There was silence, then the whisper of the mother:
“Look up to the windows, darling. There’s just a taste of daylight left.”
Gradually it grew dark and quiet in this vault of human misery. Then, far away from some remote chapel in the house, there floated the triumphant words of the practising choir:
What do emigration and low wages do to Irish health? Social conditions result in an extraordinary percentage of tuberculosis and lunacy, and in a baby shortage in Ireland. Individual propensities to sexual excess or common crime are, incidentally, responsible for little of the ill health in Ireland.
Ireland’s tuberculosis rate is higher than that of most of the countries in the “civilized” world. Through Sir William Thompson, registrar-general of Ireland, I was given much material about tuberculosis in Ireland. An international pre-war chart showed Ireland fourth on the tuberculosis list—it was exceeded only by Austria, Hungary, and Servia. During the war, Ireland’s tuberculosis mortality rate showed a tendency to increase; in 1913, her death list from tuberculosis was 9,387 and in 1917 it was 9,680.
Emigration is heat to the tuberculosis thermometer. Why? Sir Robert Matheson, ex-registrar-general of Ireland, explained at a meeting of the Woman’s National Health Association. The more fit, he said, emigrate, and the less fit stay home and propagate weak children. Besides, emigrants who contract the disease elsewhere come home to die. Many so return from the United States. Numbers of the 50,000 annual migrants from the west coast of Ireland to the English harvests return to nurse the tuberculosis they contracted across the channel. Dr. Birmingham, of the Westport Union, is quoted as saying that in September a disease known locally as the “English cold” is prevalent among the young men who have been harvesting in England. Sometimes it is simple bronchitis. Mostly it is incipent phthisis. It is easily traced to the wretched sleeping places called “Paddy houses” in which Irish laborers are permitted to be housed in England. These “Paddy houses” are often death traps—crowded, dark, unventilated barns in which the men have to sleep on coarse bags on the floor.
The Irish wage causes tuberculosis to mount higher. Dr. Andrew Trimble, chief tuberculosis officer for Belfast, comments on the fact that the sex affected proves that economic conditions are to blame. Under conditions of poverty, women become ill more quickly than men. Dr. Trimble writes: “In Belfast and in Ireland generally more females suffer from tuberculosis than males. In Great Britain, however, the reverse is the case.... In former years, however, they had much the same experience as we have in Ireland ... and it would be necessary to go back over twenty-five years to come to a point where the mortality from tuberculosis among women equalled that now obtaining with us. It would seem that the hardships associated with poor economic conditions—insufficient wages, bad housing and want of fresh air, good food and sufficient clothing—tell more heavily on the female than on the male, and with the march of progress and better conditions of living ... tuberculosis amongst women is automatically reduced."