Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Spanish Flu

During November 1918 more persons, young and old from the town of Athy and the nearby district of Castledermot died of the Spanish flu than at any other time during the flu pandemic of 1918/1919. In Athy 49 persons died during the second last month of the year including three young Blanchfield children of Leinster Street and two even younger Eston children of Meeting Lane. In the nearby rural area of Castledermot there were 18 influenza deaths in November 1918. The first occurred on the third day of the month with the death of David Byrne, a 25 year old labourer from Graney. From then until the 24th of November there was a regular death roll call. John Walsh aged 35 of Castledermot, a baker and Elizabeth Birney aged 71 of Crophill died on the 4th of November. Two days later Catherine Hayden aged 74 a single woman of Levitstown passed away. On November 7th William Finn a 1 year old child of Gurteen, died. Robert Lawler aged 27 of Castledermot, a boot maker died on the 9th of November. Was he I wonder a brother of the Lawler brothers John, Patrick and Peter who had enlisted to fight overseas during World War 1. Robert was a cousin of Ellen Dempsey and Robert Dempsey, brother and sister of Woodlands, Castledermot, both of whom would die from influenza within five days of each other in November. Other Woodland residents to die that November were 26 year old Mary Kelly and 4 year old Lucy Hickey who died on the 10th and 12th of the month. On November, 13th three more locals died. Joseph Cash aged 48 of St. John’s, Joseph Forrestal 19 years old of Skenagan and James McDonald a farmer aged 83 years of Hoberstown. Those few days either side of the armistice day, 11th of November 1918, were the deadlist period of the influenza pandemic in the Castledermot area. Six deaths were recorded in the days immediately before and after the church bells rang out to celebrate the ending of WWI. On November 15th Edward Foster aged 2 of Castleroe and Ellen Dempsey aged 37 of Woodlands died. The next day Andrew Byrne aged 27 of Tankardstown and Mary Halligan aged 73 of Kilkea died. The 19th day of the month saw the passing of William Hegarty a 48 year old land steward from Kilkea followed the next day by the death of Robert Dempsey, a farmer aged 33 years from Woodlands. The last influenza related death recorded in November 1918 was that of Ellen Deegan, a 34 year old single woman from Hallahoise. Influenza related deaths in the Castledermot area during the flu pandemic totalled 30 compared to 65 deaths in Athy. During the pandemic the highest death rate per one thousand of the Irish population was in the 25-35 age group and a similar finding was confirmed in relation to the Castledermot area. The over 65 age group recorded the second highest death rate in that rural area with children under 5 years recording the third highest death rate. The youngest victim of the flu pandemic in Castledermot was five week old Michael Kinsella of Hobartstown who died on the 29th of March 1919 while the oldest victim was 88 years old, Edward Wall described in the death register as a blacksmith. The Foster family of Castleroe lost two young children, the earlier mentioned Edward and his brother Patrick who died on the 2nd of December 1918, while the Dempsey family of Woodland lost an adult son and daughter. When the census of 1926 was taken the population of Castledermot village had fallen to 247, the lowest figure recorded for the village where the population in 1841 was 1,416. Ten years later and following the Great Famine the village population had fallen by 53% to 666 and would continue to fall reaching its lowest population figure of 247 seven years after the flu pandemic. It was not until 2016 that the population of Castledermot again reached its pre-famine level with a recorded population of 1,475. The flu pandemic started in the last year of the Great War during which war 23 young men from the Castledermot area were killed. The lost of life’s from these two catastrophic events cast a shadow over the South Kildare area and the local families who were about to face into a guerrilla war of independence and a brutal civil war.

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