THE NIGHT OF THE BIG WIND IN KILKENNY 1839
On Sunday the 6th January 1839 the island of Ireland was subjected to a storm of such ferocity that it became the date by which all other events were measured. The Night of the Big Wind, known as Oiche an Gaoithe Mor.
Most of the eight million people living in Ireland at the time were preparing for Little Christmas. The previous day had seen the first snowfall of the year, by contrast Sunday morning was unusually warm and by evening the rain began to fall and the wind picked up. By 10 o clock Ireland was in the throes of a ferocious cyclone that would continue unabated until 6 in the morning.
The local papers, the Moderator and Journal reported on the storm the following Wednesday, saying the City and neighbourhood had been visited by the most tremendous storm from Sunday night until Monday morning. The sound of a whistling wind and falling slates were the first alarm of the coming storm, the hurricane was at its height at one o’clock. Citizens quit their beds in alarm and spent the night cowering about the hearth in terror. Many fled their rocking houses and sought shelter elsewhere. Men were seen to lie across the roof of their cabins in a vain attempt to save the straw from been blown away. The chimney of the gas house which stood at over 100 feet and only lately built came tumbling down to its basement. A portion of it crashed through the roof of the gas works, a man inside escaped uninjured. To add to the terror the Tholsel bell rang out, announcing fires were burning.
Two fires occurred in parts of the City, one at Goose hill and two houses blown down. The inmates 12/13 in number had to seek shelter in the house of the Rev. Sandys where he supplied them with food and money. The second fire at New St., where one house and all the property was consumed. The Tholsel windows were blown in as were windows in private houses throughout the City. Bricks, slates and tiles were hurled about in all directions, scarcely a house that did not suffer from effects of the storm. The garden wall of the Bishops Palace opposite Troys Gate was blown down, some of the bricks were hurled nearly half way down Green St. In the country the damage by the storm was equally destructive, houses were un roofed, stacks of corn and ricks of hay were totally destroyed.
The glass house at Jenkinstown was carried off over a 10 foot wall and shivered to shards among the trees. Upwards of 450 trees were uprooted on the demense. The green house of Mr.Wandesforde at Castecomer was destroyed and a number of large trees were uprooted. Monday morning the citizens walked the City streets viewing evidence of the previous nights destruction, streets were covered with broken slates, windows dashed in, cabins wholly unroofed. The windows of every high building were damaged to a considerable degree. The windows of the Military Barracks were riddled, the crown over the Arch leading into the inner square was carried away. Several of the ornaments of the new St. Canice’s Church were broken off, though of solid stone. The Protestant Cathedral roof though lately repaired was not greatly damaged. The cross over the western window was broken off, whilst the massive weather cock was bent.
Roofs of houses in Mill lane, Church lane, Barrack Street and Greens Bridge were blown away. A great number of trees on the Parade and Canal Walk were uprooted. Although several citizens were injured, no loss of life occurred.
It is an ill wind that turned none to good, and it certainly benefited the builders, slaters, carpenters and thatchers. But perhaps the most unlikely beneficiaries of the Night of the Big Wind were those old enough to remember it. When the Old Age Pensions Act was enacted in January 1909, the Act offered a weekly pension to anyone over 70 years of age. By March there were 70, 000 pensioners registered in Ireland alone. A Committee was set up to investigate the very large number of pensioners. It transpired few births were ever registered before 1865, the pensions committee decreed they would be eligible for a pension if they could state they were fine and hardy on the Night of the Big Wind. One applicant stated I always thought I was 60, but my friends told me they were certain sure I was 70, 3 or 4 of them persuaded me, so I put in for the pension and got it.
Kilkenny was not the only County to experience the storm, the newspapers for weeks afterwards carried reports of the destruction, the western seaboard suffering most severely. It was a night to remember, the Night of the Big Wind.