Peter Carr: The Big Wind

Peter Carr: The Big Wind

175 years ago tonight a storm blew over Ireland, much like the weather we are experiencing at the moment. The night of the ‘Big Wind’ has been documented by Peter Carr in his book published by White Row Press, Dundonald, in 1993. In August 2011 Peter gave a talk on the subject at the William Carleton summer school in Clogher.

Peter Carr at William Carleton summer school 2011 Photo: © Michael Fisher

Peter Carr at William Carleton summer school 2011 Photo: © Michael Fisher

This is a description of the night of January 6th 1839 in County Monaghan, taken from two local newspapers, the Northern Standard and the Anglo-Celt. These sources were used in a compilation by Jonathan A. Smyth for the website


On the night of Sunday last the storm which ravaged the kingdom, was felt severely in the town of Monaghan. About half past eleven o’clock the gale which had been gradually increasing for some time swelled into a most terrific hurricane and about 3am on Monday morning, the power of air rushing from the south-west bore everything before it with resist-less force. The slates and roofing of several houses were born upon the raging element as if they were leaves upon the breeze, and the cowering and terrified inhabitants looked upon the devastation [sic] with arms palsied with fear, and in trembling awe looked to the Almighty dispenser of all things, for an abatement of the fury of the winds of heaven. To add to the horror of the scene, a fire burst forth from the chimney of Mr John Murray’s, Church-square, and the sparks and flame were dashed upon the roofs of several thatched houses which occupy one side of the Diamond. For upwards of one hour the flue, which, we believe, had not been swept for a length of time, threw forth masses of fire which were hurled by the tempest to a great distance and occasioned much additional alarm, but thank God no more evil result followed. The fire burnt itself out, and the roofs of the houses on which the sparks had fallen were so saturated with wet from the rain and snow which had fallen on the previous days that they were immediately extinguished. However, several dwellings present to the view a frightful wreck; many chimnies were injured and we regret to say that three of the small spires which ornamented our beautiful church, were thrown from their bases and broken to pieces. The amount of damage done in the neighbourhood is enormous. The farm yards are a melancholy spectacle; hay, straw, oats, wheat and barley have been in almost every instance heaped together in a dreadful confusion; turf-ricks have been tosseed [sic] to a distance scarcely credible, and much of the fine old timber which graced the domains of the nobility and gentry of our neighbourhood, had been torn up by the roots. The beautiful plantation in the demesne of Mrs Leslie, of Glasslough, has been suffered to a great extent, and the residence of Edward Lucas, Esq., of Castleshane, M.P., has severely felt the force of the storm. The memory of the oldest inhabitants of this country cannot furnish us an instance of such devastation in so limited a period — and not to storm alone are many of the injuries to be attributed — fire has, in sundry places, lent its aid to the terrible destruction. In Glasslough, a small town within five miles of Monaghan, eight houses were burned to the ground, and their inhabitants driven houseless into the streets; but it affords no pleasure, amidst the recital of so much calamity, to be able to state that no human being was deprived of life. In Killalea, between Glasslough and Armagh, great havoc has been commited [sic] by the combined elements of destruction. The town of Clones, from its elevated position, felt the full force of the tempest; and Ballybay, Castleblayney, and Carrickmacross have had many houses rendered untenantable (sic.). Several carts, laden with pork, etc. coming from the direction of Clones to our market, on Monday were compelled to return, in consequence of the numerous impediments on the roads, caused by fallen trees.–Several families in Middleton have been deprived of the shelter of a roof, and are at present trespassing on the kindness of their neighbours for a home and a screen from the inclemency of the weather which still continues very severe. Aughnacloy, a small town in the county Tyrone, and ten miles from Monaghan presents a melancholy picture of destruction–several houses were unroofed, and some totally in ruins. Within about two miles of the last mentioned place a poor man was killed while endeavouring to rescue his family from the ruins of his once comfortable dwelling. A woman was killed in the neighbourhood of Glentubret (Clontibret?), but the particulars of the case have not yet reached us. The Belfast and Enniskillen Mail which should have arrived here at one o’clock on Monday morning, did not reach until 10am. This vehicle was upset at Shantly, near this town, and Patrick Mar, the driver’s thigh received a compound fracture, under which the poor man has been since suffering. The Dublin and Derry Mail did not arrive here until 7 o’clock, three hours after its appointed time–indeed few, if any, of the coaches have been able to reach their destination at the appointed time, in consequence of the severity of the weather. Every hour brings tidings of fresh disasters; and the accounts from the sea coasts which we copy from our contemporaries are truly frightful.Extracts are printed courtesy of The Anglo-Celt and The Northern Standard.

For more background on the night of the storm, see the feature “Oídhche na gaoithe moiré” or “The night of the big wind” in The Meteo Times (TMT).

“When the nation woke up to a snowy winter wonderland on the morning of the 6th January 1839, little did they know that dawning upon them was a day that would bring forth one the most exceptional and violent storms ever to hit Ireland, writes TMT’s Patrick Gordon.
“Poor people ended up on the roads ‘the vault of heaven their only roof’Peter Carr
Peter Carr aptly describes it in his book ‘The Big Wind’ – The Story of the Legendary Big Wind of 1839, Ireland’s Greatest Natural Disaster’:-
 “The tranquility of the morning seemed almost unearthly”.  This ethereal calm continued into the afternoon.   As one observer noted “There was something awful in the dark stillness of that winter day, for there was no sunlight coming through the thick, motionless clouds that hung over the earth”.
A notable temperature rise was observed over the length and breadth of the country as a warm front moved across the country during the afternoon ‘by as much as 10F at Phoenix Park’ (Carr, 1991)…..
Equally harrowing reports of that terrible night can be found from across the length and breadth of Ireland as shown from a contemporary account in the Tuam Herald:
  • Armagh: Many houses stripped of their roofs
  • Athlone: Storm continued with unabated fury from 11pm ‘til 3.30am.  One of the hardest hit areas with much loss of life
  • Ballinasloe: Much devastation, with great woods felled.
  • Ballyshannon: Great destruction of property and livelihoods.
  • Belfast: A violent westerly bring death and destruction.
  • Birr: One boy and three females killed
  • Carlow: Serious injury reported but escaped the worst of the winds
  • Carrickfergus:  Tree in graveyard uprooted forcing many of the dead to the surface.
  • Carrick-on-Shannon: The produce of the harvest lies scattered over the whole countryside.
  • Castlebar: Widespread damage with few houses left unscathed.
  • Coonagh: 3 killed in storm
  • Derry: Visited by a storm of extraordinary violence
  • Co.Down. Much damage but escapes relatively well.
  • Drogheda: Never within the memory of man has this town and neighbourhood been visited with such an awful storm.
  • Dublin: The metropolis was, on Sunday night, visited by a hurricane such as the oldest inhabitants cannot remember.  Two known deaths as a result.
  • Ennis: Scene of terrible calamity.
  • Galway: At least 7 dead.  Men, women and children screaming, crying with raw terror.
  • Gort: Total devastation. One of the worst hit areas
  • Kilkenny: Many houses burned down during the storm.
  • Killarny: Hurricane raged with terrible fury
  • Kinsale: Destruction is not so terrible, as far as we can learn
  • Co Laois: The destruction of trees is prodigious.
  • Limerick: Badly hit. Lightning and wind made for an awesome sight.
  • Longford: Barely a house left standing
  • Loughrea: Devastated.
  • Mullingar: Suffered severely-to the utter ruin of its inhabitants.
  • Roscommon: These immense plains have been swept through by a fury.
  • Sligo: To give a full description of the devastation would be morally impossible.
  • Tralee: Hurricane reaps disaster.
  • Waterford: Visited by the most terrific storm ever remembered   (from Patrick Gordon’s article).

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