The whooping-cough cure from the gasworks 

U 6.121-2: Gasworks. Whooping cough they say it cures. Good job Milly never got it.

“Whooping cough they say it cures.” So went Leopold Bloom’s stream of consciousness as the carriages of Dignam’s funeral were stopped near the Great Brunswick Street gasworks. Commentators have so far acknowledged the hearsay truth of this medical advice, but have failed to produce contemporary documentary evidence for it. A cursory search reveals that people did actually believe that fumes from gas works cured whooping cough.

These exhalations, much complained of by persons who reside in the neighbourhood of gas-works, have of late been highly extolled in the daily periodicals and have become a popular remedy for whooping-cough.

Journal of Practical Medicine and Surgery (1864), vol. 35, p. 367


As whooping-cough is evidently a zymotic disease, the rationale of an old popular mode of treatment in the chronic stage can be understood, viz., that of causing the patient to inhale the fumes given out by the purifiers in a gaswork.

Stirling Natural and Archaeological Society 1882-3 (1883), p. 25

Chris Allen Dublin Gasworks (1985: Wikipedia)

     Anne Hailes, writing about old sayings and traditions in the Irish Times, tells of her own experience as a suffering from whooping cough: 

[…] when they were little, my mother and her sister were taken to the gas works and dangled over the fumes from the burning coke.

“Old sayings and traditions for the new year”, Irish Times, 2nd January, 2023


Another excellent source of supposed cures for various illnesses is the Schools’ Manuscript Collection. In 1937, pupils of Irish national (primary) schools were asked to collect folklore from older people in their localities. These original manuscripts are now archived in the National Folklore Collection.

     This example came from Kildraught National School, Celbridge, Co. Kildare, under the heading “Whooping Cough”:

Keep the child near a gas works. (Miss Hamilton, Celbridge heard from mother.)

     Discussion of this type of cure came to the fore in Britain in the 1860s, though it had been noted in both in Britain and in Continental Europe decades earlier. But the evidence shows that it was still an item of popular medical lore even in Joyce’s day.


Eamonn Finn