Night of the Big Wind.

Community Historian Brendan Matthews taking us back over the centuries to the days when the weather was just like ... it is now

On Sunday 6th January 1839, a strong wind began to whistle through the streets of Drogheda, which was accompanied by heavy rain. By 11pm, on that, Little Christmas, day, a hurricane was lashing through the town which was to last until 6am the following morning. Almost every building within the town suffered some structural damage, with hundreds of houses having their roofs blown away, along with chimney stacks, slates and other debris toppling over onto the streets.

Such was the damage caused to the roofs of the buildings, that the Slaters of the district refused to work for less than ten shillings a day following the storm.

In the suburbs of Drogheda many of the wretched cabins of the poor were burned as a result of tily lamps falling over and chimneys collapsing, setting the thatch ablaze.

Amazingly, it was reported that few of the ships on the Boyne River suffered any material damage, but there was grave concerns for those unfortunate enough to be out at sea. Large quantities of agricultural produce, such as flax, hay and corn were also blown away from their respective stack-yards in the vicinity of the town and scattered across the streets, roads and fields of the neighbourhood.

The `Newry Lark` coach also had to return to Drogheda late on the Sunday evening having proceeded on it’s way to Dublin only to make it as far as Julianstown, where the road became impassable due to fallen trees on the road.

The roof over the home of Mr. Robert Algar Esq. of Laurence’s St. came crashing in as the large chimney stack collapsed. At the time, Mr. Algar, his wife and two infant children, along with a nurse, were all huddled together in the nursery room and while the tall ceilings fell in around them their, cries for help were heard by people on the street, who placed their own lives at risk and brought the five occupants to safety.

The roof of the Mayoralty House was also extensively damaged, as was the extensive stores of Mr. Ennis in Scholes`s lane, Mrs. McDonnell’s in West St., the infirmary at the West gate, McCann’s mills on the Quays, the premises of Messrs. Smith & Smyth and the many flax, linen, cotton and other manufactories throughout the town were also badly damaged as a result of the horrific storm.

Hundreds of mature trees were also destroyed in the Ballsgrove demesne, while the damage estimated to have been caused on the Oldbridge estate was put at a whopping £2000 and the structural damage to Beaulieu House was put at £500, along with hundreds of mature trees having been uprooted. Hundreds of mature trees were also blown down on the estate of Viscount Gormanstown in east Meath.

After the storm had abated on Monday 7th January, it was feared that the price of food, which had already been steadily increasing beyond the means of many, would now increase even further, due to the huge destruction of the agricultural crop.

The hurricane had left untold damage, not only across Ireland, but also throughout much of Wales and England.

In the years that followed, it was often believed that, the demise and disappearance of many of the humble little cabins was due to the effects of the great famine and the `callous landlord.` Although there is much truth in this, it must also be remembered that, during the first week in January 1839, hundreds if not indeed thousands of homesteads were wiped from the landscape during the `Night of the big wind`.

  • Old Drogheda Society - History, Archaeology & Heritage Millmount, Drogheda, Co. Louth, Ireland. Tel. 041-9833097

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