Recording TB: the Early Diaries of Seán Ó Ríordáin 1940–50

Pádraig Ó Liatháin and Ciara Breathnach


This article analyses examples of how Seán Ó Ríordáin contends with tuberculosis in his early diaries from 1940–50. Diary 1 begins on 1 January 1940, and Diary 8 ends on 8 March 1950. The diaries give the reader an insight into Ó Ríordáin’s experiences as a young man, and they provide a unique and vivid portrayal of the daily experience of an invalid, the experience of a patient suffering from respiratory disease.

What is remarkable and unusual about Ó Ríordáin is that he regularly discusses, on an almost daily basis, his health, and the attending constant struggle. He recounts intensely personal matters such as body weight, bouts of ill-health, his stays in the sanatorium, unsuccessful attempts at relationships, the stigma of tuberculosis in the community, etc. These narratives are of particular value, and the diaries contain much more than merely concise accounts of his illness; they are lengthy, meticulous, and personal. Often self-excoriating and unforgiving of himself, he at times despairs as he recounts the everyday happenings of a life lived through illness. He discusses the appearance of his saliva and phlegm, his coughing and high fevers, and he often fears that death is at his door. This research is therefore of particular value in the context of the history of medicine in Ireland and within the interdisciplinary field of Medical Humanities more generally.

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ISSN: 2009-8626