Catching Stories (of Infectious Disease In Ireland)


Catching Stories (of Infectious Disease In Ireland)



Life History; Ireland; Health; Communicable diseases; Epidemics; Poliomyelitis; Polio; Postpoliomyelitis syndrome; Tuberculosis; TB; Measles; Diphtheria; COVID-19; Vaccines;


Catching Stories is a folklore-STEM collaboration project funded through the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Discover Programme.

The project was concerned with those who had first had experiences of being stricken with the disease, their family members and the public health practitioners who served on the frontline of past epidemics. 

The diseases the project focused on were: polio, tuberculosis, diphtheria and measles, Spanish flu and COVID-19.


The project grew from seed funding through the Irish Research Council and University College Cork's(UCC) College of Arts, Celtic Studies & Social Sciences. This funding enabled the team to collate material in the Cork Folklore Project's archive and create a pilot online resource. In 2022 the project was awarded an SFI Discover grant that allowed the team to undertake new bespoke interviews and grow the online dissemination platform. 

To date (February 2023), Catching Stories consists of XX interviews. 'Catching Stories' has also been drawn from the Cork Folklore Project Sound Archive for other related material. 

The project's main output is an online resource ( This website places personal oral testimonies adjacent to scientific information about the diseases. There was also a series of talks and presentations for Heritage Week 2022, Culture Night 2022 and Science Week 2022

With support from APC Microbiome, SFI and UCC's Boole Library, the Catching Stories team curated the interactive multimedia exhibition, Catching Stories of Infectious Disease in Ireland (16 February - 25 June 2023), in UCC's Boole Library. The Exhibition was subsequently taken by the Heatlh Service Executive and displayed in their campuses and buildings throughout Cork and Kerry.




Ireland; 1920s-2020s




Here you can engage with the collected material side by side with biomedical commentary from immunologist Dr Elizebeth Brint.
Presentation and Listening Events

Heritage Week 2022


For Heritage Week project coordinator James Furey gave a presentation of the project at Cork City Library Grand Parade

Culture Night 2022


For Culture night the team went to the streets to set up a time travelling’ vaccination clinic outside the old medical centre on Grattan St Cork City. Willing participants sat on a bench and heard Joe Scanlon’s story of receiving the ‘Branding Iron’, Joe’s term for the vaccine apparatus used in the 1950s. Joe’s story and the event elicited a great response from those who took part.

Science Week 2022


Celebrate Science Family Day on 13th November 2022


Our first outing for Cork Science Festival was at the ‘Celebrate Science’ Family Day at University College Cork’s Western Gateway Building. For this event, we fired up the ‘Time-machine’ to bring participants on a trip to 1958, the day Joe Scanlon received a vaccine, or as Joe calls it, ‘The Branding Iron’.


The Catching Stories team held four sessions. We played Joe’s story and quizzed our audience on their knowledge of infectious diseases and their memory of receiving vaccines. There was excellent engagement with both young and old. The younger participants left with a greater understanding of diseases like polio and tuberculosis. And the older members relayed their stories of getting vaccinated and how infectious diseases had encroached on their lives.

Science Week Talk UCC Student Hub

Those who braved the horrendous rain on November 15th were delighted to shelter in The Shtepps to hear the presentation from James Furey and Beth Brint on how folklore and STEM can work together to bring new perspectives on health education and understanding.



The exhibition in UCC's Boole Library (16 February - 25 June 2023), was an innovative exploration of how to engage people with a topic that does not lend itself too easily to public dissemination. The exhibition foregrounded the human voice through audio installations (Made by Dr Jeffery Weeter), links to interviews, and interaction with physical objects. It invited visitors to join interviewees in the experience of manually ventilating a child with polio throughout the night in 1956 and to move along a waiting-room bench when facing vaccination by the dreaded ‘Branding Iron’ or to imagine the loss of a childhood classmate from measles. Artworks by Lesley Cox also explore the impact of polio on families and communities.


(©Lesley Cox)


Cork Folklore Project Audio Archive


Cork Folklore Project






.wav Files

Collection Items

Michael O'Sullivan and  Theresa O’Sullivan
Michael and Theresa are husband and wife and live on Fairhill on the north side of Cork city. Michael is 87 years old and Theresa is 85 years old. In this interview they both talk about their experiences of TB in Cork during the 1940s and the 1950s.…

Lesley Cox
Lesley Spoke about her father’s life as a polio survivor.

Evelyn Wainwright
Evelyn was born in the 1940s. Her parents were living in England prior to her birth. Father worked for Ford in Dagenham. Evelyn only met her father a handful of times. After her parent’s relationship ended Evelyn’s mother and her older brother Barry…

Emma Clarke Conway
Emma is the Communications and development officer for Polio Survivors Ireland. She spoke about the history of polio in Ireland, about the work PSI do and the current state of polio in Ireland.

Pauline Matthews
Pauline Matthews was born in 1950 in the Ballintemple area of Cork city. When she was an infant her mother contracted tuberculosis and was confined to the chest hospital in Mallow. Shortly afterwards, Pauline contracted the disease, leading her to be…

Michael Hussey
This interview was completed for the Catching Stories of infectious Disease in Ireland project.

Mick spoke of his father having TB and the effect that had on his family life. His father contracted TB when Mick was 8 or 9 (1967-68). Mick mentions…

Paul O'Brien
Paul was born in 1935. His father worked for Great Southern Railway which meant the family moved a lot during Paul’s youth. Paul would call Military Hill in Cork City his ‘home. Paul attended Christians Collage on Wellington Road. Here he was class…
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