Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Ballaghaderreen to Kilfree Branch Line – A Brief History

 



Ballaghaderreen Railway Station

            Many excellent photographs of the now closed Ballaghaderreen to Kilfree Junction branch line have appeared on Facebook recently. I grew up close to Edmondstown Station and have happy memories of travelling on the line.

On Saturday, 6th December 1862 the prospectus of the Sligo and Ballaghaderreen Junction Railway (S&BJR) was published. The following year plans for the proposed branch line were presented to the Parliament at Westminster. The bill became law when Queen Victoria affixed her signature to the relevant documents on the 13th July 1863.

The Sligo & Ballaghaderreen Junction Railway was authorised to build a branch line connecting Ballaghaderreen to the newly opened extension of the Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) from Longford to Sligo. On 31st October 1874, an advertisement was issued by the MGWR announcing the opening of the branch line on 2nd November.

Opened in 1974

The new railway line opened as planned in 1874, just five years before the apparition at Knock, Co Mayo, in 1879 and was operated by the Midland and Great Western Railway. It cost £80,000 to build. The first train from Kilfree to Ballaghaderreen was driven by Ben Partridge, an English man from Kent, who married and settled down in the town.

However, after trading at a loss for two years, the S&BJR sold its interest in the line to the Midland Great Western Railway for £24,000 in 1877. The Sligo and Ballaghaderreen Junction Railway lost its identity and was absorbed into the Midland system.

Route

The distance from Ballaghaderreen to Kilfree Junction was nine miles. The speed restriction was 25mph and half an hour was the time allowed. There were two intermediate halts on the branch line - Edmondstown and Island Road. Excellent views of Lough Gara were visible between Island Road and Kilfree Junction.

Service

Dublin - Ballaghaderreen Railway Timetable

            The basic passenger service was three or four round trips per day apart from the “Emergency” when the service was reduced to one round trip. Between 1947 and the line’s closure in 1963, the service decreased to two round trips in the morning and early afternoon. Most services were mixed passenger and freight.

Ballaghaderreen Station

The stone-built station building at Ballaghaderreen still exists but is in a very derelict state. Part of the platform also survives. The goods shed, used by the GAA, remains complete with its typical long cattle bank platform.


Edmondstown Station

Edmondstown Station c1960

Opening in November 1874, Edmondstown Station had a single storey station building, complete with an attached waiting room. The station only had one platform and an adjacent level crossing.

 Island Road Station

Island Road Station

            Island Road railway station opened on 1 July 1909 and consisted of a station masters' house and small waiting room. The station was situated next to the gated level crossing on Island Road in the townland of Tawnymucklagh, and about 1/2 mile from the village of Monasteraden. The station is now in use as a private residence, with the waiting room, station house and platform largely intact.

Kilfree Junction

Kilfree Junction

            Kilfree Junction was located on the Sligo line in the townland of Cloontycarn between Boyle and Ballymote. The station was not located near any significant settlement, the nearest, Gorteen in County Sligo, being over 6km away. The station had three platforms: two served a passing loop on the main line and the third was used by the branch line. The station had sidings and turntable for turning round engines coming from the branch line. There was a signal box and a house for the station master.

Incidents

            During the Irish War of Independence (1919 – 1921) trains were regularly stopped on the branch line by the IRA, British soldiers, and the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). In May 1921, a train was hi-jacked and used to shoot at the RIC Barracks in Ballaghaderreen

Blizzard

The blizzard of 1947 was one of the most memorable episodes of the history of the Branch Line. The Railway system north and west of the Longford was snowbound. Ballaghaderreen town and district was isolated, with snow piled up to ten feet high on the roads. After several days and the threat of a food shortage, a snow clearance committee was organised. A group of 150 men boarded the train at Ballaghaderreen and working in relays proceeded to clear the snow from the line.

Post War

After the Second World War, better main roads, and an increase in road transport for transporting goods led to financial problems for the Railway system. Eventually, the Railway Company was obliged to reduce spending and resorted to a reduction of its service on uneconomic routes. The tragic news of the looming closure of the Ballaghaderreen to Kilfree line was delivered to the people of Ballaghaderreen. Organised protest against the closure was unsuccessful and the line finally closed on 2nd February 1963.

Closed in 1963

Train about to depart Ballaghaderreen Station for Kilfree Junction

            The last return passenger trip departed Ballaghaderreen at 11:50 on 2nd February and was hauled by 0-6-0 steam locomotive 574. I joined the 160 children and 30 adults who made the journey marking the sad end of an era. The train was seen off by as many spectators. The return journey from Kilfree Junction started with the bang of detonators and a local band played a farewell tribute. The last train was a special cattle train hauled by Locomotive B133 leaving Ballaghaderreen at 15:22.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

A Line Less Travelled - Ballaghaderreen to Kilfree Branch Line

Ballaghaderreen Station with train facing towards Edmondstown

The Ballaghaderreen to Kilfree Junction branch line opened in 1874 and closed on Saturday 2 February 1963. The distance from Ballaghaderreen to Kilfree was 9 miles. The speed restriction was 25mph and half an hour was the time allowed for the journey. The basic passenger service was three or four round trips per day until 1947 when it decreased to two round trips in the morning and early afternoon.

I grew up a few hundred yards from Edmondstown Railway Station and travelled on the train to Ballaghaderreen regularly. One of my enduring memories as a child is running with my mother to catch the train and being late. I can still see the guard, Christy Plunkett, or Joe Dorrington, I think, gesturing to us to hurry up! The guard was kind enough to hold the train for us.   

It was exciting to travel on the train with its sounds and smells of a time now long gone. I loved to open and close the windows which were held in position by a brown leather strap. Strangely, the compartment light fitting was filled with water probably because of a leaky roof.

No trip to the town was complete without calling into Nonny and Tess O’Donnell’s for a cup of coffee and a cake before catching the train home. I also remember going there after I made my confirmation. Life was simple in those days. Sadly, the premises were burned down some time later.

There was no need for a watch to tell the time when we worked on the bog all those years ago. The sound and sight of the steam train signalled lunchtime. I was enthralled by the sight of the old locomotive puffing out clouds of white steam against a blue sky. Sometimes the engine would proudly blow its whistle as if saying “Look at me!” If, by chance, the train was running late, my mother would wave something bright or colourful to attract our attention and let us know that lunch was ready.

Edmondstown Station

The railway line ran alongside our land near Edmondstown Station. When haymaking, it was always a thrill to watch the train as it passed, and I was guaranteed a ‘front seat’ view. On the other side of the track was Kelly’s field which had a spring well where we could get water to quench our thirst. Further up in the woods, and behind The Four Altars, was Taaffe’s well where the water was ice-cold even on the hottest of summer days.

One of the highlights of the year was the ‘excursion’ train to Strandhill. Local people, adults and children, gathered on the platform at Edmondstown to catch the train which took us to Sligo via Kilfree Junction. We were then transferred by bus to Strandhill for a day on the beach.

In the evening, there was time to visit Woolworth’s in Sligo before taking the train home. The store was noted for its collection of cellophane-wrapped chocolate rabbits and Guinness bottles which were always popular with the children.

The railway crossing at Edmondstown Station, with its large wooden gates, was a popular meeting point for local youngsters in the evening. Looking along the railway line towards Ballaghaderren, you could see the tall trees that marked the children’s burial ground at Caltragh. In the other direction was Island Road Station and Lough Gara. The line ran close to the shore giving an excellent view of the lake.

Kilfree Junction

On Saturday 2nd February 1963, the train made its last return trip from Ballaghaderreen to Kilfree Junction, hauled by 0-6-0 steam locomotive 574, departing at 11:50am. I joined the 160 children and 30 adults who made the journey marking the sad end of an era. On the return from Kilfree Junction a local band played a farewell. The last train was a special cattle train which left Ballaghaderreen at 3:22pm.

Many years later I met an old lady who, together with her son, had a farm on the border between Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. When she heard that I came from Co Roscommon she told me that her late husband travelled to Ballaghaderreen to buy cattle which were then sent to England by cattle train. What a small world, indeed. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Coronavirus Pandemic – An Update

The Black Death

In previous posts I have looked at the impact of plague and pestilence on the world and on Britain and Ireland in particular.  The bubonic plague, more commonly known as the Black Death, arrived on the shores of Europe in October 1347 and claimed an estimate of over 75 – 200 million lives in Eurasia.

The so-called Spanish flu, which raged from 1918 to 1920, infected 500 million people around the world. It became a pandemic on three different occasions and killed 40 million between 1918 to 1919. Medical progress and vaccination development followed helping to control and combat the spread of the virus.

Coronavirus

Coronavirus

Today, the world's coronavirus death toll exceeded one million, with the US, Brazil and India making up nearly half of the total. More than 33 million cases have been confirmed around the world. 

 The virus, which causes the respiratory infection Covid-19, was first detected in the city of Wuhan, China, in late 2019. The outbreak spread quickly across the globe in the first months of 2020 and was declared a global pandemic by the WHO on 11 March. 

World Picture 
Coronavirus is continuing its spread across the world and countries that managed to suppress the initial outbreaks are now seeing infections rise again. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the global total could hit two million before an effective vaccine is widely used. In India, the official number of confirmed infections has reached six million, the second highest in the world after the US.

United States 
Cases of coronavirus are surging in 21 different US states. The number of cases in these states increased by at least 10% in the last week, compared to the week before. The US has recorded more than seven million cases of the virus, more than a fifth of the world's total. With more than 200,000 deaths, the US also has the world's highest death toll. 

Other countries that have seen a resurgence of the virus include Russia, Peru, South Korea, Canada, and Australia - although following the reintroduction of tougher restrictions some of these are now seeing cases fall again. 


Economic Impact 
Governments across the world have been forced to restrict public movement and close businesses and venues to try and slow the spread of the virus. This has had a devastating impact on the global economy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that damage to the world's major economies is four times worse than the 2009 global financial crisis. 

Vaccine 
Most the world's population is still vulnerable to the virus. There are around 40 different coronavirus vaccines currently in clinical trials including one being developed by the University of Oxford that is already in an advanced stage of testing. Trials of the Oxford vaccine show it can trigger an immune response. 

 Most experts think a vaccine is likely to become widely available by mid-2021. Scientists are optimistic that, if trials are successful, a small number of people may be vaccinated before the end of this year. It is thought that 60-70% of people needed to be immune to the virus to stop it spreading easily.

Conclusion

As the number of new coronavirus infections and deaths continue to grow, life has changed radically. Quarantine measures have been imposed to try and limit the spread of the disease as in previous centuries. Throughout history, plagues and diseases have returned in waves, sometimes with even greater ferocity. High hopes hang on the early development of a vaccine and effective treatments but this by no means certain.

For more information please see:

https://letterfromballinloughane.blogspot.com/2020/03/plague-and-pestilence-past-and-present.html

https://letterfromballinloughane.blogspot.com/2020/04/the-black-death-in-ireland.html


Monday, August 31, 2020

Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery Revisited

 

Listoghil
Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery

More than 6,000 years ago, the Stone Age peoples of Western Europe began to build stone monuments over their dead as tombs and ceremonial places. This was the beginning of what has become known as the megalithic tradition of the Neolithic period. In 2013, I wrote a blog post about Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery, Co. Sligo in Ireland. This is one of four major passage tomb cemeteries in Ireland, along with Carrowkeel, Brú na Bóinne and Loughcrew.

 Approximately 60 such monuments are recorded in the complex, but many others were destroyed by quarrying and agricultural activities over the past two centuries. In 2019 archaeologists from IT Sligo, led by Dr. Marion Dowd and Dr. James Bonsal, investigated one of the less known monuments, classified in the Sites and Monuments Record as a barrow. They set out to establish the date and nature of the monument and its relationship to passage tombs within the complex.

Listoghil and Meascán Mhéabha

The largest monument in the cemetery is a cairn known as Listoghil. This monument is also notable for being the only one at the site that is known to have been decorated with megalithic art. It is also the only tomb in the cemetery where both cremations and inhumations have been found although cremation was the norm.

Inner Chamber
Listoghil

Archaeologists have found that the rest of the tombs were arranged in a roughly oval shape around Listoghil, suggesting that this may have been the focal point of the cemetery. Overlooking the complex to the west, is Knocknarea Mountain on the summit of which is the passage tomb of Meascán Mhéabha, otherwise known as Queen Maeve’s Grave. (Photo)

Latest Investigation

The monument investigated consists of a broad, shallow ditch, circular in plan, with an overall external diameter of approximately 20m. The ditch is 2.9m wide at the top and 0.8m deep. A layer of densely packed stones formed the base along the north-eastern side. There was no evidence of a bank either inside or outside the ditch. The excavation revealed an inner circular, area approximately 8m in diameter, that consisted of several overlapping deposits of stones.

The earlier identification of the monument as a Bronze Age or Iron Age barrow has been revised in view of the central circular deposit of stones and the absence of a bank. Various ideas about what the monument represented were discounted based on the excavation results and geophysical information. However, archaeologists concluded that it was not a barrow and was almost certainly prehistoric in date. Whilst the precise purpose of the monument remains unclear it was probably ritual/funerary in nature.

Artefacts

The excavation did not produce any animal bone, human bone, or charcoal fragments. Archaeologists found many prehistoric tools known as cherts which were crucial to prehistoric societies. For example, they would have been used for a variety of tasks, such as making baskets, working bones, scraping hides and in the preparation of food. This area outside the monument produced over 200 finds of post-medieval and modern date, including shards of glass, potsherds, and clay pipe fragments.

Dating Evidence

Archaeologists believe that different type of lithics and their condition represented multiple events and time periods possibly from the Mesolithic through to the Bronze Age. Similar material has been recovered from other sites in the Carrowmore complex. The chert convex scrapers are like those found at Neolithic hut sites on Knocknarea Mountain.

It was not possible to carry out radiocarbon dating due to the lack of suitable organic material. Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating, which calculates when a sediment was last exposed to sunlight, produced a date of 4050–2850 BC.

Conclusion

In the past, the focus of archaeological research at Carrowmore has been on the passage tombs. This recent work has produced a Neolithic date for what is an unclassified monument located at the centre of an important megalithic cemetery. The lithics indicate multiple periods of activity at the monument during the Neolithic, and possibly also the Bronze Age. Researchers acknowledge that the ditch may not be contemporaneous with the central stony area.

Earlier work by Stefan Bergh and Robert Hensey’s produced 25 dates from monuments known as Carrowmore 3 and 55a, revealing the Middle Neolithic as the principal period of use of these two monuments. The OSL date from this excavation is consistent with this period.

Archaeologists believe that the central location of the Neolithic circular ditched monument at Carrowmore suggests that it was a site of significance within this highly ritualised funerary landscape. It is one of a small number of monuments on the elevated plateau which also commands impressive views of the huge passage tombs of Listoghil and Meascán Mhéabha.

The excavation failed to find evidence of a boulder circle or a central structure such as a dolmen or cist. Several aspects of the site bear a resemblance to features of the passage tombs excavated by Burenhult. Deposits of densely packed stone were noted at several passage tombs, occurring between the outer circle of boulders and the central chamber.

For more information see:

The Carrowmore Conundrum Author(s): Marion Dowd and James Bonsall Source: Archaeology Ireland. Vol. 34, No. 1 (Spring 2020), pp. 21-25 Published by: Wordwell Ltd.

https://www.blogger.com/blog/post/edit/7447788106874258351/5663729884492012271

https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/mysterious-monument-carrowmore-0012143

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dwfsrfvKo0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZYdtDUH-0Y

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pn3PNFkRqJE

Friday, July 31, 2020

Plague and Pestilence – Lessons from History


In previous posts I have looked at the impact of plague and pestilence on the world and on Britain and Ireland in particular. Some four months after the start of lock-down and with no end to the coronavirus pandemic in sight, what can we learn from history?

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the COVID-19 virus was officially a pandemic after spreading to 114 countries in three months. By the end of March, over 823,566 people had been infected and the global death toll touched 40,643. In Britain, the total number of deaths was 1,789.

At the end of July 2020, there are now more than 300,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK and over 45,000 people have died although the true figures are likely to be higher. Confirmed cases are now starting to rise again prompting talk of a second wave. This is what happened with Spanish Flu after the First World War when a second wave proved deadlier than the first. While levels of infection are far below their peak, the most recent seven-day average for cases in the UK is 725 - a rise of 25% since 15 July.

The WHO prefers to describe the current situation as "one big wave" making its way across the globe. Prof Paul Hunter, at Norwich Medical School, says for it to be a second wave the virus would have to have gone away completely, so he calls it a "resurgence”.

The UK has the highest official death toll in Europe and the third highest in the world, after the US and Brazil. However, both countries have much larger populations than the UK and the number of people who have died per 100,000 people in the UK is currently higher than for either the US or Brazil.

At least another 130,000 people worldwide have died during the coronavirus pandemic on top of 440,000 officially recorded deaths from the virus, according to BBC research. These so-called "excess deaths", the number of deaths above the average for the period, suggest the human impact of the pandemic far exceeds the official figures reported by governments around the world. The number of deaths in the United Kingdom has been 43% higher than average, with about 64,500 more people dying than usual in the period 7th March to 5th June. So, what can we learn from previous pandemics?

The deadliest plagues are not necessarily the most successful in terms of spread. Between 430 and 426 BC the Plague of Athens was so virulent that it killed off its hosts at a rate faster than it could multiply which prevented the wider spread.

The Black Death

The bubonic plague, more commonly known as the Black Death, arrived on the shores of Europe in October 1347 and claimed an estimate of over 75 – 200 million lives in Eurasia. Thanks to the horrors of the plague, better hygiene practices and a push for medical advancements followed. The disease recurred in England every two to five years from 1361 to 1480. By the 1370s, England's population was reduced by 50%. 

The Deadly Bacteria behind the Bubonic Plague, Yersinia pestis, was present in black rats and other rodents and is thought to have been transmitted by parasites living in/on these animals, especially fleas. In medieval Europe one of the main predators of the black rat was the cat, domesticated by the ancient Egyptians and introduced on the continent by the Phoenicians in the ninth century BC. Since then cats lived with humans and served a role by keeping away rats and other rodents.

In the early thirteenth century Pope Gregory IX declared that “The evil black cat had fallen from the clouds bringing unhappiness to man.” Medieval citizens began to believe that it was safer to exterminate cats – especially the black ones. With the passage of time, there was an almost widespread killing of cats in many parts of Europe. The result of this extermination was the rapid increase of rodents, particularly the "black rat", the main transmitter of the deadly Black Plague. 

A new study carried out by researchers at the University of Oslo suggests that because black rats may not be to blame for the outbreak of the bubonic plague in Europe after all. According to the research team, repeated plague epidemics were caused by another rodent: the gerbilino or gerbil from Asia. Too late, alas, for the 200,000 or so cats that gave their lives in the interests of public health. 

Modern sanitation and public-health practices have greatly diminished the impact of the disease but have not eliminated it. Although antibiotics are available to treat the Black Death, according to The World Health Organization, there are still 1,000 to 3,000 cases of plague every year.

Spanish Influenza

The so-called Spanish flu, which raged from 1918 to 1920, infected 500 million people around the world. It became a pandemic on three different occasions and killed 40 million between 1918 to 1919. Medical progress and vaccination development followed helping to control and combat the spread of the virus. 

Asian flu -1957

Starting in Hong Kong in 1957, the Asian flu became widespread in England where, over six months, 14,000 people died. A second wave followed in early 1958, causing an estimated total of about 1.1 million deaths globally. A vaccine was developed, effectively containing the pandemic.

HIV/AIDS - 1981

First identified in 1981, AIDS destroys a person’s immune system, resulting in eventual death by diseases that the body would usually fight off. Treatments have been developed to slow the progress of the disease, but 35 million people worldwide have died of AIDS since its discovery, and a cure is yet to be found.

2003: SARS

In 2003, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) infected 8,096 people and resulted in 774 deaths. Quarantine efforts proved effective and by July, the virus was contained and has not reappeared since.

Conclusion

As the number of new coronavirus infections and deaths continue to grow, life has changed radically. Quarantine measures have been imposed to try and limit the spread of the disease as in previous centuries. Throughout history, plagues and diseases have returned in waves, sometimes with even greater ferocity. High hopes hang on the early development of a vaccine and effective treatments but this by no means certain. Meanwhile, the likely impact of the pandemic on the world economy scarcely bears thinking about. These are unprecedented times for everyone, but the one thing we must not lose is hope.

For more information see:

(1) https://letterfromballinloughane.blogspot.com/2020/03/plague-and-pestilence-past-and-present.html

(2)  https://letterfromballinloughane.blogspot.com/2020/04/the-black-death-in-ireland.html

(3) https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-important-events/black-death-plague-sowed-terror-and-death-medieval-europe-part-2-003822


Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Black Death in Ireland


Photograph (c) Dublinia
In my last blog post I looked at the history of plague and pestilence across the world. The plague, also known as the Pestilence, Great Bubonic Plague, the Great Plague or, less commonly, the Great Mortality or the Black Plague, appeared in Europe in October 1347. It killed an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.
The Black Death, and its subsequent outbreaks, had a significant and lasting effect in Ireland. The website https://www.historyireland.com provides an account of the arrival of this plague in Ireland and its impact. It reports that Friar John Clyn, the Kilkenny-based Franciscan monk, records that the plague first appeared in Howth or Dalkey and spread to Dublin and Drogheda by late July or early August 1348.
The disease quickly spread to the rest of the country along overland routes between the ports and market towns and along the rivers connecting market towns and seaports, especially in the east and south. Sea traffic between ports on the east and south coasts aided transmission.
It is likely that the disease was introduced into the south directly from England or the continent through busy ports such as Waterford, Youghal and Cork. The plague raged in Dublin between August and December. Friar Clyn writes:
‘from very fear and horror, men were seldom brave enough to perform the works of piety and mercy, such as visiting the sick and burying the dead.’
The Black Death
Friar Clyn describes the symptoms suffered by the plague’s victims: people had eruptions on the groin or under the armpit typical of bubonic plague which is transmitted mostly by flea bite, but others endured headaches and spitting of blood that distinguish the pneumonic form of the disease. Before the end of the year 1348, the plague had reached Louth, Meath and Kildare arriving in Kilkenny by 25 December of that year.
The casualties suffered by port towns such as Drogheda, Dublin, New Ross, Waterford, Youghal and Cork, show that coastal areas bore the brunt of the deadly disease. Less populated areas of the north and west did not escape the ravages of the plague which was recorded in Ulster and Connacht in 1349. The disease was active in Mayo as late as 1350.
The Gaelic-Irish population was not affected to the same extent as was the Anglo-Irish. Geoffrey Le Baker, a contemporary English chronicler, wrote that the plague in Ireland:
 ‘killed the English inhabitants there in great numbers, but the native Irish, living in the mountains and uplands, were scarcely touched.’
The settlers were mostly concentrated in land below 600 feet, leaving the mountainous, hilly and less accessible areas to the Gaelic-Irish.  Anglo-Irish settlements were more vulnerable to the encroaching rats and fleas. It has been suggested that the mortality from the plague in the more densely populated areas was between 40 and 50 per cent. In the words of Friar Clyn, the pestilence was so contagious that: ‘both the penitent and the confessor were together borne to the grave’. The Franciscans are said to have lost almost 50 per cent of their houses in Dublin and Drogheda.
Photograph (c) Dublinia
Aftermath of the Plague
The effects of such loss of life were both immediate and long-lasting. In rural areas, landlords were faced with a continuing shortage of tenants, falling rents and profits. Tenants, on the other hand, were able to profit from the labour shortage and seek higher wages and better conditions. The continuation of warfare made recovery even more difficult.
In cities and towns, the effects of the plague were even more devastating due to their larger populations and living arrangements favourable to the transmission of disease.  Friar Clyn writes that 14,000 people died in Dublin between 8 August and 25 December, indicating an average daily mortality of around one hundred. The effects of the plague on the towns were dreadful. Labour shortages and the consequent disruption of the rural economy threatened the food supply to towns and food shortages became frequent.
The recurrent nature of the plague meant that lasting recovery was not possible. There were outbreaks in 1370, 1383, 1390-3, 1398 and periodically thereafter.  Subsequent outbreaks were less infectious, though research in other countries has shown that areas which escaped the plague in 1347-9 were severely affected in later outbreaks. Although antibiotics are available to treat the Black Death, according to The World Health Organization, there are still 1,000 to 3,000 cases of plague every year.
Conclusion
The recurrence of the plague was in effect the single, most significant effect of the Black Death. In addition to the mortality associated with each wave of the plague, it also had the effect of slowing population recovery. The population of Ireland had been decreasing for decades before the Black Death due to famine and warfare. For the people who survived the onslaught of this deadly disease in 1348, the Black Death was an incomprehensible and unavoidable disease and its reverberations were felt long after the terror it first inspired had been forgotten.
For further information see:


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Plague and Pestilence - Past and Present

In 2014, I wrote a blog post about Ireland’s ringforts. Some scholars believe that these ancient sites may owe their origin to changes in the environment.  It is possible that periods of poor weather may have led to poor harvests, shortages of food, famine, lowering of resistance to disease and vulnerability to widespread pestilences. When I wrote this piece, little did I think that the world would face, in just a few short years, its greatest pandemic in a century known as coronavirus or Covid19.
Justinian Plague
Justinian Plague - 541 AD
The first historic plague (the Justinian, named after the emperor who was infected by it) was an outbreak of bubonic plague, which came to Ireland in AD 544 and decimated the people over several years. Several other pestilences are recorded from the mid-500s. Another severe outbreak of plague hit Ireland in 664. These may have played a part in the sudden desire of those who survived and could afford to do so, to secure themselves in ringforts.  (Lynne, C., Archaeology Ireland, Winter 2005). Experience of the first plague may have shown that small isolated communities had a better chance of avoiding infection.
Further outbreaks over the next two centuries eventually killed about 50 million people, 26 percent of the world population. It is believed to be the first significant appearance of the bubonic plague. Plague and pestilence, of course, have been part of the human experience going back to pre-historic times. Malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, influenza, smallpox and others first appeared 10,000 years ago during the hunter-gatherer period. As our ancestors built cities, forged trade routes and waged war, pandemics became more common. The website www.history.com is a good source of information on the history of plagues.
The Black Death
Black Death 
The Black Death, also known as the Pestilence, Great Bubonic Plague, the Great Plague or the Plague, or less commonly the Great Mortality or the Black Plague, was the most devastating pandemic recorded in human history. This pandemic resulted in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351. The bacterium Yersinia pestis, is believed to have been the cause.
The plague appeared in Europe in October 1347, when 12 ships from the Black Sea berthed at the Sicilian port of Messina. Most sailors aboard the ships were dead, and those still alive were gravely ill. Healthy people did all they could to avoid the sick. Doctors refused to see patients; priests refused to administer last rites; and shopkeepers closed their stores.
In 1348, soon after the plague arrived in cities like Venice and Milan, city officials put emergency public health measures in place that foreshadowed today’s best practices of social distancing and disinfecting surfaces. The Black Death epidemic had come to an end by the early 1350s, but the plague reappeared every few generations for centuries. Modern sanitation and public-health practices have greatly diminished the impact of the disease but have not eliminated it. Although antibiotics are available to treat the Black Death, according to The World Health Organization, there are still 1,000 to 3,000 cases of plague every year.
Significance of a 40-Day 'Quarantino'
The English word “quarantine” is a direct descendent of quarantino, the Italian word for a 40-day period. Health officials may have prescribed a 40-day quarantine because the number had great symbolic and religious significance to medieval Christians.
By the early 1500s, England enacted the first laws to separate and isolate the sick. Homes stricken by plague were marked with a bale of hay strung to a pole outside. If you had infected family members, you had to carry a white pole when you went out in public.
The Great Plague of London -1665
In 1665, another devastating outbreak of the bubonic plague led to the deaths of 20 percent of London’s population. As human death tolls mounted and mass graves appeared, hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs were slaughtered as the possible cause and the disease spread through ports along the Thames. The Great Plague was the last and one of the worst of the centuries-long outbreaks, killing 100,000 Londoners in just seven months.
Spanish Flu - 1918
The avian-borne Spanish flu was a deadly influenza pandemic lasting from January 1918 to December 1920 which resulted in 50 – 100 million deaths worldwide.  It was first observed in Europe, the United States and parts of Asia, before quickly spreading around the world. At the time, there were no effective drugs or vaccines to treat this killer flu strain.
Asian flu -1957
Starting in Hong Kong in 1957 and spreading throughout China and then into the United States, the Asian flu became widespread in England where, over six months, 14,000 people died. A second wave followed in early 1958, causing an estimated total of about 1.1 million deaths globally. A vaccine was developed, effectively containing the pandemic.
HIV/AIDS - 1981
First identified in 1981, AIDS destroys a person’s immune system, resulting in eventual death by diseases that the body would usually fight off. AIDS was first observed in American gay communities but is believed to have developed from a chimpanzee virus from West Africa in the 1920s. Treatments have been developed to slow the progress of the disease, but 35 million people worldwide have died of AIDS since its discovery, and a cure is yet to be found.
 SARS - 2003
In 2003, after several months of cases, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is believed to have started with bats, spread to cats and then to humans in China, followed by 26 other countries. The disease infected 8,096 people and resulted in 774 deaths. Quarantine efforts proved effective and by July, the virus was contained and hasn’t reappeared since.
Coronavirus - COVID-19
COVID-19 - 2019
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced that the COVID-19 virus was officially a pandemic after spreading to 114 countries in three months. By the end of March, over 823,566 people had been infected and the global death toll reached 40,643. In Britain, the total number of deaths reached 1,789. COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus, the family of viruses that includes the common flu and SARS. Symptoms include respiratory problems, fever and cough, and can lead to pneumonia and death.
The first reported case in China appeared November 17, 2019, in the Hubei Province, but went unrecognized. Eight more cases of this still unidentified virus appeared in December.  Without a vaccine available, the virus spread beyond Chinese borders and by mid-March, it had spread globally to more than 163 countries. 
For further information see:
https://letterfromballinloughane.blogspot.com/2014/10/irelands-ringforts-not-just-home-for.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kScxc9DPrnY