My great-grandfather Patrick Geraghty was a successful car proprietor by 1919. His family and his business were both housed in the building at #6.5 Bow Bridge, living in close proximity to their neighbours. Right next door, at #7, lived the family of Mr. John Cassidy, a dairyman. Just like Patrick Geraghty, John Cassidy had his family and his business in the same building.
The sudden deaths at home of two of the Geraghty family's close neighbours had my mind racing about what had happened on Bow Bridge on those two days. Was it murder that felled Elizabeth and her son Thomas Cassidy, or did they perish because of a house fire? Was there some sort of terrible accident? The answer to their end was much more shocking than any of these. Elizabeth and Thomas succumbed to the 20th century plague which was the Influenza Pandemic.
After finding these newspaper notices, along with a number of memorials published in the years following their deaths, I retrieved the civil registration death records of Elizabeth and Thomas Cassidy from the General Register Office reading room in Dublin. The records make clear the facts of the matter.
|6 March 1919, Elizabeth Cassidy, aged 54 years: cause of death: Myxoedema Influenza Certified.|
|8 March 1919, Thomas Cassidy, aged 29 years: cause of death: Influenza Septic Pneumonia Certified.|
Ireland had already lost almost half of its population to famine deaths and emigration, during the period of the Great Famine. The prospect of a flu pandemic must have been terrifying, although with little coverage of it in the Irish news of the day, the average citizen was probably not fully aware of the true extent of the pandemic until after all was 'said and done'. According to annual reports of the Registrar General for Ireland, the official death toll from influenza during this pandemic was 20,057; however, it is likely to have been closer to just over 23,000. With the population of Ireland around 4.3 million in 1918, this means that at least one in every 200 persons was felled by influenza, during a period of just over one year.
This type of influenza was remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least of which was its impact on young, otherwise healthy, individuals. Without effective treatment, it was a difficult disease to manage, and unlike previous flu outbreaks, this one brought with it sudden savage changes. An individual might seem as though he or she was recovering, only to suddenly die. The manner of death was also quite horrific. While flu might at first seem like a cold, with sneezing and coughing, the onset of Spanish Flu was marked by sudden weakness and pain. Most deaths would occur on or about the tenth day of sickness, with pneumonia as the principal complication, and often the attributed cause of death.
In 1919, the progression of this influenza was described in graphic detail in a medical journal article. Persons suffering 'typical' cases of flu during the pandemic would cough up quantities of blood-stained expectorant or sometimes thick dark blood alone. With the progression of the disease, the lungs of patients would fill with blood, their faces and fingers would become bloated and blue, and their tongues would become dry and brown. In fatal cases, active delirium would come on, with myxoedemic madness sometimes resulting. As a patient's body temperature rapidly fell the whole surface of his/her body would turn blue. Patients literally drowned on their own blood. It must have been an awful sight to behold.
Of course, one can only imagine what the reaction of the Geraghty family might have been at the deaths of their neighbours, but it is easy to think the sudden nature and manner of these deaths might have been met with shock, and some level of fear. I find myself wondering to what extent these deaths affected the Geraghty family. Although all of the Geraghty children survived to adulthood, was anyone in the family ill with the flu at this time? Did the Geraghty family assist their near neighbours? Did Mr. Geraghty's car proprietorship provide the funeral cortege which took Elizabeth and Thomas Cassidy 'by road' to the New Cemetery, Naas, County Kildare for interment?
As an addendum to this story, it is interesting to note oddities in the memorial notices published in the years following the deaths of Elizabeth and Thomas. While the year of death is correct in the 1920 first anniversary memorial, in a 1922 notice only Elizabeth's death is memorialized, and her year of death is incorrectly noted as 1920 instead of 1919. In 1923, there were two memorials placed in The Freeman's Journal, one in March which gives the correct dates of the deaths as 6 March 1919 and 8 March 1919 respectively, and one in May which again acknowledges only Elizabeth's death and gives her date of death as 6 May 1920. In a 1924 notice in The Irish Independent newspaper, the year of death given for both Elizabeth and Thomas is 1918. Perhaps whoever placed those inaccurate notices wanted to forever erase any connection between the flu pandemic and the deaths of Elizabeth and Thomas Cassidy.
Civil registration records:
Cassidy, Elizabeth. Jan-Mar 1919, volume 2, page 763. GRO, Irish Life Centre, Dublin, Ireland.
Cassidy, Thomas. Jan-Mar 1919, volume 2, page763. GRO, Irish Life Centre, Dublin, Ireland.
1918 Annual Report of the Registrar General For Ireland, released in 1919.
Annual report of the Local Government Board for Ireland for year ended 31 March 1919, 1920.
Canadian Medical Association Journal. 1919 May, Volume 9, number 5, pp. 421–426.
The Freeman's Journal Newspaper via the Irish Newspaper Archives, March 1919-1924.
Irish Independent Newspaper via the Irish Newspaper Archives, March 1919-1924.
Taubenberger Jeffrey K., Morens, D.M. 1918 influenza: The Mother of all Pandemics. CDC Emerg. Infect. Dis. [serial on the Internet]. January, 2006. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/12/1/05-0979_article.htm
Thompson, William J. ‘Mortality from influenza in Ireland’ Dublin Journal of Medical Sciences 4th Series #1, 1920, pp. 174 -77.