Stacking the coffins

Influenza, war and revolution in Ireland, 1918–19

Author: Ida Milne

Ireland offers a particularly interesting canvas to study the social and political effects of the 1918–19 influenza pandemic, which is the largest the world has ever known. The influenza inserted itself into every running theme in Irish society, from the over-burdened and disjointed medical system, to the growing discontent with British rule, and the difficulties imposed by World War I. The influenza pandemic was contemporaneous with the so-called German plot, where anti-conscription campaigners had been interned on a trumped up charge by the government. Two of the internees would die from the disease, even as nationalists warned of the dangers of being imprisoned at this time. This work also draws on oral histories with survivors who spoke of this disease they suffered as children at the end of their lives. It tells how doctors had their new confidence in bacteriology challenged as it failed to provide answers to cure patients. It tells too of the families who suffered loss, and often changing financial circumstances when parents died. Life, for some, was never the same, whether through continued ill health or loss of loved ones.

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‘Long in the making, this is the definitive study of a major but largely neglected disaster that ravaged Ireland a century ago. Milne tells the story with empathy, objectivity, and flair. She is thorough and convincing on the Great Flu's peculiar demography and on its chronology and geography, and excellent also on how officialdom tried to cope with the crisis and on how the politics of the day influenced the discourse around it. A real highlight is the chapter on the oral history of the Flu, which includes interviews with a few centenarians! A very fine book on an important topic.'
Cormac Ó Gráda, author of Ireland: A New Economic History and Famine: A Short History

‘The first-hand memories of over 25 people who lived through Ireland's “Black Flu” alone make this book moving, dramatic and engrossing reading.'
Howard Phillips, Emeritus Professor, University of Capetown

‘Ida Milne’s trailblazing book is a window into one of the greatest trials of modern Irish history. It is a model for others to follow.
Irish Literary Supplement

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