Collective trauma and long term health impacts

Collective trauma and long term health impacts

On my other blog I have written about The Glamour of the West, an obscure book from 1928. One passage in this collection of episodic sketches deals with something I have have wondered about myself – the ultra long terms effects of collective trauma on the psyche. Of course, much tendentious stuff along these lines has been written, but I wonder about serious study of the topic:

Here’s the passage from Kelleher:

In the year 1928, when this book is being put together, there are many thousands of living Irish people whose parents were born in or about the Famine times. No wonder, here and there, if a melancholia should appear in the Irish. A generation born around the famine year could not escape the famine complex. In the west especially, life turned black with the black blighted potato. Social historians discuss the incidence of hysteria, and worse, due to the Zeppelin nights in London. The long duresse of the famine of 1847 was deeper shock to the whole population than any number of night-raids. Death might ensue from a bomb, but despair and death both were surer in Ireland. In Mayo the tragedy was at its height. At Westport workhouse, built to hold one thousand inmates, three thousand clamoured for entrance sometimes in a single day. Yet the pride of the Irish poor if well known; they will only enter the poorhouse when ruined and hopeless. The gate of the workhouse would be closed and barred early. Then the desperate, weak, lonely, agonised outcasts would throw themselves down to rest and snatch a sleep at the foot of the wall on the opposite side of the road. As many as seven corpses were found one morning like that, dead where they lay.

Here it is in the original (blurry photo and all) :

20170605_100051

Tory island doctoring

A while back I featured Elizabeth Shane’s poem  “The Doctor” with its heroic depiction of a doctor bravely taking to the waves to bring succor to a Tory Islander. From Jim Hunter’s “The Waves Of Tory / Tonnta Thoraí“, a rather less flattering portrayal:

 

“For long period in Tory’s history there was not even a nurse on the island. In an emergency a boat would have to go to mainland to fetch a doctor. Many doctors refused to venture across the seas to Tory and often quoted an exaggerated fee to make their services prohibitive to the island community. One doctor demanded a a fee of £2 in advance before travelling to Tory; after he had performed his duties the islanders refused to take him back until he had paid £5 for the return boat trip. More frequently doctors required sick persons to travel to the mainland for attention. Such trips, often in raging seas, did little to improve the condition of patients.”

Hunter describes a more positive experience of nursing:

“Island nurses were held in greater esteem by the islanders. A whole series of Public Health nurses such as Nurse McVeagh, Nurse Savage and Nurse Rodgers are remembered with great affection. Nurse McVeagh, who served on the island from 1936 to 1953, seems to have placed more emphasis on local cures and remedies than on orthodox medication. She would arrive for the delivery of a child with a black bag in which she carried a pair of shoes and a pair of rubber gloves; the gloves were placed aside, but the shoes were thrown under the bed for luck.”

Hunter later informs us (the book was published in 2006):

“A helicopter service now brings a doctor from Falcarragh at regular intervals to check on the health of the islanders. The helicopter service can also be called in an emergency to bring a doctor to the island or transport a sick person to hospital. The islanders are conscious of their dependence on the good medical services provied by the Letterkenny Hospital, and they have been most generous in raising funds for the purchase of medical equipment. It is not unknown for cheques amounting to £10,000 to be handed over the medical authorities by the Tory community.”

“The Doctor” – Elizabeth Shane

Elizabeth Shane (1877-1951) was a Belfast-born poet who lived most of her life in Donegal. “Tales of the Donegal Coast and Islands” is a volume of poetry initially published in 1921, though this edition is a 1927 reprint.

20160328_110637

Shane contributes a foreword:

These little tales of the west coast and islands of Donegal were begun without any idea of publication. They were simply written for my own and my ‘Mate’s’ pleasure, record of happy days in the place we love best, and of the simple everyday doings of a warm-hearted people among whom we count many friends.
Dialect in verse is apt to become burdensome; I have therefore not attempted to do more than suggest the speech of the district by occasional spelling, and by a characteristic turn of the sentences. The brogue is somewhat elusive, and much slighter than that which one hears further south.

I am inclined to wish Shane took her own strictures about dialect in verse being “apt to become burdensome” a little more to heart. Orwell wrote that Kipling’s verse is much improved by being read without the various dropped aitches and “an'”s and “th'”s that characterise him.

It would be curious to know how much the island doctor has changed – aside from being brought in by helicopter of course.

 

The Doctor

 

The doctor’s called to Tory now

An’ his boat is at the pier.

Och! his is not an aisy job

At any time o’year

For he’d need be half a sailor-man

That would be doctor here.

 

There’s many a day he’ll be to start

An’ face a winter gale,

An’ himself would make no fuss at all,

But tell the boys to sail;

Wi’ the thought o’ one in pain beyond,

He’s not the man to fail.

 

There’s Neal down workin’ at the boat,

And the rest is with him too,

‘Tis the four o’ them do always go

To make the doctor’s crew;

For ’tis Tory is long miles away,

An’ no less o’ them would do.

 

‘Have ye tackle there?’ the doctor sez,

‘For the mackerel’s in,’ sez he:

‘We can trawl a bit as we go for luck.

Sure, we might get two or three’

But sez Neal, ‘The speed’ll be rayther much

Wi’ this wind in the open sea.’

 

Sez the doctor, ‘Tis a soldier’s wind,

We’ll be home ere night,’ he cried,

So they’re slippin’ from the harbour now

Down channel wi’ the tide,

An’ the swell is aisy on the bar

Though the wind is fresh outside.

 

‘Tis lonesome out on the wide, grey sea,

An’ the boat she does be small,

Yet where sickness is, be it calm or storm,

They will answer to the call.

Och! there’s brave things done an’ little said

On the shores o’ Donegal.

Here is a rather badly taken image of the poem as originally set:

20160328_110714.jpg