Night of the Big Wind
The Night of the Big Wind (Irish: Oíche na Gaoithe Móire) was a powerful European windstorm which swept without warning across Ireland beginning in the afternoon of 6 January 1839, causing severe damage to property and several hundred deaths; 20% to 25% of houses in north Dublin were damaged or destroyed, and 42 ships were wrecked. The storm attained a very low barometric pressure of 918 hectopascals (27.1 inHg) and tracked eastwards to the north of Ireland, bringing winds gusts of over 100 knots (185 km/h, 115 mph) to the south before moving across the north of England and onto the European continent where it eventually died out. At the time, it was the most damaging Irish storm for 300 years.
The storm developed after a period of unusual weather. Heavy snow, rare in Ireland, fell across the country on the night of 5 January, which was replaced on the morning of 6 January by an Atlantic warm front, which brought a period of complete calm with dense, motionless, cloud cover. Through the day, temperatures rose well above their seasonal average, resulting in rapid melting of the snow.
Later on 6 January, a deep Atlantic depression began to move towards Ireland, forming a cold front when it collided with the warm air over land, bringing strong winds and heavy rain. First reports of stormy weather came from western County Mayo around noon, and the storm moved very slowly across the island through the day, gathering strength as it moved.
By midnight the winds reached hurricane force. Contemporary accounts of damage indicate that the Night of the Big Wind was the most severe storm to affect Ireland for many centuries. It is estimated that between 250 and 300 people lost their lives in the storm. Severe property damage was caused, particularly in Connacht, but also in Ulster and northern Leinster. Between a fifth and a quarter of all houses in Dublin suffered damage ranging from broken windows to complete destruction. Much of the inland damage was caused by a storm surge that drew large quantities of sea water inland, resulting in widespread flooding.
Even well-built buildings suffered structural damage, including new factories and military barracks. The newly constructed St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Derrytrasna was completely destroyed; one of the steeples of the Church of Ireland church in Castlebar was blown down, and a number of large country houses were unroofed. Among the poorly built homes of the poor, damage was more severe and many were completely destroyed. A total of 42 ships, most along the less sheltered west coast, were wrecked while unsuccessfully trying to ride out the storm: a majority of the recorded casualties occurred at sea.
The Night of the Big Wind became part of Irish folk tradition. Irish folklore held that Judgement Day would occur on the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January. Such a severe storm led many to believe that the end of the world was at hand.
When the British state pension system was introduced in 1909, one of the questions asked of those applicants in Ireland who lacked documentation was whether they could remember the storm of 1839.
A popular story holds that the storm inspired the Director of Armagh Observatory, the Reverend Romney Robinson, to develop the cup-anemometer, which remains the commonly used wind measuring device as of 2013[update].
The novel The Big Wind by Beatrice Coogan uses the events of January 1839 as a historical backdrop.
The Irish language poet Seán Ó Ríordáin wrote a two-verse poem, "Oíche Nollaig na mBan" which in its first verse, details a storm that occurred on 6 January (the titular Oiche Nollaig na mBan or Women's Christmas Night, i.e. Epiphany). The second verse recounts the poet's desire that his eventual death should coincide with a similar storm. This poem has been a set-work, required for study by students of the higher level Irish Leaving Certificate in Irish Language and Literature.
- Forsythe, W.; C. Breen; C. Callaghan; R. McConkey (2000). "Historic storms and shipwrecks in Ireland: a preliminary survey of severe synoptic conditions as a causal factor in underwater archaeology". International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 29 (2): 247–259. doi:10.1111/j.1095-9270.2000.tb01455.x.[dead link]
- Sweeney, J. (2000). "A three-century storm climatology for Dublin 1715–2000". Irish Geography 33 (1): 1–14. doi:10.1080/00750770009478595.
- Shields, L.; D. Fitzgerald (2000). "The ‘Night of the Big Wind’in Ireland, 6–7 January 1839". Irish Geography 22 (1): 31–43. doi:10.1080/00750778909478784.
- phpBB + phpBB Search Engine Indexer. "Oiche Nollaig na mBan". Bigreaders.myfastforum.org. Retrieved 2012-05-01.
- Full-text PDF of Lisa Shields and Denis Fitzgerald (1989). "The ‘Night of the Big Wind’ in Ireland, 6–7 January 1839". Irish Geography 22 (1): 31–43. NB: the year of publication given in reference 3 above is incorrect.
- Irish Meteorological Office on wind in Ireland
- Irish Culture and Customs: The Big Wind