Cholera hysteria from Croghan to Boyle

16th June 1832
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In February 1832, a devastating outbreak of Asiatic Cholera (which had left millions dead across the trade route to England) finally reached Ireland. This was a disease that had fatal consequences in a matter of a few hours. There were reports of people driven mad with fear of the disease. Thus began the mass hysteria that lead to the "Day of the Straws"...

Roscommon & Leitrim Gazette - Saturday 16 June 1832 (page 3)

WILL O’ THE WISP—THE BLESSED STRAWS.

On Tuesday morning last, about two o'clock, the inhabitants of this town [Boyle] were thrown into the greatest slate of alarm and confusion by the entry of some Missionaries who circulated a report that Cholera had made its appearance in Croghan, about foot miles distant, and that no fewer than nineteen individuals fell victims to the ravages of that dreadful disease in the course of a few hours. The Missionaries presented the first persons they met with four straws which, they said, they obtained from the Priests, and as they were blessed by them, they were the only remedy against that disease!—The following directions were then given with the blessed wisp. First, the person was to put one of the four straws behind the lire and say three patres, three aves and four creeds ; secondly, they were pull four straws off their own house; and thirdly, they were give the three first straws to three different people and despatch them in three contrary directions and to deliver them, with the same injunctions, to the first persons they should

– In this manner the town was in one common heap of superstitious confusion in less than one-half an hour: ladders were to be seen in diffeient streets and the deluded people breathlessly struggling to obtain a blessed wisp at the risk of their lives; in several instances the people were seen devouring the actual thatch of the houses with ferociusness bordering on the brute creation. time and space would permit we could enumerate list superstitious doings that would not be equalled by the most uncivilized nation on the earth. Similar proceedings took place in all the surrounding country and where the march of the wisp will cease, from what source it originated remains as, yet, secret.

 

CHOLERA — THE SABBATH IN BOYLE

A private letter from Cork states, that, generally speaking, the persons attacked there by cholera are those in the habit of drinking to excess. If this be the case, and have no reason to doubt it, the people of Boyle may calculate on the approach of cholera. There is not we believe, a town in Ireland, of the same size, in which more whiskey is drank on Sunday! or a town in which the Sabbath is less respected !!! Our streets, last Sabbath evening, presented a scene of drunkenness and riot, which, if witnessed by a stranger, would naturally lead him to suppose that the Sabbath was set apart in Boyle for the purpose of acting in defiance of the laws of God and man. We have frequently alluded to this violation without effect : and now beg to direct the attention of the Magistrates to this circumstance, in the hope that some steps may be taken to check so great an evil.

 

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For more information on the "Day of the Straws" across Ireland, see:   http://www.askaboutireland.ie/reading-room/history-heritage/heritage-towns/the-heritage-towns-of-don/ardara/the-day-of-the-straws-183/

For more on the Asiatic Cholera empidemic in Ireland, see http://www.limerickcity.ie/media/cah04.pdf

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