Influenza as a political tool
in Stacking the coffins
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The influenza epidemic ran a parallel path with the conscription crisis. As the Government sought to introduce conscription to Ireland, it brought in a new executive team, Edward Shortt as chief secretary and Sir John French as lord lieutenant, to play hard ball on the issue. They devised a plan to intern the leading anti-conscription campaigners. Sinn Fein swiftly adapted the emerging flu crisis to the cause of releasing the internees, warning that the internees’ health was being put in jeopardy by their detention in harsh prison conditions; they maintained the campaign through the national and regional newspapers, through letter-writing, news stories and editorials.. The flu served Sinn Fein well, as the death of Richard Coleman in the week before the pivotal general election of 1918 reinforced the point, when many of the internees were standing for election. The newspages in the week before the election and on the day itself were covered with the death of Coleman, the refusal of the prison authorities to admit his family to the prison, and the bringing back of his body to Ireland; the day after the election, a massive funeral was orchestrated through the streets of Dublin.

Stacking the coffins

Influenza, war and revolution in Ireland, 1918–19


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