The Night of the Big Wind

Sunday, 6 January, 1839
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We dare not call this hurricane a phenomenon, however rare or unprecedented. But it will, nevertheless, become a study to our meteorologists - Dublin Evening Post, 1839  

Dark Clouds over Moll's Gap, Kerry

A strange stillness settles over Ireland

January 5th 1839 started with heavy snow all over the country and during the course of the day as the snow melted, it is said that a strange stillness settled over the land. A warm front, formed in the north Atlantic begin to replace the cold and snow with rain and wind as it moved eastward. The Dublin Evening Post reported on the event:

Comparing it with all similar visitations in these latitudes, of which there exists any record, we would say that, for (the violence of the hurricane, and deplorable effects which followed, as well as for its extensive sweep, embracing as it did the whole island in its destructive career), it remains not only without a parallel, but leaves faraway in the distance all that ever occurred in Ireland before. With the exception of the frightful disasters amongst the shipping at Liverpool, Manchester and the surrounding towns, in the interior of Wales, Cheshire and Lancashire, the sister island appears to have escaped with comparative good fortune ... Ireland has been the chief victim of the hurricane —every part of Ireland - every field, every town, every village in Ireland have felt its dire effects, from Galway to Dublin — from the Giant's Causeway to Valencia.

It has been, we repeat, the most awful calamity with which a people were afflicted. As far as Ireland is concerned, loss of life seems to have been surprisingly low — there must have been very many narrow escapes. It is hard to arrive at firm figures for deaths during and after the storm. Some attempt was made at the time to estimate casualties. We have seen the loss of life put down at 400. This, we should suppose, includes those who perished at sea on the coast of Great Britain and Ireland. For in this Island, it will be found, we hope, that not more than forty or fifty have fallen victims in that terrible night. (Dublin Evening Post 12 January 1839).


Lighthouse in a storm By Theodor Kittelsen (1857 – 1914) via wikimedia commons


Praying for the Wind to Cease

Many farmers were badly hit and their crops were destroyed alongside damage to livestock. Houses and out-buildings suffered damage too when roof tiles and windows were broken or ripped apart. In Co. Galway uprooted trees rolled along the road. The River Shannon burst its banks and little could be heard over the din of the high winds. Neighbours crawled on their hands and knees to find safety, and in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, the wind was so strong that 'it knocked the roof off the corpse-house'. Many thought that the strong winds heralded the end of the world, foretold in superstition to happen on Oíche Nollaig na mBan which was also known as ‘Women’s Christmas’ – the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th January.

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