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The Last Irish Plague: The Great Flu Epidemic in Ireland, 1918–19


Caitriona Foley

The Great Flu is rarely incorporated into the narrative of 20th-century Ireland. The Last Irish Plague explores the full dimensions of a lethal disease, offering an account of an event which has remained undocumented for almost a hundred years.

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ISBN: 9780716531159 Categories: , ,


Decimating as many as 100 million people in the space of a few months, the Great Flu of 1918-1919 was one of the worst outbreaks of disease in global history, totally eclipsing the damage wreaked by the First World War.

In Ireland, the Registrar-General felt that not since the Great Famine had an outbreak of disease caused such havoc. The influenza found its way into every corner of Ireland, infecting as many as 800,000 people, and taking over 20,000 lives.

All across the country, there were cases of families almost being wiped out by this mysterious malady as hospitals and workhouses heaved with the sudden influx of influenza-stricken patients.

Despite the fact that it claimed many more lives than the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, and the Civil War combined, the Great Flu is rarely incorporated into the narrative of 20th-century Ireland.

The Last Irish Plague explores this catastrophe, teasing out the full dimensions of a lethal and widespread outbreak of disease. It offers an illuminating account of an event from Ireland’s past which has remained undocumented for almost a hundred years.

In November 2011 the author was awarded the prestigious Publication Prize in Irish History by the National University of Ireland. Commenting on this book, the panel remarked that ‘This is an excellent, multi faceted study of a relatively neglected episode.There is no aspect, however unexpected of the great flu that Dr Foley has not exhaustively researched in this fascinating and graphic historical reconstruction’.

Table of Contents

Introduction: ‘The Story of a New Disease’
1. ‘The country is thoroughly infected’: the geography of the New Influenza
2. ‘An tinneas mór’: the demography of the epidemic
3. An ‘influen-tial presence’: the social impact of the Great Flu
4. ‘The flu, God help us’: fear in the epidemic
5. ‘That terrible time’: medical response to the outbreak
6. ‘The responsible authority’: responsibility and accountability during the epidemic
7. Putting order on disease: naming and understanding the Great Flu
8. ‘The plague will long be remembered’?: memory of the epidemic
9. Consequences
Conclusion: a ‘tale of disaster’?

About the Author

Dr Caitriona Foley gained her Phd in History from University College Dublin.