In June 1918, while the First World War was still raging, the so-called Spanish influenza arrived in Ireland starting first in Belfast. On the 12th June 1918 the News Letter reported that Belfast had been struck by a mysterious illness resembling influenza. It was misnamed ‘Spanish influenza’ because the newspapers in neutral Spain freely reported on the epidemic in contrast to the countries still at war, which suppressed the news coverage in order not to demoralise the war effort. The Spanish Flu infected up to 800,000 and killed more than 23,000 people in Ireland. Between 50 and 100 million world-wide died from the virus in under ten months. The influenza Epidemic was caused by ‘A’ H1N1 virus and the movement of troops aided its global spread.
The total number of deaths was 7,582 in all nine counties of Ulster, with 1,830 in Belfast city and 1,062 in County Down. In Newtownards Poor Law Union, which had a population of 44,340, 142 people died from influenza in 1918 and 54 in 1919 making a total of 196. Globally more people died in the influenza epidemic than in the Great War. In Ireland there were three distinct waves of influenza which occurred in June 1918, October 1918 and February 1919.
The first wave was the least destructive, although severe enough for schools and businesses to close. The second wave from mid-October to December 1918 was the most virulent of the three and as in the first wave, Leinster and Ulster were most affected. The almost equally severe third wave lasted from mid-February to mid-April. During the second and third waves local disruption such as the closure of schools and cancellations of meetings were advised via public notices. Queens University, Belfast was closed from 8th November to 2nd December 1918.
influenza mortality is usually high among the elderly and very young but a global peculiarity of the 1918-1919 pandemic was its targeting of normally healthy young adults.
The influenza Epidemic is first mentioned in the County Down Spectator of 29th June 1918 in a very dismissive way:
Both Belfast and Bangor are in the grip of an outbreak of Spanish influenza. Apart from its highly infectious nature, it is of an extremely mild character, lasting only about three days. … How the complaint got its name is not quite clear, for it is neither Spanish nor influenza, but, so we are told by a medical man, “merely a coincidence of influenza colds and the gastric and intestinal troubles that have arisen from unfamiliar diet.” Needless to say, there has, as usual, been no lack of scaremongers to magnify the outbreak into a very epidemic of chronic influenza. This it certainly is not…
Though by 13th July 1918 it was being taken more seriously. An article appeared that day in the Spectator describing the numerous fresh cases of the acute form of influenza rife in Belfast with double and treble bereavements reported in some households during the previous fortnight.
During the second wave it was reported in the Spectator on 2nd November 1918-
There is no sign of any abatement of the influenza epidemic, which has been raging with great violence for the past fortnight in different parts of the country. Indeed, in several centres the death roll from the disease is rather on the increase.
The advice reported in the Spectator on the same day from The Daily Chronicle was to
- Always breathe through your nose; never through your mouth.
- Wash the inside of your nose with soap and water night and morning; gargle with clean water.
- Make yourself sneeze night and morning; having sneezed take deep inspirations and respire forcibly through your nostrils.
- Do not wear anything tight round your neck; do not cover your neck with a muffler.
- Walk home from your work; sleep with your windows open and your bed warm; do not ‘dope’.
- Do not be afraid of influenza; you are much stronger than any microbe so long as you do not drug yourself, overeat or overclothe. To which may be added the taking of as much moderate outdoor exercise as possible.
On the 1st March 1919, it was reported in the Spectator that the influenza had returned and according to some opinions was in a more virulent form than ever. It was acknowledged in the paper that the unfortunate man in the street was snowed under mountainous accumulations of printed advice, to comply with some of which would mean the carrying around of a kit practically equal in bulk to the soldier’s active service baggage. In Bangor, schools and public places were being sprayed with disinfectant.
Patricia Marsh, in a talk she gave on The Spanish influenza in North Down and Belfast mentioned one family who lived in the townland of Ballywoollen or Ballywillin, just outside Killyleagh who lost five of their children in the space of nine days during the second phase of the influenza Epidemic. They were the children of John Ringland, a labourer and his wife Sarah Lowry. The Ringlands had in total 13 children. Five had died previously, three from acute bronchitis, William aged 1 on 16th June 1905, William aged 2 on 24th December 1907 and James aged 9 months on 8th April 1912. The other two earlier deaths were of twin girls, Annie and Jane, born prematurely on 5th February 1907 who died within a few days of birth. The five who died from influenza and Broncho Pneumonia were David aged 16 on 20th December, Margaret aged 6 on 22nd December, John aged 18 on 25th December, James aged 3 on 26th December and lastly Jane aged 17 on 29th December 1918. The surviving three children were Mary born on 17th April 1896, Annie born on 31st March 1901 and William who was aged 3 on the day of the 1911 census.
In Bangor Civil Parish, which extended from Helen’s bay to just beyond Groomsport, there were 35 deaths recorded with influenza being a cause of death, 5 were in the first phase of the epidemic, 21 in the second phase and 9 in the third phase. From the information provided on the death certificates, the first phase had arrived in Bangor by at least 19th June 1918 and lasted until 8th August, the second phase had arrived by 22nd October 1918 and lasted until 23rd December 1918 and the third phase had arrived by 23rd February and lasted until 1st May 2019.
The First Phase Deaths
The first of the deaths was of Hugh Mawhinney aged 61, a labourer who lived at 54 Castle Square, Bangor. He died on 26th June 1918 after suffering from influenza and Acute Bronchitis for 7 days. He was married to Sophia and had five adult children. Though he was recorded as being aged 61 when he died, he was probably older as he was recorded in 1911 census as being aged 69 and was recorded in 1901 census as being aged 63.
The next was of Thomas Walter Tate aged 18, an iron turner, who lived at 88 Abbey Street, Bangor. He died on 2nd July 1918. He had been born in Belfast and was the son of George Tate, a brass finisher, and his wife Mary. He had been suffering from Influenzal Encephalitis for eight days.
The third death was of Thomas Bell, aged 46, a labourer who lived at Portavo. He died on 9th July 1918 after suffering from influenza and Pneumonia for four days. He was married to Sarah Savage and had four children, the youngest being Sarah who was aged 13.
The fourth death was of Mary Rea, aged 23, a housewife, who lived at Ballyfotherly. She died on 22nd July 1918 after suffering from influenza and Pneumonia for four days. Mary Reid had married Robert John Rea, a farmer, in Ballygrainey Presbyterian Church on 4th August 1915.
The last of the five deaths from the first phase of the influenza was of Thomas John McDowell aged six and a half who died at 52 Holburn Avenue, Bangor on 8th August 1918. He suffered from influenza for five days and Cardiac Failure for three days. His father James was a spirit grocer whose premises was situated at the corner of Victoria Road and Holburn Avenue. His mother was Rose McDowell nee Matthews.
Second Phase Deaths
The first of the deaths in the second phase was of Eleanor Elizabeth Brown, aged 30, who died at her home at Bangor Demesne on 1st November 1918. She had suffered from influenza for 19 days and Bronchial Pneumonia for 9 days. She was pregnant and had gone into labour. She was the wife of Samuel Brown who farmed on Bangor Demesne. Eleanor Elizabeth Campbell and Samuel Preston Brown had married in First Presbyterian Church, Comber on 27th October 1915. They had at least one son William Campbell Brown born on 31st August 1916.
The second death was of Mary Woods, aged 33, who died at 40 Albert Street, Bangor on 3rd November 1918. She had suffered from influenza and Bronchitis for six days and cardiac failure of one day’s duration. She was married to J. Woods.
The third death was of Margaret Nugent, aged 31, who died at 11 Holburn Street, Bangor on 5th November 1918. She had suffered from influenza for fourteen days and Pneumonia seven days. She was the wife of James Nugent, an electrician. Margaret Preston and James Nugent, an electric engineer, were married in Berry Street Presbyterian Church on 10th November 1909.
The fourth death was of Elizabeth Bennett, aged 22, who died at 10 Belfast Road, Bangor on 8th November 1918. She had suffered from influenza for eight days and Broncho Pneumonia for three days. She was unmarried and worked as an embroiderer and was the eldest child of John Bennett and Catherine Bennett nee Connor. John Bennett worked as a railway signalman. Elizabeth Bennett had been born on 9th February 1896 in Dundrum.
The fifth death was of Sophia Sloan, a widow, aged 67, who died at 39 Albert Street, Bangor on 10th November 1918. She had suffered from influenza for ten days and bronchitis for five days. Sophia’s husband William Sloan, who had been a sailor, also died after suffering from influenza for ten days on 23rd March 1910.
Next was Sarah Josephine Cush, aged 36, who died on 12th November 1918 in the townland of Ballymacormick. She had suffered from influenza for seven days and Broncho Pneumonia for five days. Her sister Mary Cush, aged 30, died about three weeks later on 2nd December 1918. She had been suffering from influenza for one month and from Pneumonia and Cardiac Failure for seven days. They were the daughters of the late Hugh Cush, a farmer, who had also died from influenza in 1906.
The seventh death was of Martha Pollock, aged 20, who died on 13th November 1918, in King Street, Bangor. She had suffered from influenza for ten days and broncho pneumonia for five days. Martha Edgar, daughter of ship captain, Thomas Edgar, had married John Pollock, a van man, on 12th July 1917 in Ballygilbert Presbyterian Church.
There were two deaths on 14th November 1918. One was of William Henry Fletcher, an unmarried man, aged 36, who died in the townland of Gransha on 14th November 1918. He was a carpenter like his father. William Henry Fletcher was born at 35, Auburn Street, Belfast on 28th December 1881. His parents were William Henry Fletcher and Sarah Macartney. He suffered from influenza for eight days and double pneumonia for five days.
The second death on 14th November was of Jane Harrison, aged 26, who died at Ballymacormick. She had suffered from influenza for ten days and Pneumonia for four days. Jane Harrison was born on 11th January 1891at Ballymacormick. Her parents were Hugh Harrison, a farmer and Lizzie Harrison nee Dunlop. They had married in Groomsport Presbyterian Church on 16th February 1890. Jane known by her father as Jeannie, had only one brother, Hugh, who died when he was seven months old in 1895 from Bronchitis. Jane’s mother Lizzie Harrison had died on 20th March 1908 from Rheumatic Fever.
The tenth death was of Eileen Sylvia Chard, aged 9, who died on 15th November 1918 at St Helier, Bangor. She was the daughter of Claude Chard, a civil engineer. She had suffered from influenza for six days, had haemorrhaged for two hours and had Cardiac Failure for one hour. Eileen’s father Claude was working as a surveyor with the Irish Land Commission in 1911. Her parents, Claude Percy Chard and Grace Louisa Ireton were married on 7th August 1908 in St Thomas Church, Belfast.
The eleventh death was of Lizzie Gordon, aged 32, who died on 17th November 1918, at 17 Castle Street, Bangor. She was the wife of Hugh Gordon, a carrier. She had suffered from influenza for seven days and pneumonia for four days. Mary Elizabeth Graham and Hugh Gordon were married in St Anne’s Cathedral on 8th July 1914.
The twelfth death was of William Lightbody Brien, aged 29, an unmarried man, who died on 20th November 1918 in Groomsport. He had suffered from influenza for 20 days and Bronchitis for 14 days. His grandfather, William Niblock, Groomsport was present at his death. William Lightbody Bryan worked as a joiner. He was born in Groomsport on 23rd October 1888. His parents were James Bryan and Annie Waterson. He was their only son. Ellen Niblock, his grandmother, was present at the birth. William Bryan’s father died when he was four years old on 19th February 1893, leaving his mother to bring him up along with his two sisters. His younger sister was born two months after her father’s death.
There were two deaths on 21st November 1918. One of them was of Caroline Cree, aged 29, who died at King Street. Less than a month before, her baby son Edward, aged only 14 days, had died of gastro enteritis. Caroline Morgan was the wife of Henry Cree and when she died, she left three other children Mary aged 9, Caroline aged 6 and Henry aged 3.
The other death on 21st November was of Elizabeth Rea, aged 23, who died at Conlig. She had suffered from influenza for seven days and Double Pneumonia for six days. Lizzie Johnston had married Hugh Rea when she was 16 at Ballygrainey Presbyterian Church on 11th January 1911. She left two children, Mary aged 6 and Hugh aged 4. Her husband Hugh Rea hadn’t yet returned home from the First World War when his young wife died.
The fifteenth death was of James Johnston, aged 27, who worked as a labourer. He died on 22nd November 1918 at 15 Holborn Street, Bangor. He had suffered from influenza for eleven days and Pneumonia for 5 days. James Johnston, who was unmarried, was one of six children of Alexander Johnston and his wife Lizzie Milliken.
There were two deaths on 27th November 1918. One was of John Jess, aged 8, who died in the townland of Ballygrot. He had suffered from influenza for seven days and Syncope. John Jess had been born in Belfast on 6th June 1910. He was one of six children of John Jess, a labourer, and his wife Minnie Dobbin.
The second death on 27th November was of Margaret Nelson, a dressmaker, aged 21. She died in the townland of Ballymaconnell. She had suffered from influenza for eight days and Pneumonia for three days. Margaret Nelson was born in Ballyholme on 4th September 1897. She was the daughter of James Nelson, a labourer, and his wife Mary Shaw. She was one of seven children, two of whom had died by 1911.
The eighteenth death was of Mary Cush who was already mentioned above along with her sister Sarah Cush who died on 12th November 1918.
The nineteenth death was of George Magowan, and 29, a farmer, who died on 4th December 1918 at Ballyfotherly. He had suffered from influenza for eight days. He had married Eleanor Mitchell on 27th December 1915 in Helen’s bay Presbyterian Church. He left at least one son, Thomas, born on 20th December 1916.
The twentieth death was of Maggie Lillie, aged 47, who died on 16th December 1918 at Bingham Street, Bangor. She had suffered from influenza for four days and Broncho Pneumonia for 43 hours. She was the wife of Thomas Lillie, an engineer. Thomas Lillie and Maggie Campbell had married on 9th June 1896 in Shankill Presbyterian Church.
The last of the twenty-one deaths in the second phase was Michael Sheils, aged 77, a farmer and JP, who died on 23rd December 2018 at Summerhill, Bryansburn Road, Ballyvarnet, Bangor. His cause of death was influenza for four days and Pneumonia. He was married to Bridget Murphy.
During the outbreak of influenza that occurred between June 1918 and spring 1919 there were an extra 3,000 odd deaths from Pneumonia. It is reckoned that in all likelihood these deaths were caused by the deceased initially falling ill from influenza. During the second phase of the outbreak of influenza the following three deaths were caused by Pneumonia.
On 5th November 1918 Harry Coffin, aged 10 months, died from Broncho Pneumonia of six hours duration. His address was 36 Gray’s Hill, Bangor. His parents were Philip Coffin and Agnes Manson Coffin nee Kelly. Philip Coffin worked as a painter.
Also, on 5th November 1918 Sarah Gray, aged four, died from Broncho Pneumonia of four days duration and Cardiac Failure of 12 hours duration. Her address was Church Street, Bangor. Sarah had been born at Church Street on 2nd November 1914. Her parents were John Gray, a painter, and his wife Frances Wilson.
On 7th November 1918 James Boal, aged 32 died in the townland of Ballyree. The cause of death was Pneumonia of seven days duration and Cardiac Failure of 12 hours duration. James Boal was born on 12th September 1886 in the townland of Gransha. His parents were James Boal, a farmer, and Mary Boal nee Reid. He was the eldest of five children.Third Phase Deaths
The third phase started on 15th February 1919 with two deaths in Bangor Civil Parish. The first one was of Irene McCormick, aged 9, who died at Waverley Drive, Bangor. She had suffered from influenza and Congestion of the Lungs for ten days and Cardiac Failure for nine days. She was the daughter of Matthew McCormick, manager of auction rooms, and his wife Mary McCormick nee Cairns. Irene McCormick was born on 3rd October 1909 at Inniskeen, Marlborough Park North, Belfast. Matthew Anderson McCormick and Minnie Cairns were married on 17th April 1907 in Crescent Presbyterian Church, Belfast.
The second death on 15th February 1919, was of John Robinson aged 49, an engineer, who died at 22 Ballyholme Road, Bangor. He had suffered from influenza for ten days and Septic Pneumonia for three days. He lived with his widowed mother Ellen Robinson at the time of 1911 Irish Census but had married by the time of his death.
The third death was of Jane Hatton, a 46 year old spinster, who died at Ward Avenue, Bangor on 23rd February 1919. She had suffered from influenza for eight days. She also had Cardiac ?. She was the daughter of John Hatton, a grocer, who died on 29th July 1889 in Holywood, at the age of 54, after he had taken, through misadventure, an overdose of laudanum.
There were two deaths on 3rd March 1919. The first one was of was of Florence Alice Fagg, aged eight, who died at 12 Queens Parade, Bangor. She had suffered from influenza for four days and Broncho Pneumonia for seven days. She was the daughter of Joseph Bertram Fagg, a theatrical manager, and his wife Alice Jane Fagg nee Charter. Florence was born on 7th November 1910 at Marine Parade, Holywood. Both her parents had been born in London.
The second death on 3rd March 1919 was of Sadie Pearson who died at Bryansburn Road. She was aged 42 years. She had suffered from influenza for seven days and Meningitis for twelve hours. She was a married woman and her death was registered by her son W. J. Pearson.
The sixth death was of Robert Reade Kennedy, aged 42, who died on 5th March 1919 at 4 Lorelei, Bangor. Robert worked as a rent agent. He had suffered from influenza for ten days and Pneumonia for four days. Robert Reade Kennedy, estate agent, had married Elizabeth Alexander Cowrie on 12th June 1912 in Fortwilliam Park Presbyterian Church.
The seventh death was of Sarah Gibson, aged 24, who died at Church Street, Bangor on 12th March 1919. She had suffered from influenza for seven days and Pneumonia for two days. Sarah Heyburn had married Robert Gibson on 21st March 1915 in Trinity Presbyterian Church. Robert Gibson was a private in the 18th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles. She was the mother of Robert Heyburn Gibson born on 24th November 1915.
The eighth death was of Mary Houston, a widow, aged 69, who died on 10th April 1919 in the townland of Gransha. She had suffered from influenza for ten days and Septic Pneumonia for five days. Her 33 year old daughter, also called Mary Houston had died two days before her after being ill with TB for a year. Mary Houston’s husband John had died about four years earlier on 3rd August 1915 at the age of 74. His cause of death was a Cerebral Embolism for five days.
The last death was of William Bridges, a gardener, aged 54, who died on 1st May 1919 at 2 Beatrice Avenue, Bangor. He had suffered from influenza for two months and Cardiac Failure for fourteen days. William Bridges had married Elizabeth McComb on 25th April 1884 in Killyleagh Presbyterian Church.