The Big Wind
January 6, 1839 - It was on this day that a ferocious winter storm swept across Ireland and caused hundreds of deaths and massive destruction.
It's still regarded as the most damaging storm to hit Ireland in the last 300 years. The storm was caused by a cold front blowing in from the Atlantic that collided with unseasonably warm air over the land. A huge rain and windstorm developed and it continued to gain strength as it moved inland. Ancient trees were uprooted, church spires snapped like twigs and thousands of thatched roofs disintegrated in the storm's fury.
The timing of the storm coincided with the Feast of the Epiphany, which in Irish folklore is when Judgement Day will come, so it's not surprising that many of the storm's victims believed it was the end of the world. Many homes burned to the ground as the powerful winds came blasting down their chimneys, scattering embers and setting everything ablaze.
The aftermath of the storm brought even more misery. Important food supplies had been destroyed or scattered, causing widespread starvation in livestock. In an age before disaster relief programs, the victims of the storm were on their own to rebuild their lives.
70 years later, when the government started issuing pensions to the elderly they faced a challenge due to scarce or non-existent public records. To validate the ages of the potential pensioners, the officials devised a simple question. "Do you remember the Big Wind?"