MS and Irish History

This week Declan Groeger juxtaposes two very different topics, MS and Irish history, to give a unique perspective. It is who walks alongside us that can transform loss to victory. 

People with Multiple Sclerosis are in a class all of our own. We live with something inside us, in our cells that goes off track. We don’t know where it came from and we also know that it is never going to leave. It may lie dormant for a long period of time only to reactivate itself on a whim. It may strike once and never come back to strike again or it may travel quickly or slowly and vanquish its host. With that description of MS in your mind’s eye, I’m going to look at well-known episodes of Irish history and compare them to the history written in our bodies.  


An early comparison would be the time of Oliver Cromwell visiting. Just like an MS relapse, he didn’t announce his coming and did not give a departure date. He hung around, stayed for four years (1649 -1653) inflicting serious and long lasting damage. Specifically, he inflicted significant damage in Drogheda and Wexford. This is not unlike an MS relapse when specific areas of the body fall foul to this insidious disease. There is no memo on whether the changes are going to be permanent or temporary. If Ireland were to undergo an MRI scan today, the lesions from Cromwell’s time would still be visible. 

My next comparison relapse involves invaders. The Black and Tans, officially the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve, were members of a temporary force created to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary during the Irish War of Independence (from 1919 to 1922). During its existence, the Blacks and Tans besieged the large town of Tralee and burned other towns and cities across the country (Trim, Tuam, Thurles and Cork to name just a few). They were an undisciplined group, leading to arbitrary reprisals against the civilian population. The mortality rate was nowhere near as high as during Cromwell’s time but the residue is ingrained deeply in the Irish psyche and will forever be recalled to mind (like the lesions on an MRI scan). Ireland’s next ‘relapse’ was totally self-inflicted. I refer of course to the Irish Civil War (June 1922 - May 1923). Atrocities were committed by both sides and yet again the lesions/scars are testimony to an insidious and unpredictable force that turned families against one another.

When my MS is stable I am grateful but I am also wary and apprehensive; waiting for the time that I know, with absolute certainty, will come. I do not let fear of this event control my life, I live life to the fullest possible. Maybe the ‘what might be’ will be years away, or maybe not. I live in the moment, happy to be as good as I am. 

But how can I collate MS and Ireland? Cast your mind back to the Celtic Tiger years for an answer. The tiger crept in and pranced about swishing its tail; allegedly ‘all’ people in Ireland got to snuggle up real close and make loads of money. Things just got better and BETTER and in MS terminology, the symptoms just faded away into oblivion until the good times just ‘stopped’ (it was predicted by Morgan Kelly from UCD but people in the middle of it never wanted the love-in to stop). In MS terminology, a relapse just started. It was a bad one, the worst ever. The only way forward, if there was a way, was to take stock of the situation, look at what we could do to return to balance and taste the bitter-tasting pill of what might have been (a health care system fit for purpose, children safe from poverty, sufficient social housing).  

MS management is tough. As with all of our lives, there are no guarantees. But we are sovereign over our choices. We learn from people in history who have dealt with adversity. There are ways to adjust to a new reality, discovering new ways, different options and doing things differently. When we have a relapse, we are forgiven for thinking that the death knell has sounded. But we are resilient and like those Irish men and Irish women of Easter 1916 who imagined a new reality, we enjoy our good days when they arrive and work to have many more. 

This life is a long road, with many twists and turns. We know that the same fate awaits us as the people of 1916. But for me, now, my joy is travelling my road together with my comrades in arms.