'Catching Stories' of infectious disease in Ireland

Please note that this resource is under construction and will grow throughout 2021

Welcome!

What is in 'Catching Stories'?

Here you can listen to and read oral testimony relating to the experience of diseases such as tuberculosis, measles, mumps and polio, in Cork City and surrounds in the mid-twentieth century. The extracts are accompanied by a review of the history of the disease and vaccination in Ireland, and material on and reference to the development and response to vaccination worldwide.

You can read about the project in the Irish Times article from 25 May 2021: Catching personal stories of infectious diseases

Click below to jump in for a taste of our content, and a listen:

Hear about the elephant needle and other aspects of 'Getting the vaccine'

Sample the different ways in which personal and intergenerational memories of disease 'break out'

Click on Browse Individual Stories to browse our oral testimony by descriptive title.

Why develop 'Catching Stories'?

A contributing factor to the return of certain infectious diseases that have been eliminated or reduced in frequency is the fact that the memory of the effects of those diseases is fading. It is now impossible to appreciate the severe impact that communicable diseases had on individuals, families and communities in Ireland in the first half of the twentieth century. In the mid-1940s around 1,000 children died every year in Ireland from diseases such as whooping cough, measles, diphtheria, polio and tuberculosis. With the success of public immunisation programmes introduced in the 1950s, deaths from these diseases dropped to zero. By the twenty-first century, individual, family and community memory of the experience and impact of these diseases was fading. The aim of 'Catching Stories' is to explore how these memories could be useful in communicating how these diseases had an impact on  communities, and at the same time to present oral testimony alongside a commentary from immunologist Dr. Beth Brint that explains the history of the disease in question.

Is this resource complete?

No: this is a pilot version of what we hope will be a larger project, carried out in 2021-2022. We will be interviewing, collecting, archiving and sharing material throughout this time.

What kind of material is presented in Catching Stories?

  • Testimony from audio interviews 
  • Testimony submitted to us in text format
  • Objects of memory and their pathways and stories (e.g., the poetry book autographed in the sanitorium, the memorial card, the sanatorium handcrafts)
  • Commentary on the history and prevention of the diseases in question

What kind of interviews are drawn upon in Catching Stories?

To date, we have returned to our existing holdings (you can view our catalogue at http://corkfolklore.org/archivecatalolgue/welcome) to see where infectious diseases are mentioned and explored. We hope to follow up with targeted interviews that explore these themes in more depth. What is interesting, however, is that the diseases and their impact are mentioned with regularity in our interviews, and these spontaneous mentions and descriptions show the profound and sometimes devastating effect the experiences had on individuals and families. Extracts are embedded on thematic pages, but are also available with more extensive documentation, such as full transcriptions, as Item entries that can be browsed. In their 'Item' entries, the extracts are linked to the entries for the full interviews in the Cork Folklore Project Audio Catalogue, and the listener can get more background on the interview and interviewee by visiting the full interview catalogue entry. 

Who might be interested in this resource?

This resource will be of interest to anyone with an interest in social history, the history of Cork City and the history of infectious diseases (in Ireland and more generally). Medical educators will be able to use the testimony to alert doctors-in-training to the impact that such diseases had in the past, and to the power of oral testimony in communicating the experience of illness. Public health educators will find a useful resource in the linking of the oral testimony and the history of disease and vaccination. Schools will be able to access the material for teaching in social history and science. The resource is also for anyone who is interested in learning about the impact of vaccination on the health and lives of people in the twentieth century.

What about the twenty-first century?

This resource will in time include material on HPV and COVID-19. Another of the CFP's research projects, a rapid-response collection project 'Chronicles of COVID-19' can be accessed from February 2021 here: Chronicles of COVID-19.

Where can I find out more about how this resource has been created?

Two pages under construction here explore the issues arising in our work: Constructing the resource: choices and Issues of power and ethics.

For more on the work of the Cork Folklore Project, visit our website at www.corkfolklore.org.

How can I contribute to the project?

Do you have a story, experience or object that would add to this project?

Would you use this resource in education, public health or community contexts? Do you have observations, or suggestions on design, content or accessibility that would make the resource more attractive to use?

If so, please get in contact by filling out our expression of interest form here.

Support and thanks

In 2019, the CFP received an Interdisciplinary Research Award from the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences, UCC, to carry out this pilot project.

In 2020, the project received an Irish Research Council New Foundations Award to develop the database in 2021.

This resource has been created by Beth Brint, James Furey, and Clíona O’Carroll for the Cork Folklore Project.

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