From the Pox to Polio in Ireland & Beyond
Don’t Count Your Children ’til they’ve had the Pox & Did Jenner Really Save Us?
The Rise & Demise of the Speckled Monster
As we go back into the recesses of time, we begin to get a sense of the magnitude of Smallpox’s more specific impact upon our fledgeling nations. As the great contagion swept across our developing nations, reaching its full height of destruction within the 1600s and wreaking havoc throughout much of the 1700s (18th Century), unfortunately, this type of immunity – via exposure to the real thing, was very often a hard-earned protection, at least in the earlier days as it rose to more deadly prominence.
Not just because so many died in massive numbers from having the Pox, but, if you did survive, you typically bore the distinctive scarring from this attack in being left pock-marked for life (hence its name: the Speckled Monster) and a good chance that you would end up blind as well. Most of our statistics come from the 18th Century (the 1700s) regarding the impact of Smallpox – the period highlighted below.
The Speckled Monster
The symptoms of smallpox, or the “speckled monster” as it was known in 18th-century England, appeared suddenly and the sequelae were devastating. The case-fatality rate varied from 20% to 60% and left most survivors with disfiguring scars… …In the 18th century in Europe, 400,000 people died annually of smallpox, and one third of the survivors went blind.
Riedel, S., (2005, Variolation and Early Attempts of Treatment)
In Ireland, towards the latter part of the 1600s, we find a particularly famous case of Smallpox as exemplified by the well-loved and renowned blind harpist -Turlough O’ Carolan whose music is still played worldwide by traditional Irish musicians to this day.
Plucking the Strings of Genius
A national composer with an international stature, the ‘blind harper’ Turlough O’Carolan …was born in Nobber, Co Meath, in 1670 … Blinded by smallpox at the age of 14, he looked to his art and travelled the island of Ireland on horseback, his harp slung over his shoulder.
Battersby, E., (2006)