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The Night of the Big Wind.

 

Oíche na Gaoithe Móire

 

Sunday, January 6-7, 1839

On Sunday January 6, 1839 the people of Ireland were going about their business as usual Parts of the country had just received a light covering of snow. At about three o'clock in the afternoon an unnatural stillness fell upon the land, voices could be heard from up to a mile distant.

What was to follow was to give the people the most terrifying experience of their lives, the violence and devastation that was visited on the island had not been experienced, at least not in recorded times nor thankfully since. The storm decimated Ulster, the west and midlands regions worst. Houses were demolished, corn and hay stacks, essential for the survival of the livestock were blown away and scattered across the country, many livestock were killed in the fields, windmills to grind corn were demolished or severely damaged. The exact death toll is not known it is estimated between 250 and 300, although many were seriously injured some losing limbs.

In the early hours of Monday, January 7th, the storm was at its worst it was caused (we know now) by a deep depression which lay over the northern Hebrides, and the very strong westerly winds that it generated over Ireland caused the problems, the fact that the height of the storm was confined to the hours of darkness made it all the more frightening.

At the height of the storm people thought it was the day of judgment, it is unlikely that anyone slept, people emerged the next morning to a scene of utter devastation, It is at times like this that the best in people manifested itself and it certainly was the case then. People who had food and shelter shared it with those who hadn't, schools were opened for shelter and soup kitchens established

In January 1839 the price of food was already high, the storm destroyed a considerable amount of stored food sending the price even higher. It was feared that famine would ensue particularly in the west. The outbreak of typhus and cholera was also widely feared. It is said that more people were made homeless during the night of the big wind than were evicted during the years 1850-80, at least after the wind the homeless had the opportunity to rebuild.

The storm was not just confined to Ireland the west coast of England particularly Liverpool and Manchester and the midlands of England were severely damaged as were parts of Scotland, the storm eventually expended its self over Denmark and the Baltic.

It was the big wind that is credited or perhaps blamed for blowing the fairies out of Ireland, there is no doubt that to have witnessed the storm must have been a frightening and humbling experience.

The following spring the countryside produced mixed crops from the various seeds scattered by the wind.

Ireland had been visited by winds of exceptional ferocity on previous occasions, the annals record that on 17th March 803 more than 1,000 people were killed in storms in the west of Ireland. And again on 11th November 892 freak winds destroy forests, churches and houses.