I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Ill Prepared

Mary Jones
The Last Irish Plague: The Great Flu Epidemic in Ireland 1918-19, by Catriona Foley, Irish Academic Press, 240 pp, €19.95, ISBN: 978-0716531166 The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. LP Hartley, The Go-Between Borrowing, with some licence, from Hartley’s 1950s novel The Go-Between, a surveyor of the past might look to the publication of academic scholarship to further the quotient of common knowledge in the public domain. With an increase in such knowledge, endowed to the general reader by a scholarly go-between, we might begin to construct the history of our own lives: the esoteric, sometimes faulty, knowledge dredged from individual and familial memory creating a potentially uncertain edifice and letting it settle upon the evidence-based foundations of our collective history. In the foreword to Catriona Foley’s book The Last Irish Plague, two UCD academics at the Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland refer to the “great power” of this account, power that resides, they suggest, in its author’s ability to draw the reader in to the complex and multifaceted impact of the Spanish Flu epidemic in Ireland, without ever reducing the past to clinical snapshots or distant happenings. The chapter headings promise clarity and structure: the geography, demography and social impact of the great flu of 1918 will be addressed, as will the concept of “Fear”, of “Memory” and of the medical response to this devastating onslaught from disease. The foreword outlines the book’s priority: While providing the reader with the important statistics, maps, and graphs of the disease and its impact on Ireland, she places the patient narrative at the heart of this telling. More than ninety years after the first wave of the influenza pandemic, the sources to be used to ensure the delivery of such centrality may be problematic. Although extensive and diverse, such sources often state the obvious – “many parents feared for their children’s well-being during the epidemic”; or perhaps are selected to amplify the toll taken in ameliorating the most noxious aspects of the disease, as with Dr Kathleen Lynn, “the flu rages, I can do so little”. Yet is there perhaps, overall, insufficient acknowledgement of the stoicism of individual players? Does the sense of hopelessness of Dr Lynn at the end of the working day underplay the massive contribution she made at the clinic at 37 Charlemont Street, later St Ultan’s Hospital, her organisation of preventative flu vaccination and…

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