Roscrea and the Big Wind
On the morning of January 6th 1839 Roscrea woke up to the first fall of snow of that winter, children were out playing in it and parents were looking on. Little did they realize that within 24 hours they would have lived through a nightmare which devastated the country and left more people homeless in Ireland than all the evictions during the famine. This was an event whose stories were carried by many generations after. This was the most devastating storm ever recorded in Irish history. Nollaig na mban or little Christmas was one of the biggest days of the year at that time, nearly as big as Christmas itself. Children would have been excited and the women would have been preparing for the evenings feast while that night everyone would be looking forward to the dances and ceidhlis.
That Sunday morning began well. Snow had fallen the night before and the whole country was white. The most noticeable thing about that morning was the eerie calm. There was not a puff of wind in the air, even ships could not leave port and many had to anchor until the wind would rise, as it turned out these were the lucky ones.
However in the middle of the afternoon the weather became very clammy and close , voices carried for up to a mile in the still air and the heat was described as sticky . In the Phoenix Park there was a recorded rise in temperature between 3pm and 9pm of 10degrees. At about 9.30 the wind started to rise and the temperatures began to drop and by 10.30 the country was been devastated by the storm which to this day is known as the night of the big wind.
It came so suddenly and with such ferocity that the people were taken unawares. People described hearing this huge thunderous roar and then suddenly the storm was upon them. By 2am the storm was at its height and as far as70 miles inland the rain tasted of seawater, fish and seaweed were also found miles inland afterwards. The waves on the coast were so high that they broke over the tops of the Cliffs of Moher. Many people thinking that this was the end of the world began to make their peace with god while others died of sheer terror. The most terrifying aspect of the storm was that it took place in utter darkness. Some people believed that the devil had been unleashed from the gates of hell.
Farmers were hit very hard. Wooden fences blew down allowing terrified animals to run free some animals were reported as having frozen to death while haystacks were blown to pieces. Wildlife was badly hit as well and crows and jackdaws were nearly wiped out throughout the country. So many birds were destroyed that there was a silence in the air the following spring.
In Birr the military barracks in Crinkhill had part of its roof blown down while some houses were also tumbled. In Borrisokane the steeple of the chapel came down .In KINNITY THE ROOF ON CAPTAIN DROUGHT’S HOUSE WAS BLOWN IN AND BURIED MRS. ELLIOT AND ANOTHER LADY IN THE RUINS. IN NENAGH THE CHURCH , THE FEVER HOSPITAL AND THE MILITARY BARRACKS WERE STRIPPED OF THEIR SLATES , THE HOUSES IN CASTLE STREET , SILVER STREET AND POUND STREET WERE TOTALLY DESTROYED AND MANY WENT ON FIRE WHEN THE THATCH FELL IN .HUNDREDS OF MATURE BEECH AND OAK TREES ON THE ESTATE OF LORD DUNALLEY WERE BLOWN DOWN. IN TOOMEVARA THREE OF THE SPIRES ON THE CHAPEL WERE SWEPT AWAY. OUTSIDE THURLES THE RUINS OF KILLINEY CASTLE WAS LEVELED WHILE MANY HOUSES WERE DEMOLISHED. IN TULLAMORE A WOMAN WAS KILLED WHEN A WALL FELL IN ON HER BED WHILE SHE WAS ASLEEP, A YOUNG CHILD WAS KILLED WHEN THE ROOF CAME IN, THE HOUSE OF A FAMILY NAMED DUIGNAN WAS BLOWN DOWN AND THEY ALL DIED UNDERNEATH THE RUBBLE.
ROSCREA WAS ALSO DEVASTATED BY THE STORM A REPORT FROM THE NEWSPAPER THE TIPPERARY CONSTITUTION SAYS:
“IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DESCRIBE ACCURATELY THE GENERALITY OF THE DEVASTATION IN ROSCREA , SUFFICE TO SAY THAT THIS PLACE PRESENTS TO THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER ONE VAST SCENE OF DESOLATION. WHAT ADDED TO THE FURY OF THE DESTRUCTIVE ELEMENT IS THAT THERE ARE ENTIRE STREETS OUT OF LEASE THESE SEVERAL YEARS AND CONSEQUENTLY IN A DILAPIDATED STATE OWING TO THIS ESTATE BEING MORTGAGED.
SEVERAL FAMILIES HAVE HAD HAIR BREATH ESCAPES. THE HOUSE OF MR. TINKLER SOLICITOR HAD THE ROOF ENTIRELY REMOVED BY ONE SUDDEN GUST AND THE DESTRUCTION OF THE CABINS OF THE POOR IS INDESCRIBABLE. A YOUNG MAN IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF MOUNT HEATON LOST HIS LIFE BY A TREE FALLING ON HIM. “
BY THE TIME THE STORM ENDED AT ABOUT FIVE O CLOCK IN THE MORNING THE WHOLE COUNTRY HAD BEEN AFFECTED BY IT. ONE LANDLORD DESCRIBED IT AS “LIKE A BROOM HAD SWEPT THE COUNTRY CLEAN. THE MOST MEMORABLE THING ABOUT THE NIGHT WAS THE ROAR, AS ONE MAN DESCRIBED IT “A GUTTURAL ALMOST BESTIAL ROAR”
HOWEVER SOME PEOPLE TOOK GREAT ADVANTAGE OFTHE DESTRUCTION. TRADES MEN HAD A BOOM TIME REBUILDING AND REPAIRING THE LARGE HOESES . THE POORER PEOPLE HAD TO USE EVERY PENNY THEY HAD TO TRY TO REPAIR THEIR CABINS AS THE LANDLORDS MADE IT CLEAR THAT THEY WERE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THEM. FOR SOME IT WAS THE LAST STRAW UNABLE TO AFFORD TO FIX THEIR HOMES THEY TOOK TO LIVING IN ROUGH SHELTERS MADE OF SODS. ANOTHER NEWSPAPER WROTE: “IN DEFIANCE OF THE LAW, MEN AND WOMEN INVADED A DEMESNE NEAR SHINRONE IN KINGS COUNTY, CUT UP THE FALLEN TIMBER AND SOLD IT OPENLY IN NENAGH AND ROSCREA
GIVEN THE STORMS FEROCITY THE DEATH TOLL WAS VERY LOW. AS THERE WERE NO REAL WAYS OF RECORDING IT IS ESTIMATED THAT BETWEEN FOUR AND FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLEDIED. SEVEN YEARS LATER FAMINE CAME AND THE FIRST TO DIE WERE THE ONES THAT SUFFERED THE MOST IN THE STORM. AS TIME WENT ON THE NIGHT OF THE BIG WIND BECAME A MILESTONE BY WHICH EVENTS WERE REFERRED TO AS HAPPENING BEFORE OR AFTER.
IN 1909 THE OLD AGE PENSIONS WERE INTRODUCED FOR ANYONE OVER SEVENTY GIVING THEM FIVE SHILLINGS PER WEEEK. FOR ANYONE WITH NO PROOF OF AGE, PENSIONS WERE GRANTED IF THEY COULD REMEMBER THE NIGHT OF THE BIG WIND, HENCE SOME AGES CHANGED DRAMATICALLY BETWEEN THE 1901 AND 1911 CENSUS.