Intergenerational memory sparked by COVID-19

'He saw people drop down and die in front of his eyes'

When the Cork Folklore Project shared an online questionnaire on experiences of COVID-19 in April 2020, we found that the experience of a pandemic had turned the thoughts of many to family experiences of infectious disease that resonated down through the generations. (You can browse the 'Chronicles of COVID-19 collection here)

In answer to the question ‘What do you find yourself thinking about recently?’, the following was submitted:

‘Fearful of picking up the virus and dying a slow painful death. I keep thinking what my late father told me of his two sisters that died from the Spanish Flu and what awful deaths they had. The first girl died only two days after contracting the virus. The second girl recovered temporarily but was paralysed. She lived for a couple of years. What she must have suffered.’

13 April 2020

‘I worry about my elderly aunts in case they are exposed to the virus and about my sister and brother-in-law who are vulnerable having been through cancer treatment recently. I think a lot of my granduncle who died of the Spanish Flu in 1919, aged 31, and feel for my grandmother and great-grandmother who experienced the loss of a brother and son.’

20 April 2020.

One contributor responded to the final question [Can you sum up the impact that this experience has had on you or your community? Do you have any messages for future readers of the Chronicles of COVID-19?] with the following:

‘I've experienced black outs (1974), summers with drought (1976), winters with severe snow (1982), BSC in Scotland (early 90s), Foot and Mouth outbreaks (2001), but this is something that stands out as nothing else. I now think about my mother's parents dealing with the 1918 Spanish Flue when my uncle Sean died at 6 weeks. My father's parents dealing with the death of their son Ned in his thirties from TB. These pandemics came before and now I feel connected with them through this current outbreak.’

15 April 2020

Another person brought up polio:

'It reminds me of the Polio epidemic in Cork when we had to play for the Summer in our own garden and all our childhood pals who had relations in the country were sent away for the duration. It was a lonely time.'

25 April 2020

Another contributor recounted conversations with their mother during the early stages of their awareness of COVID-19:

'I continue to be in a state of disbelief as to how the world has effectively shut down and how society already has been impacted. A few weeks prior to Covid-19 in a visit to see my (Cork born) mother currently living in Dublin and having some awareness of the virus in China, I remember saying to her that the world would eventually be hit by a pandemic that it would not recover from and with that and the environmental crisis facing us that the future of the world and society would be threatened - however I was very quick to say that this would not be our experience but instead would impact future generations. Yet just a few weeks later what we discussed as not being in our lifetime had come into our daily lives. During this conversation my mother told me that her father spoke about the Spanish flu and how walking down the street in Cork he saw people drop down and die in front of his eyes.

20 April, 2020