“The Night of the Big Wind”—On the night of 6th January 1839, the worst storm ever reported hit the west coast of Ireland. With winds of up to 130 mph it devastated the country, claiming up to 800 lives, according to some reports.
How could one account for it, coming as it did
during the hours of darkness, building itself up
in the black of night? Rain-sodden, it lashed
the thatched roofs of cabins until they collapsed,
ripped spires off churches, tumbled walls.
Cattle froze to death where they stood. Sheep
were bowled off the sides of mountains.
It roared in from the open Atlantic and travelled
eastwards, ripped through Dublin, blew boats
from Skerries across the Irish Sea. The like
had never been seen. It was the start, the
Seanachaí storytellers said later, shaking their heads.
It was the great leaving. The Sidhe, the Irish fairies,
who lacking wings, travelled on the back of winds
they raised, had left Ireland in mighty numbers.
For sure, there were not many of them left when
that night was over—hay ricks scattered, Hawthorn
and Rowan whipped to shreds, and the music and
lights that were sometimes witnessed around
fairy forts, no longer seen. It was a catastrophe.
Less than a decade later, a blight would come
on the potato crop, and famine would send
families into the west in coffin ships, crossing
the same ocean that had held that Gaoithe Móire
in its maw, continuing the Sidhe’s great leaving.
The land lifted from the water, the Seanachaí said,
Frank Dullaghan: “The big thing I learned from Kavanagh was the power of an image. I remember his famous poem ‘In Memory of My Mother.’ His mother’s buried in a churchyard in Monaghan, but he sees her on a market day walking through the town, and he remembers her as they’re stacking up the ‘ricks of hay against the moonlight.’ I remember that image, and I could see it when I first read it; it was like a lightning bolt. I don’t know why certain images hit us, but that image—I could see it. There was no great thing happening here; it was just those simple words, and yet they had the power to create this picture in my head. I remember thinking, ‘I need to be able to do that, get these images, find simple words to capture something and put it down.’” (web)