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Tuesday, 6 January 2015


6/7 January 1839: The Night of the Big Wind/ Oiche na Gaoithe Mire. A storm of Hurricane Force swept across Ireland on this night. A Depression of unusual severity it caused much structural damage and considerable fright and distress, especially to those less well off inhabitants of this island whose dwellings were just plain thatched cabins of loose construction. However even more solidly built structures did not escape unscathed and in some ways were even more dangerous to those within as chimneys came crashing down upon at least some of the unfortunates inside. Overall though the numbers of deaths caused by this violent tempest were probably limited to between 300 and 1,000 souls out of a population of some 8,000,000 people. However there is no doubt that for a considerable proportion of the Irish population the events of this visitation remained in the popular imagination as a night never to be forgotten.



The sequence of events had begun the previous evening, Saturday 5th January 1839, when heavy snow fell throughout Ireland. The next morning, Sunday the 6th, it was completely calm and the sky was covered with motionless, dense cloud. As the morning progressed, the temperature rose well above the January average. While children played in the snow outdoors, mothers and fathers were inside their homes preparing for the festivities of Little Christmas - the feast of the Epiphany. It became unnaturally still. So calm that voices floated between farmhouses more than a mile apart. Something strange was happening, but no one knew exactly what.

Then the snow started to melt as the temperature rose to an unnatural degree for that time of year. However as the warm front which covered the country gradually moved eastwards, and rose in the atmosphere, it was replaced by a cold front which brought with it high winds and heavy rain. The rain commenced before noon in the west and spread very slowly eastwards. In Mayo, the late afternoon turned chilly while the east of the country still enjoyed the unseasonably high temperatures experienced in Mayo earlier that day. At dusk, wind speeds increased, conditions got colder and alternate showers of rain and hail began to fall. By nine o'clock at night the wind had reached gale force and continued to increase. By midnight it had reached hurricane force and remained at that level until five o'clock in the morning when it reduced again to gale force. During the hurricane the wind blew variously from the southwest, west and northwest. Gales continued until six o'clock on Monday evening. At nine o'clock on Monday morning air pressure was at 972.6 Millibars and the temperature was then 4.4. Degrees Celsius in Dublin.

In Dublin the Freeman’s Journal afterwards reported that:

The storm with which this city was visited on Sunday night was one of the most violent which has blown from the face of Heaven within the memory of the oldest inhabitants. At an early hour on Sunday evening the wind freshened to a degree that seemed to promise a rough night, and about half-past ten it rose into a high gale, which continued to increase in fury until shortly after midnight, when it blew a most fearful and destructive tempest. Not a soul dare venture into the streets; the lamps were, without almost any exception, extinguished; and amidst the roaring of the hurricane, which threatened to sweep every obstacle before it from the surface of the earth, the pealing of fire-bells -- the sounds of falling chimneys -- windows breaking, and slates and tiles flying through the streets, were fearfully audible; and sometimes the still more dreadful shrieks of the inmates of the tottering houses reached the ear, while the rocking walls and falling roofs threatened them momentarily with destruction.


In the streets, however, it was impossible to tell in what direction the storm was, for it came in sudden gusts, sweeping sometimes up, and sometimes down, the street, and occasionally two contrary blasts meeting and forming a whirlwind, which made the strongest houses tremble and rock to their foundations. At intervals dense clouds obscured the sky, and added to the horror of the scene by the gloomy darkness which they produced; but when they were driven by, the heavens did not appear less ominous, for the Aurora Borealis burned brightly a great portion of the night, mantling the hemisphere with sheets of red, and corresponding well with the lurid gleams which ascended to the zenith from the flames of burning houses that the tempest threatened to fan into a general conflagration.

After four o'clock the storm sensibly diminished, but continued to rage with considerable fury until daybreak, when it sank back into a steady and heavy gale from the S.W. that continued throughout the remainder of the day.
THE FREEMAN'S JOURNAL Dublin: Tuesday, January 8,1839

For decades afterwards the ‘Night of the Big Wind’ was used as a marker in the Irish People’s memories to recall events that happened before or after that date. Indeed as late as 1909 when Old age Pensions were introduced many claimed entitlement based on their ability to remember this most unusual and terrible Storm from the days of their youth.