Fingal Independent

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Be part of history...

Community Historian, Brendan Matthews, says young people should record the events of today through their family stories so we may have it for the people of tomorrow

During the mid 14th century, the virus, which became known as the Black Death, ravaged Europe, Asia and Africa resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of people; figures show that as a result of this catastrophe more than a quarter of the population of Europe was wiped out.

During the period of 1347/48 twenty-five Franciscans died in Drogheda as a result of the virus having been carried into the town on merchant ships arriving at the medieval port adjacent to the Franciscan Friary, located in the area of what is known today as Merchants Quay on the north-side of the River Boyne.

Subsequent epidemic and pandemic plagues and viruses occurred in Ireland during the 17th century, both during and in the aftermath of the Cromwellian period. Gerard Boate, who was a personal friend of Oliver Cromwell and Chief Physician to the Puritan Army in Ireland in 1649, mentions the virus that was rampant across the country during this period. The virus that Gerard had written about was that of Typhus and it took many more lives in Ireland than that of Cromwell and his New Model Army.

The Cholera epidemic in Ireland during the summer months of 1832 once again ravaged the country with tens of thousands of people passing away as a result of this disease. The local newspapers record a staggering amount of people dying across the greater Drogheda area particularly during the months of June and July of 1832 and weekly reports in the Drogheda Argus and Conservative newspapers record a list of many prominent people who had passed away.

The virus, which became known as the Spanish Flu, swept across Europe, Asia and America from 1918 through 1919 with the death toll again reaching tens of millions of people; it was, without doubt, one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. In Ireland it affected in excess of 800,000 individuals and took the lives of some 23,000 souls. The Drogheda Independent newspaper of the day recorded the first outbreak of this pandemic in the north-east area with soldiers having been affected who were patients in the Navan Union Workhouse in July of 1918.

Schools and cinemas were closed as a result and public places were sanitised, however hundreds of people were still attending funerals of those who had passed away resulting in the spread of this particular virus. Calls were made in the Drogheda Independent for extra space being badly needed in Union Workhouse hospitals to care for the victims of the virus and for unqualified people to volunteer in helping the nurses manage the crisis.

In October of 1918, the S.S. Dundalk steam ship was torpedoed by the Germans in the Irish Sea en-route from Liverpool back to Dundalk with the result that the Captain and some twenty crew members lost their lives. Ironically, eight members of the original crew didn't travel on the ship, having been laid up in hospital in Dundalk with the flu pandemic, three of whom subsequently died from the virus.

The Spanish Flu was so called due to the fact that Spain, being a neutral country, was the first place to report the virus in early January 1918; the movement and demobilisation of thousands of soldiers in the aftermath of the First World War also helped spread the disease across Europe. The pandemic finally abated in the greater north-east area in April of 1919 and a report in the Drogheda Independent of April 19th 1919 stated that `no new cases of the virus had been reported`; perhaps ironic as we are heading for that same particular deadline now with the Corona virus of April 19th 2020!

Tuberculosis, otherwise known as TB and/or Consumption also killed tens of thousands of people from the 1920`s to the later 1950`s and there are many of today`s senior citizens in the midst of our communities who would well remember this dreaded virus, but, alas, few of them have ever been recorded.

The likes of the Spanish Flu and Tuberculosis had never been fully recorded throughout the remainder of the 20th century; of people`s personal experiences, of the loss of loved ones and neighbours and it was only towards the close of the 1990`s and into the early years of the 21st century when scholars began to record the devastation that these particular viruses had on families, communities and Irish society as a whole.

That is why it is so significant and important to record as much local details as possible during this very troubling period in which we all now find ourselves as a result of Corona- virus, COVID-19.

Young teenagers and youths can play a huge role in their personal accounts of today`s pandemic by perhaps keeping a daily diary of their thoughts, fears, anxieties and of their hopes, etc., of how they fulfil their days and interact with family and friends.

Photographic images and other audio/visual recordings should also be recorded, of their housing estates, the empty streets, roads, towns, villages, school-yards, shops & businesses closed etc. as a reminder of what this period in our lives was like amidst all the 21st century technology that is available to us and to depict that, with all the recent talks on climate change and the Brexit issue; everything takes a back-seat and is put on hold as a deadly virus emerges from China in December 2019 and has crippled the entire globe within 10 weeks or so.

Students could also become the current `family journalist` by perhaps recording the concerns and personal thoughts of their extended family members, by interviewing family, neighbours and friends using phones and Skype and thus creating a networking bond across different age groups. Such recordings will become invaluable to future generations. For instance, personal diaries, which are looked back upon, take you closer to the event and to the thoughts, feelings and hopes, etc. of the ordinary and real people.

There is an openness and transparency about personal diaries concerning a period or an event in time which is often in contrast to the more `official` and often bland documents in history and that is why personal diaries are so significant and important to future historians; as they turn each page they are reliving the event with the original diarist day-by-day as the event unfolded.

It is therefore worth remembering that all historical evidence begins its life in the present!

Fingal Independent