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Stories of Children with Tuberculosis in Ireland
Tuberculosis in Ireland
In the many areas of Ireland like Dublin the disease could be fatal in the mid 1940s.
It was not till around the late 1950’s in Ireland that it started to decline. Many people mistakenly assumed you caught it because you were unclean so there was always a stigma attached to the illness.
The disease was spread more easily if there was overcrowding and poor diet, but could also attack those who lived in a more affluent society.
Irish Children with TB
My aunt Maureen explains how getting Tuberculosis as a child affected her life.
'I was twelve years old when I got TB of the spine. I spent years in hospital'
Her interview and photos and that of another aunt are below in this article.
Famous People who Died of TB
- D.H. Lawrence died in 1930 English writer
- George Orwell died in 1950 English writers
- Vivien Leigh, the English actress also died from TB in 1967.
- Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin D Roosevelt, President of the United States, died of Tuberculosis in November 1962.
In 1907 Lady Martin left Cappagh House to the Religious Sisters of Charity. It became Cappagh Hospital, for children who had Tuberculosis.
In the 1920’s TB was rampant and the beds were increased from 60 to 260. The 'Open Air' wards were adopted here because it was known that fresh air helped in the treatment of the disease.
In 1923 a school was established in the hospital because most of the children needed to stay at the hospital for a few years in order to beat Tuberculosis.
This Child is very Sick
Christina Reid who lived in Whitehall, Santry remembers when her older sister Lulu got ill in 1953. She says:
“I remember that my sister Lulu was tired all the time. They did tests in hospital but couldn’t find anything wrong with her.
When we were bringing her home she was crying her eyes out, she knew something was wrong with her.
There was a doctor who saw how upset Lulu was so he brought us into this room. He examined Lulu and then went outside and started shouting at the other doctors that 'this child is very sick, she has TB.'
Lots of people in our area had Tuberculosis but some of them wouldn't let on. But you always knew if it was in a family when the Health Board built a chalet in their back garden.”
Lulu herself says:
I caught TB off my best friend Birdie. She had it for years and I used to pal around with her.
My mother didn't like me going around to see her because of the Tuberculosis but I didn't take any notice. They let my friend home and she was in the parlour for a long time and then she died from it. I was in hospital myself when they told me she was dead.
Two and a Half Years
I was nineteen when I got there and was in a ward with two other girls, we'd spend our time making embroidery and one of the girl's mothers would sell it for us. But you were treated very well really; you got the best of food.
When we were able to get up out of the bed we would walk around the grounds but we were not allowed to go into the street. We were made to rest a lot, you see apart from the tablets the treatment was plenty of good food and rest.
I was not allowed to talk for a long time because I had to have complete rest of my vocal cords. I smoked in those days and my friends could bring me in the cigs, the doctors didn't mind because they didn't realise how bad they were for you then.
The Tuberculosis was splattered all over my lungs so they couldn't operate on me. But I was grand afterwards. When I did come home a chalet had been built in the back garden so I could sleep on my own because I was one of twelve children in the family.
Spent Years in Hospital
Maureen Madden who lived in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7 also got Tuberculosis in the 1950’s.
I was twelve years old when I fell on my skates and soon after that I got pains in my back. My parents brought me to Steven’s Hospital. They found out I had Tuberculosis of the spine. The doctor said it was caught just in time.
I was put in a big ward at first and they had me strapped into the bed. I was not allowed to sit up at all.
For the first couple of months I cried day and night. They wanted to send me to Cappagh Hospital but my father wouldn't let them because it was too far away.
Then they put me in a smaller ward with just three teenagers. Our beds were out in the veranda, you had to sleep out there too, even if it was freezing.
They said it was the best thing to do for Tuberculosis. They wouldn't let me use my arms a lot because they were afraid of me damaging the spine.
I had to lay flat on my back in the bed. They had a special thing to drink out of, like a teapot with a long spout, because I was lying down.
I was treated very well in there and because I was the youngest child I was spoiled
When after two years it was finally time for me to go home they took me to the theatre to fit a plaster of paris full body cast. I couldn't stand on my own so I was held up with a strap around my arms. After that they had to teach me to walk again.
It was strange for me when I got home to Stoneybatter. I was coming back to a different environment.
For over two years I was in one room so I found it hard to adjust when I first came out. My parents had to help me put the cast on during the day, and I had to wear that for a few years too.
Famous People also contracted Tuberculosis and some died from the disease.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884 in New York City. Her mother died when she was only eight years old, and her father two years later, so her grandmother reared her.
Her uncle was Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States of America from 1901 to 1909.
She got married on March 17th 1905 to Franklin D Roosevelt
He became President of the United States from 1933 to 1945.
They had six children, but one of their sons only lived a few months.
Too Busy to be Sick
As the First Lady she was head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission and chaired the Commission on the Status of Women.
She was also an author and wrote a daily column for the newspapers called “My Day”. The President died in April 1945.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was always busy and was not happy when she became ill.
First it was with anemia which slowed her down and after two years and a few blood transfusions the doctors insisted on giving her more tests.
She was not a good patient. She was known for saying “I’m too busy to be sick.”
But in 1962 she got another fever which became dangerously high. More tests followed but a diagnosis was not forthcoming. She eventually had to have the very intrusive bone marrow test, but the doctors could not agree on what was wrong with her.
After a chest X ray Tuberculosis showed up on Eleanor Roosevelt's lungs
She was given the most up to date medicine, streptomycin, para-aminosalycylic acid and isoniasid.
She left the hospital and returned to her work.
But her lungs were damaged too much.
She Died of TB on November 7th 1962
She had wanted to donate her corneas to an eye bank after her death, but this could not be done because of the TB infection.
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was buried in Hyde Park on November 10th beside her husband.
No Social Boundaries
I hope I have helped to dispel the myth that Tuberculosis was a disease that only the poor suffered from.
There were many people in Stoneybatter Dublin 7 and all over Ireland who suffered from TB in the 1940's and 50's.
A lot of them were ashamed to admit this but there were also many affluent and famous people who caught the disease
Famous People Who Died from Tuberculosis
- Emily Bronte, the English writer in 1848, at only 30 years old.
- John Keats, the English poet in 1821.
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the English poet in 1861.
- Edgar Allan Poe, the American writer in 1849.
- Frederic Chopin, the Polish composer and pianist in 1849.
- Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish writer in 1894.
- Anton Chekhov, the Russian writer in 1904.
How it is Spread
Tuberculosis is spread by people when they cough and sneeze.
The spread of TB can be stopped by isolating the patients.TB prevents the defense cells, macrophages, from doing their job.
It can not release the enzymes and acids which destroy the bacteria in the body.
Chronic Lung Infection
It can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, lungs, spine, and brain. It can be fatal.