All Souls. D’ Oíche Shamhna. TB. An Eitinn.

All Souls. D’ Oíche Shamhna. TB. An Eitinn.

D’ Oíche Shamhna.

All Souls. Taken by the TB. Bhuail an eitinn íad.

By Rosser1954 – self-made – Roger Griffith, Public Domain,

This week’s blog shows that sometimes family history is a sad business, especially if you reflect on the suffering of your ancestors.

Maybe more so at the time of year when the world of the living becomes blurred with that of the dead…

Tara Mound of Hostages. Poleary91, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Is this the world genealogy wanders around in?

I’ve latched onto the following because of listening, over the years to Damien Dempsey, and a song of his called Colony:

“Annie, she came from Dunlavin Town

The TB came and killed her family all around”

I know Dunlavin is many miles from Fanad but all the same…

Is gearr go mbeimid le Oíche Shamhna, we’re nearly at Samhain and I decided to take a not quite random selection of transcriptions of records freely available from

House at Gaoth Dobhair. National Library of Ireland on The Commons, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

I haven’t used a very scientific methodology, but I think it gives some idea of prevalence of TB in and around the area my mother was brought up.

Knowing from my own research of two Donegal relations in the early 1900’s who had died from TB.

I searched on my family names from around Fanad, Co. Donegal, viz. Kelly, Logue, Coll and McAteer, between 1900 and 1906, in Milford which was the registration district at that time, then looked at all records on those pages, which noted TB or Phthisis related.

Begining with some background.

Were Phthisis Pulmonarias and Tuberculosis used interchangeably at the time of the following records?

Well, I would say yes, with evidence from the Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health a peer reviewed journal published by the Australasian Military Medicine Association, among other sources. 

“Tuberculosis was also known as Phthisis and consumption from Hippocrates through to the 18th century, the white death and the great white plague during the 19th century, and other names which evoked the despair and horror of the disease such as the robber of youth, the Captain of all these men of Death, the graveyard cough, and the King’s-Evil. During the 18th and 19th centuries tuberculosis was epidemic in Europe and caused millions of deaths, particularly in the poorer classes of society…”

During the 1800’s physicians were debating whether Phthisis was infectious, hereditary, or cancer, and secondly, whether scrofula, tubercles, and phthisis were separate disease entities or manifestations of the one disease.

The most prominent proponents of a single entity were René Laennec and the Viennese pathologist Carl von Rokitansky.  In contrast, Giovanna Battista Morgagni of Padua, and German physicians Rudolf Virchov and Johann Lukas Schönlein believed the diseases were separate entities. This question wasn’t settled until Robert Koch discovered in 1882 the Tubercle bacillus and that it was responsible for all forms of the disease.” (Frith 2014)

Now in no particular order, a lot of sadness:

May 1900. Margaret Kelly of Lagg. Aged 36. Wife of labourer. Died from general TB had for 13 months. Margaret (nee McAteer) was my great grandmother, my mum’s grandmother.

March 1900. John Kelly of Lagg. Aged 13. Child of a labourer. Died from Anasarca, after TB for some years. John was my great uncle, my grandad’s brother.

February 1906. Daniel Coll of Araheera, Fanad. Aged 17. A farmer’s son. Died from Phthisis Pulmonarias, had for 6 months.

July 1900. Maggie Ann Stewart of Ballyheeeran, Fanad. Aged 28. A farmer’s daughter. Died from Exhaustion caused by Phthisis had for 2 months.

July 1900. Catherine Strain of Golan, Fanad. Aged 22. A farmer’s daughter. Died from Phthisis Pulmonarias, had for 6 months.

August 1906. William Grier of Little Ards. Aged 27. A granite cutter 27. Died from Phthisis had for 18 months.

July 1906. Dan Duffy of Dargan. Aged 27. Labourer. Died from Pulmonary Phthisis for some years. Died in Milford workhouse.

March 1904. Annie Irwin of Cashelennan. Aged 22. A farmer’s daughter. Died from Pulmonary Phthisis had for 1 year.

July 1906. Ellen Begley of Kinnalough. Aged 15. A farmer’s daughter. Died from Phthisis Pulmonarias had for 2 months.

July 1906. Samuel Lockhart Henderson of Ballymagowan. Aged 56. Clerk of petty sessions. Died Phthisis Pulmonarias had for 2 years.

May 1901. Catherine Coll of Sheesia. Aged 13. A farmer’s daughter. Died from Pulmonary Phthisis had for 3 months.

May 1906. Susan McGarvey of Carrowkeel glebe. Aged 24. A domestic servant. Died from Phthisis Pulmonarias had for 2 years.

June 1906. Hugh McCoach of Croaghross. Aged 40. A labourer. Died from Phthisis Pulmonarias had for 1 year.

June 1906. Hugh Carr of Kinallough. Aged 40. A labourer. Died from Phthisis Pulmonarias had for 2 years.

May 1900. Catherine Gibbons of Lighnadrumna. Aged 30. A farmer’s widow. Died from phthisis Pulmonarias had for 10 months.

May 1900. John Carlin of Croaghan. Aged 25. A  farmer’s son. Died from Phthisis Pulmonarias had for 1 year.

May 1901. Mary Friel of Doaghmor. Aged 17. A labourer’s daughter. Died from Phthisis had for 4 years.

Nov 1903. Daniel McAteer of  Carlan. Aged 34. A farmer. Died from Phthisis Pulmonarias had for 4 years.

June 1904. Ennis Sweeney of Ballynabrocky. Aged 42. A farmer. Died from Phthisis Pulmonarias had for 3 years.

December 1903. John Friel of Drumfad. Aged 26. A mason. Died from Phthisis Pulmonarias had for 6 months and Pleurisy for 2 months.

TB affected farmers also. Liam Moloney. Old Irish Farmhouse Ionad Cois Locha,Dunlewy Co. Donegal

All these people in a small area, in an out of the way place, over a few years. Also, I haven’t noted the Bronchitis causes which were probably double the instances above. Bronchitis, which is also relatable to TB.

Tuberculosis remained a very significant cause of death in Ireland until the mid-20th century and still occupies a prominent position in the folk memory. (Dennis Pringle 2009)

Ireland’s children were said, in 1907, to be in the ‘jaws of the devouring dragon’ of tuberculosis. The ‘dragon’ rampaged through the country creating one of the worst tuberculosis death rates in Europe. Its association with poverty led sufferers to feel shame, and the widely-held belief that it was hereditary meant that often whole families entered a conspiracy of silence. People were afraid of the disease but also of how the community would react if they knew there was tuberculosis in the family. (Kelly 2011)

A folk memory of ‘shame’, I wonder has it been passed through my family?

No one talked about TB. My great grandmother’s death was associated with childbirth in family lore, but it was TB.

Academic study describes that the shame and stigma that accompanied the disease and emotional trauma led survivors to hide their past rather than ‘celebrate victory’ over the disease. Tuberculosis did not spike in seasonal epidemics in the same way as polio. This meant it did not hit a population with the same drama and human interest, factors that could increase the ‘status’ of a disease and its visibility in the media and literature. Personal testimonies were collected by Susan Kelly with the aim of filling the gaps with regard to childhood tuberculosis. It showed how the operation of stigma and social distance influenced the lives and the accounts of many survivors of tuberculosis. (Kelly 2011)

Are we guilty of romanticizing the past?

Seeing life in a bucolic paradise, it was often the opposite.

Peaceful now.


Dennis Pringle. 2009. “The resurgence of tuberculosis in the Republic of Ireland: Perceptions and reality,.” Science Direct. . Accessed 10 27, 2021. .

Frith, John. 2014. “History of Tuberculosis. Part 1 – Phthisis, consumption and the White Plague.” History Issue Volume 22 No. 2 .

Kelly, Susan. 2011. ““Stigma and Silence: Oral Histories of Tuberculosis.” Oral History 39, no. 1 (2011): 65–76.” JSTOR. Accessed 10 27, 2021.

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