Tag Archives: Night of the Big Wind

Big storms, then and now

Ireland was being battered by huge storms on Jan. 6, including winds of up to 100 miles per hour. It’s the latest in several rounds of rough weather across the country and Western Europe. Irish Central reports:

Islands off the Irish coast have been worst hit by the relentless pounding so far with a resident of Inishbofin of the Galway coast describing the weather as “the worst in living memory. … Thundery rain will lead to major flooding according to the national weather service, Met Eireann, which issued an orange storm warning. Towns and villages recovering from last week’s storms are now bracing themselves for another battering with high seas in excess of 40 feet expected on the south and west coasts.

By coincidence, the storm comes at the 175th anniversary of the “The Night of the Big Wind,” as detailed in this fine piece by Turtle Bunbury at The Wild Geese.

On 6th January 1839, the entire island of Ireland was subjected to a tempest of such ferocity that it became the date by which all other events were measured. The Night of the Big Wind – known as ‘Oiche na Gaoithe Moire’ – was the JFK assassination or the 9/11 of the 19th century. It was the most devastating storm ever recorded in Irish history and made more people homeless in a single night than all the sorry decades of eviction that followed it.

Untitled image from The Wild Geese.

Untitled image from The Wild Geese.

Here’s a link to a site that contains two screens of period news coverage about the storm, including a report from north Kerry that “that monument of Antiquity, Ballybunion Castle, is a heap of ruins.”

Kay Caball of My Kerry Ancestors notes the storm became an important demarcation when old age pensions were instituted in the early 20th century. She writes:

In 1909 the British government, which was still ruling Ireland, instituted a system of old age pensions. When dealing with the rural population of Ireland, where the written records might be scanty, the ferocious storm that blew in from the north Atlantic 70 years earlier proved to be useful. One of the questions asked of elderly people was if they could remember the “Big Wind.” If they could, they qualified for a pension.