The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 – How it affected Millstreet

During this Covid-19 pandemic, it has often been compared to the Influenza Pandemic of 1918/1919. We were wondering how it affected this area, so we delved into the records to try to figure it out.

Surprisingly, what we found was that there was no big spike in deaths locally at that time compared to the surrounding years (see the graph below **). So we though that maybe it didn’t affect the Millstreet area at all … but we were wrong.

When we looked at the case by case influenza and pneumonia figures (flu was often misdiagnosed as pneumonia) in the death registers, we saw that around March 1919, there was a big jump in numbers when about 20 died from flu and pneumonia. This coincided with what was referred to as the third wave of that pandemic in Ireland, and is easily seen by the yellow spike in the graph below. The smaller orange spike (November 1918) also coincided with the second wave of the pandemic in Ireland.

In total, we think about 30 people died locally died from it over the duration of that pandemic.

Some families here got destroyed by it … Twomeys of Islandhill lost 3 in a week, Sullivans of Umeraboy lost three in a month, Butlers of Liscahane lost two in a fortnight. The one very surprising thing  though is that most of the deaths were people that died locally were in their 20’s and 30’s, which we were unaware of but was a feature of that disease.

If that many died in the spring of 1919, then about 1,000 must have been infected locally at the time. That’s a lot of sick people.

Below we first look at the disease in Ireland, and also we break down the death registers to see those that died from it locally, when they got it, and where they were from:

**********

Weekly Death Rates from Spanish Flu in 1918-1919 (Dublin and Belfast). The three waves of infection can be seen in July 1918, November 1918, and March 1919.

The 1918-1919 Influenza Outbreak in Ireland

In Ireland 20,057 people were reported as having died of influenza in 1918 and 1919 (the average annual rate for the preceding years of the war had stood at 1,179). In addition, an increase in deaths caused by related illnesses, most notably pneumonia (from which over 3,300 died above what would usually have been expected), can be attributed to the epidemic.

The first wave, which hit Ireland in the early summer of 1918, was the least destructive, although severe enough for schools and businesses to close. The earliest verifiable record of its arrival in Ireland can be found in US naval archives, which document an outbreak on the USS Dixie, docking outside Queenstown (Cobh), in May 1918. On 12 June the Belfast News-Letter reported that Belfast had been struck by a mystery illness resembling influenza. By the end of June there were reports that it had reached Ballinasloe, Tipperary, Dublin, Derry and Cork. Nevertheless, by mid-July the first wave had abated.

The second wave, from mid-October to December, was the most virulent of the three; and, as in the first wave, Leinster and Ulster were worst affected. The almost equally severe third wave, which lasted from mid-February to mid-April 1919, affected Dublin again, as well as the western part of the island (in particular Mayo and Donegal). As influenza moved through towns and communities, schools, libraries and other public buildings were closed, and court sittings were postponed. Businesses closed sporadically on account of staff illnesses. Medical officers of health, mainstays of the Poor Law medical system, worked around the clock to treat their patients, paying 100,000 more home visits during the epidemic than in the previous year. Hospitals and workhouse infirmaries struggled to cope with the numbers of patients, pharmacists worked long hours to dispense medicines, and mortuaries, undertakers and cemeteries had to queue the dead for burial [Greatest killer of the twentieth century: the Great Flu of 1918–19]

Approximately  2.8% of those that got it died (about 800,000 people in Ireland caught it, and 23,000 died), so on average, about 1,000 locals would have caught it. 

Deaths in Millstreet 1911-1928

There wasn’t an appreciable rise of deaths in Millstreet in the years 1918-19 from the surrounding years which would make you think that it didn’t hit here. The figures for each year are from the available death registers:

1911 – 156
1912 – 144
1913 – 154
1914 – 163
1915 – 142
1916 – 135
1917 – 144
1918 – 148
1919 – 130 ** We are missing the last 6 months of deaths in 1919 for Cullen. On average we would add 20 deaths for this time, which would make it 150!
1920 – 128
1921 – 145
1922 – 128
1923 – 115
1924 – 118
1925 – 141
1926 – 99
1927 – 136
1928 – 99

… but when we look at the actual death registers (below) the real cases start showing up.

The Death Registers

The data below is from the pages of the  Civil Death Register for Millstreet.

Each link below goes to a page in the death register ie. clicking on “Cullen 1917 Jan-Apr” gives you the deaths for Cullen from January to April 1917.

‘i’ is for influenza
‘b’ is for bronchitis,
‘p’ is for pneumonia.

It is unknown if all the deaths were recorded at this time. The doctors were run off their feet at the time. How could they possibly cope with a few hundred people being sick in the area at the same time, from a killer disease?

1917

CULLEN 1917 (0 influenza, 2 pneumonia, 12 bronchitis / 65 total)
Jan-Apr (10) 0i 0p 5b
Apr-June (4) 0 0 1b
Dec16-Jan (9) 0 0 0
Jan-May (9) 0 0 1b
Dec-Apr (9) 0 1p 2b
May (1) 0 0 0
Aug-Oct (10) 0 1 1
Oct-Nov (3) 0 0 0
May-Oct (10) 0 0 2b

MILLSTREET 1917 (1 influenza, 5 pneumonia, 8 bronchitis / 81 total)
Jan (10) 1i 0p 3b
Jan-Feb (10) 0 0 2b
Feb-March (10) 0 1p 2b
Feb-March (2) 0 1p 0
Feb-May (10) 0i 3p 1b
April-June (4) 0 0 0
Aug-Oct (10) 0 0 0
Aug-Nov (4) 0 0 0
Jun-Aug (10) 0 0 0
Aug-Sept (10) 0 0 0
Sept (1) 0 0 0

1918

1918 CULLEN (1/59)
Dec-Feb (0/10 1b
Jan-Feb (0/8)
Mar-June (0/10)
Apr-Jun (0/3)
Apr-Aug (0/10)
Jun-Sept (0/6) 1b
Apr-Nov (0/10) 3b 1p
* Margaret Herlihy (46), Doonasleen (Oct 27th) (p)
* Mary Lucey (64), Lisnashershane (Nov 7th) (p)
*Jeremiah O’Leary (8 weeks), Milleen (Oct 12th) (p)
Apr-Nov (1/2)
* Daniel Riordan (38), Dromsicane (Nov 13th) (i)

1918 MILLSTREET (4/96)
Jan (0/8)
Jan (0/10) 2p
* John Murphy (55), Curragraigue (Jan) (p)
* Margaret Kelleher (80), Millstreet (Jan) (p)
Feb (0/10) 2b 1p
* Catherine Goggin (6 mo), Horsemount (p)
Mar (0/1)
Apr-July (0/5) 1p
* Daniel Carey (5), Mill Lane, June 25th (p)
Dec(17)-May (0/10) 1b
Apr May (0/10)
May June (1/7)
* John Murphy (73), Minor Row, May 21st (i)
June-Aug (0/10) 2p 1b
* William Kenyon (30), Lancashire Hussars (July 18th) (p)  (…hmmm did he bring it back with him from europe?)
* Daniel Twomey (62), Horsemount (July 12th) (p)
Aug-Sept (0/2)
Aug-Oct (0/10) 1b
Oct-Nov (3/10) +1b 1p
* Timothy Dineen (30), Claramore (9th Nov) (p)
* Patrick Horgan (87), Kilmeedy (Nov 22nd) (b)
* John Butler (28), Liscahane (Nov 16th) (i) [ancestry]
* Hannah Butler (18), Liscahane (Dec 4th) (i)
Nov-Dec (0/3)

1919

1919 Cullen/Knocknagree (9 influenza , 4 pneumonia, 2 bronchitis / 48 total)
4421769: Nov(18)-Feb (1/10)
* John Leader (17), Knocknacarracoosh (Nov 3rd 01918) (i)
* Margaret Buckley (64), Keale, January 12th (p)
4418775: Feb-Apr (3/10) 1p
* Matthew Twomey (26), Islandhill (March 20th) i
* Ellen Shea (29), Islandhill (March 20th) i
*Daniel O’Connor (50), Clonbanin (March 23rd) p
*Mary Forde (51), Manle (??) (March 25th) i2
4418776: Nov(18)-Apr (2/10) +2p 1b
* Daniel Hickey (49), Mountcain (Nov 24th 1918) i
* Michael Buckley (50), Park (March 4th) i
* Julia Noonan, Islandahill (60),  (March 18th) p
* John Duggan (54), March 29th (i)9
4418777: Mar-Jun (1/6)
* Nora Shine (24), Coolclogher (22nd March) i
4421770: Jan-Mar (1/6) 1b
* Philomenia Hartnett (8 mo), Knocknagree (March 10th) i
* Denis Leary (69), Ardnageeha (Jan 28th) p
4416461: April – July (0/6)

There no registers after July??? We could not find them.

1919 MILLSTREET (11 influenza, 5 pneumonia, 1 bronchitis / 81 total) ??81
4416463: Jan-Aug (0/10)
4416464: Sept (0/2)
4421771: Oct(18)-Mar (1/10) 1b
* Daniel Murphy (27), West End (Nov 11th 19182) (influenza)
4421772: Dec(18)-Mar (5/10)
* Denis Sullivan (32) Umeraboy (March 7th) (i)
* Hannah Sullivan (40) Ardnageeha (February 19th) (Left 7 children behind) (p)
* Michael Sullivan (29) Umeraboy (March 9th) (i)  Left behind a pregnant wife and three small children. see notes on him below:
* William Dennehy (10mo) Main St (March 3rd) (p)
* Mary Goulding (18) Glountanebeg (March 16th) (i)
4421773: Feb-Mar (1/4)
* Daniel Sheehan (45), Knockgorm (Feb 11th) (p)
4418779: Mar-Apr (3/10) +1p
* Hanoria Twomey (40), Islandhill (March 21st) (i)
* Margaret Twomey (35), Islandhill (March 22nd) (i)
* Julia Twomey (38), Islandhill (March 27th) (i)
* Richard Walsh (19), Crinaloo  (March 15th) (p)
4418780: Mar-June (3/10) +2p
* Hannah Leahy (30), Bolomore (March 22nd) (p)
* John Desmond (21), Kilmeedy (April 1st) (p)
* David Healy (34), Donoure (March 28th) (i)
* Patrick Kelleher (24), Tullig (March 26th) (i)
* Daniel Hickey (23) Lisnaboy (Apr 16th) (i)
4418781: May (0/1)
4414141: Mar-Oct (1/10)
* Patrick Francis Cronin (8), Moher (March 7th) (i)
4414143: July-Nov (0/10)
4414144: Oct-Dec (0/4)

1920

CULLEN 1920 (3 influenza, 1 pneumonia, 4 bronchitis / 45 total)

Feb-May (9) 0 0 0
Sep19-Mar (6) 0 0 2*
Feb-May (9) 0 0 0
May-Sep (4) 0 0 1
Jul-Sep (10) 2 1 1
Feb-Dec (7) 1 0 0
* Oct 20th

MILLSTREET 1920 (1 influenza, 6 pneumonia, 11 bronchitis / 94 total)
Dec19-Jan20 (9) 0 1 0
Jan-Feb (9) 0 0 3
Jan-Mar (10) 0 1 0
Mar-Mar (4) 0 0 0
Jan-Apr (10) 0 1 1
Apr-Jun (10) 1 1 0
Apr-Jun (5) 0 1 0
Jun-Sep (10) 0 1 2
Aug-Sep (10) 0 0 1
Sep-Nov (10) 0 0 3
Nov-Dec (7) 0 0 1

A Reduction in Bronchitis

We noticed that bronchitis deaths reduced drastically in 1918 & 1919, and it would be interesting to find a reason for it. Maybe it was just an anomaly, but some possible explanations might be:

  • People knew that there was an influenza pandemic, and they took better care of themselves, but bronchitis is a chronic complaint, and it shouldn’t just drop like this.
  • Misdiagnosis? Maybe some bronchitis deaths were actually pneumonia or influenza, and visa versa. There’s no way we can tell really.
Influenza
Deaths
Pneumonia
Deaths
Bronchitis
Deaths
Total
Deaths
1917 1 7 20 146
1918 5 9 8 155
1919 20 9 3 129 **
1920 4 7 15 139

Deaths in Millstreet & Cullen from 1917-1920.

** the registers for the last six months of 1919 for Cullen appear to be missing, and we couldn’t find them. We would expect about 20 deaths in Cullen for the last 6 months of the  year. (4+ of the deaths for 1919 are included in the figures for 1920)

Dr. Gould

We were told a story that Dr. Goold of Macroom had a cure. He travelled on horseback (to Millstreet as well). When he’d come to the patient, he’s look at the patient and he’d know straight away if he was on time or too late.
He had a bottle of mixture in his pocket, and he’d give one spoon to the patient, and they’d either come or not. [T O’S]

We presume that the Dr. Goold referred to is Dr. Patrick Goold. He is seen in the 1911 census at Raleigh North (near Macroom Recycling Centre), as a “General Medical Practitioner Graduate Royal University at Ireland

We would love to hear any stories about the pandemic of 1918/1919, that may give a better idea of what happened at the time. Send us a message by <email>

The Pandemic in Mitchelstown

Historian Bill Power of Mitchelstown (who took the photo of the stained glass window in Millstreet Church that became a Christmas Stamp) has done similar work in Mitchelstown which appeared as a four page spread in the Corkman on May 7th 2020. This is the start of the article:

“Pubs, shops and cinemas were closed. Country people were afraid to go into towns and villages in case they’d catch it. People died in large numbers. These were features of the Spanish Influenza when it struck North Cork in October 1918.
Newspaper coverage of the impact of that, which may have killed upwards og 35,000 people in Ireland, was limited compared to the wall-to-wall media coverage of the impact of Coronavirus.
By mid-December 1918, people were lulled into thinking that the danger had passed.  Nothing could have been further than the truth….”

The article goes on to say that 226 of 1100 in the Fermoy Poor Law Union died from Influenza/Pneumonia at the time (over the course of two years). Fermoy would have about four times the population as Millstreet of the time (from the number of births/deaths in each area), so where we might have had about 30 deaths from the pandemic, the Fermoy equivalent for a similar population would be about 55, nearly twice ours … so in a way, Millstreet could have gotten it way worse!!!

Bits and Pieces

The pandemic was also known as the “Spanish Flu“.

1901 census & 1911 cenus: Twomey Family of Islanddahill, who lost 3 family members

TODO: try to find the death registers for the second half of 1919

Notes on those affected

Michael Sullivan – (March 4th 1890-March 9th 1919)
(He left a pregnant wife and small family behind him 🙁 )

Birth of Michael Sullivan on March 4th 1890 at Umeraboy; to Mary (Dennehy) and Michael Sullivan a labourer

1901 census: Residents of a house 9 in Ummeraboy West (Doonasleen, Cork)

Surname Forename Age Sex Relation to head Religion
Sullivan Micheal 53 Male Head of Family R Catholic
Sullivan Mary 45 Female Wife R Catholic
Sullivan Micheal 11 Male Son R Catholic
Sullivan Denis 9 Male Son R Catholic
Sullivan Teresa 5 Female Daughter R Catholic
Sullivan James Michael 3 Male Son R Catholic

1911 census: Residents of a house 6 in Ummeraboy West (Doonasleen, Cork)
(Michael and Denis are gone)

Surname Forename Age Sex Relation to head Religion
O Sullivan Michael 65 Male Head of Family
General labourer
Roman Catholic
O Sullivan Mary 56 Female Wife
33 years married
13 children
10 alive
Roman Catholic
O Sullivan Cornelius 30 Male Son Roman Catholic
O Sullivan Julia 10 Female Daughter Roman Catholic

1911 census: Hannah O’Connor (wife) of Donasleen South (aged 30)  & her family.

Marriage of Michael Sullivan and Hannah Connor on April 30th 1914 in Kiskeam Church; he a tradesman from Ummeraboy West, son of Michael Sullivan (deceased) a labourer; she a farmers daughter from Doonmore, daughter of John J O’Connor a farmer; in the presence of Denis O’Sullivan and Bridget O’Connor

Birth of Mary Sullivan on November 2nd 1914 at Umeraboy to Hannah (O’Connor) and Michael Sullivan, a shoemaker

Birth of Ellen Sullivan on October 22nd 1916 at Umeraboy to Hannah (O’Connor) and Michael Sullivan, a shoemaker

Birth of Bridget Sullivan on December 8th 1917 at Umeraboy to Hannah (O’Connor) and Michael Sullivan, a shoemaker. Married in Cullen Church, Cornelius Casey of Derragh in 1939.

Death of Michael O’Sullivan from Ummeraboy at Millstreet Union Workhouse on March 9th 1919; married 29 years old; a shoemaker; Influenza 12 days, pneumonia 6 days

Birth of Abina Sullivan on September 3rd at Umeraboy to Hannah (O’Connor) and Michael Sullivan, a shoemaker (deceased)

Death of Hannah O’Sullivan from Knocknagree on October 12th 1923 in the North Infirmary; 42 years old, wife of a farmer; carcinoma of osephagus.

Denis Sullivan, Umeraboy (1891- March 7th 1919)
(Denis OConnor in comments below says that Denis and Michael were brothers)

Birth of Denis Sullivan on November 19th 1891 to Mary (Dennehy) and Michael Sullivan a labourer

1901 census: living with the family at home (see above)

Death of Denis Sullivan from Umeraboy at Millstreet Union Workhouse on March 7th 1919; Bachelor; 32 years; farm labourer; Influenza 10 days, pneumonia 7 days

10 thoughts on “The Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919 – How it affected Millstreet”

    1. I was so pleased to read your story on the great flu of 19 18 to 1919. A lot of time and hard
      Work went into this story. It was of particular interest to me as. My grandmother
      Hannah Sullivan of Ardnageeha Cullen died in February 1919 from that awful flu leaving
      Behind a large family. She was only 40 She is buried with my Grandfather in the old
      Drishane Cemetery. No headstone. I was able to place a plaque on the wall a few years ago
      In their memory. This gave much comfort to all the family. Thanks again to the person who did all that research.

      Kind regards
      Denis O’Sullivan in Barnes,Southwest London

      1. Hi Denis,
        Thank you for the compliments on the article. I’m delighted to hear that we’re being seen from London and further afield. 

        It was a very interesting project piecing the dots together to see what happened. I did the work on it a few months back at the start of this pandemic, but I though it was not the right time for it then as people were panicking. It is different now and I think people are able to manage the situation better, and maybe of more relevance too knowing when we see that it was the third wave of the infection that did the most damage back then.

        I have no direct interest in it as mine seem not to have been affected, but there were a lot of fear stories going around, of people dying in ditches everywhere etc,  and I just wanted to see what the truth was, and what actually happened.

        Of course we now only have figures and data, and there’s a story behind every person. Most of those stories are lost now I wonder if you passed down any story as to what happened back then?

        I was also was wondering if there was any link between the two Sullivans from Umeraboy who died two weeks after Hannah, or if there was a link with the Denis O’Leary from Ardnageeha who died two weeks before. It was maybe a bridge too far for looking into at the time.

        Michael

  1. Michael, you put an incredible amount of work into this and it great see you being able to use to the full all the electronic information available these days.
    Jack

  2. Hannah my aunt died 4 years later leaving four children. Two were raised with me. The third Mrs. Casey’s many grandchildren are in Cullen, Millstreet and Rathmore areas. The fourth Bina ended up in London, and died without any family some 25 years ago.

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