooke’s Lane Maltings on 18th July 1911
and left on 27th March 1915. He was stationed
at Victoria Barracks in Cork when he married Ellen Doyle of Montpellier Parade
in Blackrock on 4th September 1915. He was deployed to the Western Front after
31st December 1915.
The Guinness Roll of Honour records
that 47 employees received gallantry awards during the war, with several men
receiving multiple awards:
Service Order awarded to three men (four awards in total)
Conduct Medal awarded to eight men
awarded to nine men
awarded to 16 men
18 men were “Mentioned
in Despatches” (25 awards in total)
Three men were
awarded the Croix-de-Guerre.
Two employees serving with the Irish Guards are recorded as having
received the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM).
However, the United Kingdom only issued DSMs to naval personnel in the
Great War. It is possible that Henry
Corrin (a fitter in the Engineer’s Department) and George Woods (a Gate Porter
in the Brewhouse Department) were awarded DSMs by the United States of America.
Four men were awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and Captain Trevor Crotty, Royal Army Service Corps, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire. Major Edward Gordon Peake, Royal Engineers, and Major Frank Douglas Stevens, Royal Air Force, were made Officers of the Order of the British Empire and Major John Lumsden, Royal Army Medical Corps, was made a Knight of the Order of the British Empire.
One of the Guinness men to be awarded the Military Cross was James Plowman. He was born at Skerton in Lancashire on 15th September 1890 to Louis Plowman and Eliza Thomas, being the second of their seven children. Their third child was born in Dublin in 1892 at which time Louis Plowman was employed as a Coach Painter for the Great South Western Railway. James Plowman joined Guinness as a Fitter in the Engineer’s Department on 9th June 1913. The family was living at St. Patrick’s Terrace in the New Kilmainham district when James married Isabella Small of Rosemount Terrace in the Arbour’s Hill district on 29th July 1914 in St Paul’s Church of Ireland. The Guinness Genealogy Archive records that James left the company on 6th August 1914. He was deployed to France with the South Irish Horse on 17th August, receiving a commission with the Leinster Regiment on 28th August 1915. James Plowman was awarded the Military Cross for an act of gallantry in June 1917, the citation being published in the London Gazette on 9th January 1918. Captain James Plowman MC was serving with 2nd Battalion Leinster Regiment when he died of wounds on 29th April 1918, aged 27, and he is buried in the Cinq Rues British Cemetery at Hazebrouck in France.
History Hub Ulster acknowledges the assistance of Dr Jonathan Mattison in providing access to the Roll of Honour book to photograph and transcribe the contents. A copy of our transcription and the photographs of the pages have been provided to the Museum so that visitors can access the information whilst preserving the integrity of the artefact.
The first outbreak of
influenza in the province of Ulster visited the towns of Belfast, Lurgan,
Portadown and Londonderry during June 1918, causing havoc as businesses had to
close or function on reduced staff.
Services were disrupted throughout these towns. In other Ulster towns such as Larne,
Clones, Cookstown, Newry and the county of Donegal, their main influenza
outbreaks occurred during the second and third waves in the autumn of 1918 and
spring of 1919.
In Ulster, as elsewhere in Ireland and Great
Britain, it was the local authorities and their Medical Officers of Health that
responsibility for public health in their respective towns and cities. They
were tasked with the management of the disease at a local level. It was the Poor Law medical system of the Union infirmary
and dispensary districts – administered by the Board of guardians – that bore
the brunt of medical care. However
Local Government Board for Ireland (LGBI) controlled the activities of the
boards of guardians in relation to the administration of the dispensary medical
system, union infirmaries and fever hospitals it also controlled the
administration of the Public Health Acts by the rural, urban and County
Councils. So how
did these combined forces in Ulster respond to the public health crisis of
During the first wave the Medical Superintendent Officer of Health
for Belfast Corporation, Dr Hugh W. Bailie ordered school closures and
recommended the thorough disinfection of cinemas once or twice a day. He also
proposed sending out his public health department inspectors around their
districts to advise people on what measures they should take if they contracted
influenza. In Londonderry the main recommendation by the
corporation was school closures. This is surprising as influenza was rampant
in the city with burials at the City Cemetery reaching a record number of 50 during
the week ending 6 July 1918 and nearly 20 burials alone on Monday 8 July 1918. There was no evidence that any specific
steps were taken to prevent the spread of influenza in either Lurgan or
Portadown during the first wave. Again this is noteworthy as there were 31
influenza deaths were recorded in the town area from the middle of June until
the end of July 1918. The lacklustre response from
these local authorities during the first wave may be due to the consensus that
this outbreak of the disease was a seasonal flu and therefore unworthy of any
During the second wave, there was a more proactive
response by local authorities in Ulster towns as many of the councils took
preventative measures. A common
recommendation was the closure of day, Sunday and technical schools. It was not
a compulsory measure but in general, school managers adhered to it. However, Methodist College in Belfast
remained open during this virulent wave with tragic results. Influenza hit the
school at the end of October 1918. Student boarders contracted the flu and only
the Medical Officer, matron and headmaster of the school avoided contracting
the disease. Sadly during November, two
members of staff, George Manning and the Rev P. P O’Sullivan, as well as one of the boarders,
Oliver Crawford, aged 15 died from pneumonia following on from influenza. The Friends school in Lisburn may also have
regretted its decision to remain open.
Influenza was rife and by 31 October 1918 only 17 boarders and two
members of staff had not contracted the disease. Helen Clarke, a day pupil died on 31 October
1918. When pupils Anna Magowan and Sadie
Walsh died on 3 November and 8 November 1918 respectively, it was then decided
to close the school and send the remaining
16 pupils home. The larger dormitories
in the school acted as wards where the remaining students who were ill were
nursed. The housekeeper, Miss McCullough
and headmaster’s daughter, Frances Ridges, a student from Queen’s University,
Belfast, worked as nurses but unfortunately they both lost their lives to
influenza. The school eventually opened
again in early January 1919.
In Ulster, as with the rest of United Kingdom,
several councils singled out places of entertainment for closure and
ventilation under the pretext that people gathered there and could therefore
spread the disease. In Newry both local
cinemas closed for one week at the Medical Officer of Health’s request,
however, one of them, the Imperial, re-opened without consulting the Public
Health Authority, while the other, the Frontier, remained closed. The
Public Health authorities in Belfast, Portadown and Newtownards requested
permission from the LGBI to close cinemas in their towns. However, the LGBI advised that they
had no powers to close the cinemas, as this action was not approved in any part
of the United Kingdom.
Mass gathering of people in the cinemas,
theatres and trams were not the only cause for concern and the Irish News feared that the congregation
of huge masses of people on the streets during the armistice celebrations would
further spread the disease. It has been suggested
that an ironic impact of the war was the extra infections and deaths that
occurred as a result of the armistice celebration, where the celebrations
became the foci of new or recurring outbreaks of influenza. In Belfast the armistice
celebration occurred during the peak of the second influenza wave in the
city. Interestingly, deaths from
pneumonia – a common complication of influenza – peaked in Belfast on 23
November 1918 not long after these celebrations took place. Whether the celebrations aided this peak is
a matter for debate.
Larne and Cookstown, public notices of preventative measures were displayed in public places,
published in the local newspapers and printed on handbills for distribution. These notices recommended avoiding crowded
gatherings, good ventilation and cleanliness in homes and discouraged
spitting on the streets. Influenza
sufferers should go to bed early and remain there until completely recovered.
The Irish tradition of waking the dead came in for much criticism as it was feared that the custom would aid in the spread of infectious disease. Both Newry and Ballyclare councils produced public notices which recommended the prompt burial of influenza victims without a wake being held for the deceased. However, again there was no official central government support given to forbid the holding and attendance at wakes. Again it was not a compulsory measure but only a strong recommendation as the local Public Health Authorities had no powers to stop wakes. These were not the only towns to criticise the tradition of holding wakes In Dublin during the second wave, an Irish Times editorial complained that attending wakes of people who had died from influenza was an objectionable practice that was believed to be a fruitful cause of the spread of infection and that this custom more than anything else frustrated the efforts of the public health authorities to eradicate influenza.
There were valid objections to ‘waking the
dead’. Contemporary opinion was that infection was thought to remain in the
corpse and therefore could be spread to the living. However, there is no evidence that this was
the case with respect to the influenza virus. Waking the body in an open coffin may not
have spread the disease through the corpse.
However, anyone attending the wake who had the ‘flu could bring the
infection to a small house where many people congregated in confined
spaces. Once there it could be spread
quickly within a community.
main medical response in towns was by the Poor Law Union under the auspices of
union infirmaries and the dispensary system.
However, these institutions were unprepared for the number of influenza
patients needing treatment. During the first wave in Belfast the number of
influenza patients admitted to the union infirmary was so large that it greatly
increased the workload in the hospital and the Visiting Medial Officer, Dr Gardner
‘Never in my recollection has
the strain on the staff been so great as during the past few weeks.’ The whole staff
has worked most enthusiastically and the generous recognition of our efforts by
the Board is most appreciated by all.
Lurgan union infirmary was also under pressure and there were reports that it had
not been so full in over thirty years due to an influx of influenza sufferers. The workhouse infirmaries throughout Ireland were extremely busy. During 1918 the number of deaths in Irish
workhouses increased by 3,329 on the previous year with influenza and pneumonia
deaths rising by 2,551.
There was also a
scarcity of medical professionals as many doctors were serving at the western
front. Temporary doctors were difficult
to source for both the union infirmaries and the dispensary districts. Doctors
that were available could, in many cases, demand whatever salary they wanted
much to the annoyance of the guardians.
However these doctors were justified in requesting a higher weekly
salary as they were under severe pressure.
During 1918 the Medical officers of health worked long hours to
treat their patients, paying 100,000 more home visits during this period than
in the previous year, indicating not
only the virulence of the disease throughout Ireland but also the work pressure
that dispensary doctors were under during this pandemic.
Unsurprisingly, as the
real cause of influenza was unknown at the time and as there is still no known
cure for the disease, there
consensus among the Irish medical profession on the best treatment for, or,
prevention against the disease, which resulted in many cures and treatments
being suggested. According to Ida Milne,
some Irish doctors recommended gargling with a tincture of creosote or a
solution of permanganate of potash; calomel (as a purgative); oxygen;
stimulants (such as strychnine); some preparation of opium for sleeplessness.An article in the Armagh Guardian advised that if
attacked by influenza, the sufferer should at once take a dose of opening
medicine such as castor oil, and if possible take a hot bath and go to bed and
send for the doctor. It advised that to
work or walk off an attack is dangerous. A popular treatment choice was quinine and the
Belfast MOH, Dr Bailie recommended taking quinine tablets of between 2 and 5
grains twice daily as a tonic and preventative.
Some doctors widely endorsed the use of
alcohol in influenza cases to relieve pain and bolster strength. This treatment was so popular that in February
1919, the Dublin Public Health Committee requested the War Cabinet to call for
the immediate release of supplies of whiskey in the interests of public health. The
lack of a cure for influenza meant that people resorted to over-the-counter
cures to help treat the disease. An
immense assortment of products claimed curative or preventative powers against
influenza. Disinfection was
considered a good preventative as influenza was believed to be a bacterial
infection. Lifebuoy soap claimed to be a ‘reputable germicide and sure
nationally established disinfectant proclaimed ‘Guard against Influenza by the
daily use of Jeyes’ Fluid.’ Disinfection with Jeyes’ Fluid was one of the
recommendations of the Dublin Medical Officer of Health, Dr Charles Cameron in
dealing with influenza. Oxo and Bovril were
popular beef teas of the day and were thought to strengthen the body against
the onslaught of disease. So popular were these products that during
December 1918, a series of advertisements apologised for the shortage of Bovril
during the influenza outbreak. Bovril was considered a very important form
of nourishment during the epidemic. So much so that during November 1918 the
Belfast Guardians increased the nurses’ Bovril rations by one quarter of an
ounce per day to boost their diet to help them cope with their increased
In reality there was no cure for
influenza and traditional
nursing care provided the best and only effective treatment for the disease. However, nurses like doctors were in
short supply as many professional nurses had also volunteered for both army and
naval medical corps during the war. This situation was further exacerbated when
remaining nurses started to contract influenza themselves. In Ulster where
there were numerous reports of professional nurses being infected with
influenza during the course of their duties.
Workhouse infirmaries reported the absence of their nursing staff due to
influenza. Many nurses in the Belfast
Infirmary contracted influenza during the first and second waves and six died from
Similarly, during the second wave several nurses in the Londonderry Union
contracted influenza with two fatalities. Also during the second wave, eight nurses in
the Lurgan Union infirmary contracted influenza and two later died from the complication
The medical response during the second and third waves was similar
to that of the first. Influenza
sufferers availed of treatment and medicines through the dispensary system and
the workhouse infirmaries. The demands of war impacted on the workhouse infirmaries because in many
cases wards or entire workhouse hospitals were requisitioned for military
patients. The workhouse infirmaries were filled to capacity and
suffered from overcrowding.In
Strabane, the military acquired the workhouse for treatment of troops
just prior to the outbreak of influenza in October 1918 and most of the inmates
were sent to the Londonderry workhouse. The chairman of Strabane
council was very concerned about the lack of treatment and hospital
accommodation for the sick poor in the town.
The council eventually convinced the guardians to provide hospital
accommodation for those suffering from influenza but not before a young boy, who
was forced to lay ‘on a bed of straw and bags’, had died from influenza.
authority response to influenza in towns
like Belfast, Londonderry Lurgan and Portadown was poor but
the United Kingdom as a whole did not respond effectively to the crisis. Central government was pre-occupied by the
war and left it up to individual local authorities to deal with influenza at a
local level. In Manchester, the public
health committee—aware of the gravity of the influenza pandemic — were more
proactive. They supplied additional help to nurse and provide domestic
assistance to influenza sufferers where it was needed in the city. They also supplied food and coal for those
unable to provide the same for themselves. It has been suggested that in
Manchester public aid with food, fuel and nursing during the pandemic was of
much more value than treatment by local physicians in the city.
There is no evidence that the bigger industrial
towns such as Belfast, Londonderry and Lurgan took similar measures as
Manchester to help their citizens. Nevertheless, some Ulster towns took more concrete measures to help the
sick poor. Influenza
was rife in Newry with many people dying of the complication pneumonia. Newry council
was aware that the poor needed more substantial charitable help especially with
nutrition. The provision of nourishing food was deemed important. The council arranged for two Newry creameries to supply
sufficient quantities of free milk for distribution due to the influenza
staff of the domestic department of the Newry Technical School provided
nourishing foodstuff for the sick such as beef tea and mutton broth during their
closure. This work was discontinued on
25 November 1918 when the school re-opened.
Despite this aid, the situation in Newry was very
serious. A Relief of Distress
Fund Committee was formed to ‘consider the best means of meeting the
exceptional expenditure that has been and is being incurred by the various
charitable organisations in the relief of distress arising out of the influenza
circular was sent out inviting subscriptions to the fund and it was hoped that
a sum of at least £1,000 would be raised. The fund was
closed on to 31 December 1918 and a total £734 4s. 2d. was raised and was
allocated as follows: three-quarters (£550 13s. 2d.), to the Catholic Charitable Organisations
such as the St Vincent de Paul Society, and one quarter (£183 11s.), to the local Protestant clergymen for distribution. The fund reimbursed the St
Vincent de Paul Society for the expenditure it had already incurred in Newry,
where it had spent several hundred pounds on clothing, coal, groceries,
butter, milk and other necessities for the poor during the pandemic. This indicated that charities in the town rose to the challenges imposed by the pandemic
in a timely manner.
In Cookstown, although both the council and the
guardians made efforts to combat the pandemic, it was the middle class
population of Cookstown who made the biggest contribution in dealing with the
effects of influenza in the town. As in
Newry, a subscription list was opened and a committee was formed to look after
the sick poor in the town and dispensary district. Many local trained ladies volunteered to act
as nurses in the district offering their services for no payment. The Sick Nursing Society used the Technical
School kitchen to provide nourishing food, not only for the sick poor in the
town, but, also for those families that could afford to feed themselves but were
too sick to provide food and nurture for other family members. This was a popular service with up to 170
families in the town and district receiving this aid.
In Clones the workhouse hospital was full and doctors were working to full capacity. The Clones Relief Committee was formed to assist families incapacitated by influenza with both nourishment and nursing. The committee established a kitchen in the Town Hall and prepared and distributed soup, beef tea and porridge to those patients requiring them. The St Vincent de Paul society placed their funds at the disposal of the relief committee. The committee did not raise a public subscription in the town but instead they took action first and sought reimbursement later from the guardians for any expenses incurred.
In conclusion the
response from most local authorities in Ulster consisted of applying
preventative measures such as closing schools, producing public notices,
encouraging disinfection of factories, cinemas and public buildings. However they lacked the authority from the
central body of the LGBI to enforce recommendations such as closure of cinemas
or prevention of wakes. The boards of
guardians actively tried to obtain sufficient medical personnel to help during
the pandemic and in general adhered to the requests of their Medical Officers
of Health with respect to treatment of the disease. However public aid with food, fuel
and nursing during the pandemic could be of much more value than treatment by
local doctors. So although local guardians in Ulster actively tried
to obtain sufficient medical personnel to help during the pandemic, maybe if
they and the local councils in towns such as Belfast, Londonderry and Lurgan
looked towards the physical nourishment and welfare of the poor, then the
influenza death toll may have not been so high.
Dr. Marsh will be giving a talk entitled “The Spanish Influenza Pandemic in Antrim and Down 1918-1919” at Bangor Library on Thursday 21st February 2019 at 7.30pm, and Lisburn Road Library on Wednesday 27th February 2019 at 6.30pm 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.
Report of the
Irish Public Health Council on the public health and medical services in
Ireland [Cmd 761], H. C. 1920, xvii
2, 1075, p. 4.
 Marsh, ‘The effect of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic
on Belfast’, pp. 66-7.
Irish News, 25 June 1918;
Derry Journal, 26 June 1918;
Dungannon Democrat, 26 June 1918.
Journal, 10 July 1918; Irish News, 9 July 1918.
 Lurgan Medical Officer of
Health Report, 5 Aug. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Lurgan Medical Officer of Health
Report, LA/51/9D/6); Lurgan Mail, 10 Aug.
 John Watson Henderson, Methodist
College, Belfast, 1868-1938: A survey and retrospect Vol. 1 (Belfast,
1939), p. 271.
Newhouse, A History of the Friends School,
1974), pp. 90-1.
 Fred, R Van Hartesveldt, ‘Manchester’, in Fred van
Hartesveldt (ed.) The 1918-1919 Pandemic of Influenza: The Urban
Impact in the Western World (Lewiston, Queenstown, Lampeter: The Edward Mellon Press, 1992), p. 103.
Urban District Council meeting, 4 Nov. 1918 (P.R.O.N.I., Newry Urban District
Council minutes, LA58/2CA/6).
 Patricia Marsh, “‘An enormous amount of distress
among the poor’: Aid for the Poor in Ulster during the Influenza Pandemic of
1918-1919’ in Poverty and Welfare in
Ireland 1838-1948, Eds. Crossman, Virginia and Gray Peter, (IAP, 2011), pp,
Irish News, 18 Nov 1918,
Belfast News-Letter, 18 Nov 1918, Mid
Ulster Mail. 17 Nov 1918, 30 Nov. 1918 and 7 Dec. 1918.
Dr. Marsh will be giving a talk entitled “The Spanish Influenza Pandemic in Antrim and Down 1918-1919” at Bangor Library on Thursday 21st February 2019 at 7.30pm, and Lisburn Road Library on Wednesday 27th February 2019 at 6.30pm 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.
Towards the end of the First World War in June 1918, a fatal influenza epidemic not only hit troops in the western front but also the civilians throughout the world. Although the exact mortality figures are unknown, it was responsible for the deaths of more people than the First World War and in 2002 the global death toll of the pandemic was estimated to be approximately 50 million. Although called the ‘Flanders’ grippe ‘by English soldiers’; ‘Blitzkatarrh’ by the Germans; ‘the disease of the wind’ in Persia; the name it became commonly known as was the ‘Spanish Influenza.’ So why Spanish influenza? The neutrality of Spain during the First World War meant that there was no newspaper censorship in that country and consequently reports about the disease were published not only in Spanish newspapers and also in the worldwide press. The Times reported 100,000 victims in Madrid of an unknown disease responsible for 700 deaths in 10 days, which had caused disruption to public services, offices and factories. King Alfonso XIII of Spain and other leading politicians were among those afflicted. It was these reports that gave rise to the erroneous impression that influenza had originated in Spain, leading to the misnomer Spanish influenza. However, the Spanish themselves called it the soldier of Naples.
disease, however, did not originate in Spain.
One theory is that the pandemic originated as early as the winter of
1916, on the Western Front at the British Army camp at Étaples. The outbreaks
at Étaples were diagnosed at the time as purulent bronchitis but in retrospect they
showed the same symptoms as the Spanish ‘flu.
Dr Herbert French, author of the 1920 Ministry of Health Report was strongly
of the opinion that the fatal cases from purulent bronchitis were likely to be
the same as those of the pandemic. It has also been suggested that the pandemic could have originated in China and that
the movement of a very large number of workers from China to France during the
First World War might have played a part in the pandemic’s development. However
the most popular theory was that influenza started in America. The earliest
recorded outbreak of the disease was on 5 March 1918 among army recruits at
Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas. By the end of March it had spread to military
training installations in several US mid-western and south eastern states and
from here it travelled with the troops on the ships to the Western Front.
Flu in Ireland
Spanish influenza struck in three concurrent waves throughout the world and Ireland was no exception with three distinct waves of influenza, which occurred in June 1918, October 1918 and February 1919. Speaking in 1920, the Registrar-General for Ireland, Sir William Thompson was of the opinion that influenza in Ireland was the worst disease of an epidemic nature since the period of the Great Famine. The death toll in Ireland was approximately 23,000, however this is a conservative estimate as not all influenza deaths in the country were registered and also some were registered incorrectly. The morbidity from the disease is more difficult to ascertain as no accurate records of incidences of influenza were kept during this period. However, Ida Milne suggests that as many as 800,000 people could have been infected in Ireland. As many as 300,000 people could have been infected in the province of Ulster, where 7,582 people were recorded as dying from influenza. However, the death toll could have been much higher.
The first recorded outbreak of Influenza in Ireland was on the United States Ship Dixie docked in Queenstown (now Cobh), however this outbreak was confined to the ship as there were no reports of ‘flu in the town. The first wave proper was reported to be principally in Belfast and other districts of the north of Ireland. First mention of influenza in the province appeared on 11 and 12 June 1918 in Belfast newspapers when a notice appeared regarding the re-opening, after influenza, of a department in James Mackie & Sons munitions factory situated in the Springfield Road. Influenza spread from Belfast across the north of Ireland probably via the rail network. Elsewhere in Ireland there were also sporadic outbreaks at towns such as Ballinasloe, Tipperary town and Athlone. It is notable that these towns were situated near army bases as the general consensus was that ‘flu was brought to Ireland with troops returned home on leave or to convalesce from wounds and then spread via the rail network.
The second wave originated in Leinster. Howth on the east coast appeared to be the entry point and was reported to be there as early as 1 October 1918. From Howth it spread to Dublin and then throughout Ireland. In Ulster influenza was first reported in the naval port of Larne on 9 October 1918. The disease did not reach Belfast until the end of October 1918. Influenza spread to most Ulster towns during this wave and this was the most virulent wave in the province. County Donegal was badly affected during this outbreak, especially the Inishowen Union District, which had the highest death rate per thousand of population in Ulster.
The third wave which started in February 1919, again originated in Leinster. It was first reported on 5 February 1919 in the Celbridge district in Co Kildare. Initial reports of influenza in Ulster during this wave were in Holywood on 6 February 1919 and it was in Belfast by 18 February 1919. Influenza visited most Ulster towns but in many such as Belfast, Lurgan, Larne, Newry and Dungannon this was a milder wave than those in 1918 and this may be because immunity was gained from previous waves. However, Dublin county and borough suffered severely during all three waves of the disease. County Donegal was again severely affected with a higher mortality during the third wave in 1919 than in both waves during 1918. This was also the case with other counties in the west of the country such as Mayo, Sligo and Galway.
There was an unusual age
distribution for this pandemic as it targeted young adults in particular. Normally influenza kills the very young and
the very old but Spanish influenza showed an unusual age distribution of
deaths. Although there
was still high mortality for the very young and very old there was also a very
high mortality for the age group between 15 and 44. In England and Wales
mortality was concentrated among those aged
20 to 40 and especially those 25 to 35. It has been suggested that this peculiarity
helped to produce Britain’s ‘lost generation’ caused by not only from the high
mortality among young men killed due to the war but also from influenza on the
In Ireland 55.5% of all influenza deaths in 1918 were of those aged between 15 and 45. In 1919 more than 58% of the total influenza mortality was between the ages of 20 and 65. Figure 1 is a graphical representation of the age-specific influenza death rates for Ireland comparing 1918 and 1919. It shows that the age-specific death rates for Ireland followed the global trend of targeting young adults and that during 1918 it was those aged 25 to 35 who suffered the highest mortality of any age group. The Irish figures also show that infants under one year were also at particular risk during the pandemic. This was hardly surprising as, even without epidemic disease, the urban areas of Ireland such as Dublin and Belfast suffered from one of the highest infant mortality rates in the United Kingdom due to infection and poor diet.
was the pandemic so detrimental to 25 to 35 age-group?
One theory was that elderly people had gained immunity to the 1918-19 pandemic due to previous exposure to the influenza epidemic of 1847-48 which may have been caused by a similar H1 virus. Another is that young adults were more likely to attempt to work through illness, thus maximizing their risk of succumbing to influenza. It has also been suggested that many of the age group 20-45 had been soldiers living in miserable conditions on the western front which would have lowered their immunity, but the same death rates were seen in young people in countries unaffected by the war. However, the answer may lie in a scientific study that took place in 2007, which suggested that the strong immune systems of young adults overreacted to the 1918 virus causing this particular age group to be at the most risk during the pandemic.
Public Health Committee meeting, 6 Feb 1919 (P.R.O.N.I.,
Holywood Urban District Council minutes, LA/38/9AA/3)
Belfast Board of Guardians meeting, 18 Feb. 1919
(P.R.O.N.I., Belfast Union minutes, BG/7/A/101).
Andrew Noymer and Michel Garenne,
‘The 1918 influenza epidemic’s effects on sex differentials in mortality in the
United States’, in Population and Development Review, 26:3 (2000), pp.
 Herbert French, ‘The clinical features of the influenza
epidemic 1918-19,’ pp. 90-1.
 Niall Johnson, Britain
and the 1918-19 influenza pandemic: A dark epilogue, (London/New York,
2006), p. 84.
 Thompson, ‘Mortality from influenza in Ireland’, p.
detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), p. xvi.
 Mortality figures
calculated from Fifty-fifth detailed
annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland), p xvi and Fifty-sixth detailed annual report of the Registrar-General (Ireland),
 Ruth Barrington, Health,
medicine and politics in Ireland 1900-1970 (Dublin, 1987), p. 75.
 Christopher Langford, ‘The age
pattern of mortality in the 1918-19 influenza pandemic: An
attempted explanation based on data for England and Wales’, in Medical History, 46 (2002), p. 15. Ann H.
Reid, Jeffery K. Taubenberger, Thomas G. Fanning, ‘The 1918 Spanish influenza:
Integrating history and biology’, in Microbes and Infection,3 (2001), p. 83.
 Johnson, Britain
and the 1918-19 influenza Pandemic, p. 88.
and Fanning, ‘The 1918 Spanish influenza’, p. 83.
 Kerri Smith, ‘Concern as revived
1918 flu virus kills monkeys’, in Nature,
445 (18 Jan. 2007), p. 23.