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Night of the Big Wind!

On the night of the 6th January 1839 in the early hours of the following morning, Ireland was battered by a severe storm which has become known as Oíche na Gaoithe Móire or ‘The Night of the Big Wind’. Hurricane force winds and heavy rain fell across the British Isles, causing severe damage and loss of life all across Ireland.

On the 8th January, the Northern Whig published a report entitled ‘The Storm’ which described the visitation of ‘a hurricane, such as we have not experienced more than once, within the memory of the oldest residents of our town’. The storm described as ‘the perfect hurricane’ terrorized Belfast and Ulster- ‘Wherever we turn our eyes, the most dreadful ravages of the hurricane are to be traced in our streets, squares, lanes, and unprotected suburbs, where- and especially in the latter- thousands have been bereft of shelter… From eleven till half-past four, the gale was so terrific, that it created universal alarm for the safety of life and property. And, when the grey dawn of winter broke on the affrightened citizens, a scene of universal wreck and ruin met their eyes, in houses unroofed, chimneys overthrown, walls prostrated and lives destroyed’. [Full Report included below]

1834 Ordnance Survey Map of Comber
1834 Ordnance Survey Map

Our very own town of Comber did not escape the storm’s wrath with the Northern Whig reporting - ‘At Comber, one of the chimneys of Mr. Miller’s distillery was thrown down, destroying, in its fall, a brewing copper and a kiln. The windmill in front of the new meeting-house at the same place was also upset and a great number of the houses in the village unroofed.’ The aforementioned new meeting house, refers to the current Non-Subscribing Church on Windmill Hill, the opening of which was in fact delayed by over a year due to the severe damage caused to the recently finished roof. In the 10th January edition of the same paper, a further report on the damage in Comber was recorded ‘in our last notice of the fatal effects of the recent hurricane, we neglected to state, that the beautiful chimney of the Messrs Andrews of Comber, was levelled to the ground’.

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church Comber
Non-Subscribing Presbyterian

The memory of Night of the Big Wind has ever since loomed large within Irish History and culture. Amongst contemporaries superstitions abounded with many fearing the storm signalled the beginning of the end times while others argued the wind was caused by the 'little folk' or faeries. Regardless, the night is enshrined within Irish memory, indeed following the Old Age Pensions Act (1908), a question used to determine the age of applicants born before birth registration (1864+) was whether they could remember that fateful night.

Newletter article on Storm
Newsletter article on Storm

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