Fionnuala Walsh
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‘Every human life is a national importance’
The impact of the First World War on attitudes to maternal and infant health
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Historians have proven relatively inattentive to the impact of the First World War on Irish civilian health and infant welfare. Presumptions prevail that the conflict generated relatively few anxieties about civilian well-being. Contrarily, this chapter demonstrates that heavy wartime losses of young Irish men produced apprehension about the survival of the next generation. Simultaneously, concern about poor infant health and high maternal mortality levels deepened; one outcome being new forms of charitable work undertaken by groups including the United Irishwomen and the Women’s National Health Association. Also, legislative changes were also designed or planned to bolster Irish maternal and infant health. The Imperial Treasury also made funds available for local government maternity and child welfare schemes in 1916 and 1918. This chapter charts the implementation of voluntary and state-led initiatives on local and national levels in Ireland. It also maps trends in wartime mortality to quantitatively assess how war impacted on infant and maternal health in Ireland and consider whether the benefits of separation allowances and increased employment actually outweighed the hardships of war (e.g. rising food costs, severe milk shortages and declining housing conditions in urban areas).

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