A woman died of
the ‘Spanish flu’ in 1918 in the small townland of Kincraigy, in north
Donegal. I don’t know what age she was but I do know she left two children
behind, two year old twins – a boy and a girl. The boy was particularly
important to me. He was my father.
Although my grandmother’s death occurred more than a century ago her passing resonated down through the years in our family just as the legacy of Covid 19 will play out in the lives of this generation in the years ahead. These eerie days are only the start of the journey for them.
‘Spanish flu’ might have killed many millions across the globe but it was always personal to me. It affected our family. Indeed, I looked it up the other day and it turns out the term is actually a misnomer, the implication being that the virus originated in Spain. Not so. Politics, as usual, played a big role in this.
It seems that to maintain morale during World War 1 military censors were determined to minimize the numbers dying from the condition in America and Britain etc but Spain, which was neutral, had no such restrictions and their media was free to report the true hit being experienced there. This widespread coverage of the ravages being done to the population by the virus gave rise to the idea, the false idea, that Spain was the epicentre. Not so. But for political expediency in a time of war the Americans and the Brits started referring to it as ‘the Spanish flu.’
Fast forward 100 or so years and both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have also tried to play politics with Covid 19. And boy, have they messed up big-time.
Indeed, isn’t it beyond irony that the three guys who were charged with leading Britain’s fight against Covid 19 – the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer – all ended up with it? For the great unwashed in Manchester or Birmingham or wherever, that alone must raise huge questions about the efficacy of their government’s entire strategy in dealing with this crisis.
Unlike most of the rest of Europe, Britain opted to allow big events like race meetings at Cheltenham to go ahead, pubs and clubs to stay open, schools to continue as usual. In the wake of clear evidence that crowds congregating was a sure fire way of spreading Covid-19. What their thinking was has never really been really explained. So much for putting the economy at the top of the priority list.
Trump too adopted this approach, seemingly putting the interests of his buddies in big business and the corporate world way ahead of the health concerns of the people. He first described Covid 19 as a ‘hoax’ by the Democrats to thwart his re-election bid, and when later asked by a reporter if he bore any responsibility for that helpless and hapless initial response he snarlingly replied ‘I do not’.
He’s now saying, against despite massive evidence of widespread contagion throughout the States, he wants America back open for business by Easter Sunday. At a time like this when you would think there is need for unity, for people to work together, Trump is still tweeting about it being a Chinese plot, about traitors on the left of American politics trying to do him harm. A village missing an idiot comes to mind.
In Ireland it has to be said that both Leo Varadkar , the Taoiseach, and health minister Simon Harris are both deserving of respect. There is little sign of politics being played. You can see that Harris, in particular, is beyond tired; he looks like a man working around the clock. Kudos too to Michelle and Arlene who also seem to be on the same hymn sheet on this one which is a comfort to many people in the North.
Last week a former newspaper colleague made the observation that in the months and years to come we will be talking about those in our circle who didn’t make it through this crisis, that the legacy of this virus will affect – and effect – generations to come. He’s right.
Those twins, the ones I mentioned at the start of this, my father and my aunt, paid a huge price in the years that followed the death of my grandmother, in that my grandfather remarried, and the history of step-mothers and step children was played out in full during the course of their childhood. The legacy of their mother’s passing was to prove costly for them. Theirs was just one story.
How many in this generation will have their own stories to tell in the years ahead?