In the mid-1940s around 1,000 children died in Ireland each year from diseases such as whooping cough, measles, diphtheria, polio, and tuberculosis. With the success of public immunisation programmes introduced in the 1950s, deaths from these diseases dropped to zero. It is now hard to appreciate the severe impact that such diseases had on communities in the first half of the 20th century. A contributing factor to the recent return of certain infectious diseases is the fact that community memory of those diseases is fading.
In 2019, ‘Catching Stories’ was launched in University College Cork, to explore how cultural heritage methods might bring these memories to the fore within a broader public health context. The project has collected memories of a range of diseases, from Spanish ‘Flu to COVID-19, from 20th and 21st century Ireland. It brings them together with biomedical commentary in an online resource, www.catchingstories.org, to explore how the experience of these diseases and related public health measures have affected Irish society. Elements of the project are brought into the community through outreach and site-specific events, and through an exhibition in UCC’s Boole Library (February-June, 2023), and the oral testimony is archived with the Cork Folklore Project. This presentation explores the process of creating the resource and lessons learned through the collaboration between cultural heritage and STEM colleagues, and through the process of giving people’s voices, memories and emotions a platform as we attend to past experiences.