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Cholera and the Cure

The cholera epidemic remembered one hundred years after the event, as written by a schoolboy James Reynolds from Knockminna National School near Ballymote in Sligo from the Duchas school folklore collection in 1938.

Cholera in 1837
People were dying in hundreds and nearly all Ballisodare population was wiped out. Sligo hospital was packed and so many died that they had to dig large graves and bury numbers therein without coffins.

Large vats full of strong hot lime mixture were obtained. When people felt cholera coming, they went into one of these large vats and were cured.

Fever hospital sligo
Sligo Fever Hospital circa the 1900s – T. Kilgannon Collection

This story comes from the Duchas school collection from 1937-38 when school children were encouraged to talk to their families to collect stories of folklore, heritage and history relating to their locality. James is referring to the Cholera Epidemic of 1832 when an estimated 1,500 people died in Sligo town from the disease during the six-week outbreak. Many of the sick were sent to the Fever hospital in Sligo where they died and were buried in large trenches in the Cholera field behind the hospital.

Cholera Victims
Victims of cholera

James attended Knockminna National School in Knockmoynagh, Co. Sligo in 1938. He is describing the events as told to him by likely his grandparents and neighbours. Although he mentions the year 1837, the largest outbreak was in 1832, there were further smaller outbreaks in surrounding villages in the county in the 1830s and another outbreak in 1849 which killed about 100 people. It’s interesting to note the perceived folklore cure for cholera was to bath in a vat of lime. Local officials at the time recommended all cabins should be washed with lime inside and out, as it was thought to deter the spread of the disease.

Cholera 1837 duchas
James’s handwritten cholera story from 1938 – Duchas Collection

Transcribed by Melcoo, the young James’s nice handwriting made this an easy one to transcribe. If you have an interest in Irish folklore, you might be interested to know you can register on the Duchas website and transcribe other handwritten stories.

Book a group tour on the Sligo Dracula Walking Tour to hear more about this medical history event or come along on the Sligo Dark Tales walking tour, run weekly in Sligo to hear more tales.