Wednesday, 27 April 2011

W is for the Night of the Big Wind

In Irish, it's called "Oídhche na Gaoithe Móire." The Night of the Big Wind took place at Epiphany in 1839. My great-great-grandparents had been married less than a year and I believe they were living at Shantullig North in West Cork at this time. Epiphany is the feast of the three kings bringing gifts to the Baby Jesus. But in Ireland in 1839, Epiphany was about loss.

From the reports I have read, the severity of this particular storm was due to the convergence of different weather systems. First, the country experience heavy snowfall on January 5th. The next morning, on the Feast of the Epiphany, an Atlantic warm front came in. Temperatures rose and dense cloud covered the nation. The snow of the previous day began to melt. Later that day, an Atlantic depression brought a cold front. When it hit the warm air, severe rain and wind were the result. The winds were hurricane force. Imagine what the countryside looked like after such a storm, with its flooding and wind. Many were left homeless. Roofs were blown off, chimneys collapsed, fires broke out. Up to 300 souls were lost. Many animals died and crops set aside for the winter were scattered and destroyed. The impact on tenant farmer with a subsistence living must have been tremendous.

The Night of the Big Wind was such a momentous event in Irish history, that when the British established a state pension in 1909 and many Irish could not prove their age, for lack of birth or baptismal registration, people were asked if they remembered the Night of the Big Wind. If they did, they were old enough for the pension.

My family remembered the Night of the Big Wind. Stories about it were passed down through the generations. Here's how my dad tells the story of the Night of the Big Wind:
Blowing snow buried houses and people and cattle froze in the drifts. People had to dig their way out from upstairs windows or through the thatched roofs to get out.  I remember my father tell the story of a traveler on horseback lost in the storm, who rode his horse across the Clais na-Broine, that is the high field, westward to the field of the house. The wind having piled the snow level across the trench and then froze over so that the rider never realized what he had done when he came knocking at Granda's door.
I would point out that in West Cork is as far south as you can get in Ireland. The Gulf Stream comes right up along that coast, keeping the weather quite mild year round. It is so mild, in fact, that in West Cork, you will see many gardens with small palm trees. At Shantullig North, they don't get snow every winter, and they never get much at one time. The Night of the Big Wind was certainly an exception.

To learn more about the Night of the Big Wind, you can read more on the following sites:


  1. wow. so glad I wasnt there. I wouldve been scared out of my head.

  2. Apparently, for my great-great-grandad the biggest fright was realizing the traveller had pretty much ridden right over a cliff to come to his door!