Violent 1839 Longford storm to be new Belfast opera

The ferocious storm known as ‘The Night of the Big Wind’, which struck Longford on Sunday 6th January 1839, doing untold damage to the town and its hinterland, is to be the subject of a new opera.

The ferocious storm known as ‘The Night of the Big Wind’, which struck Longford on Sunday 6th January 1839, doing untold damage to the town and its hinterland, is to be the subject of a new opera.

One of Ireland’s most exciting young composers, Elaine Agnew, a former Composer in Residence with RTE Lyric FM and the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, has received a Major Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to enable her to undertake research for a new chamber opera based on the story.

To accompany these developments, the book that inspired the opera, Peter Carr’s ‘Night of the Big Wind,’ has been re-issued.

The 1839 storm devastated Longford. “Scarcely a house in the town has been exempted from its dreadful effects,” declared one newspaper at the time, “Houses, both slated and thatched were stripped of their covering and chimneys blown down in all directions.”

“The roof of the new barracks was completely uprooted as if an explosion of gunpowder had taken place inside.”

The Longford Journal added that, “About twelve o’clock the canal burst in Farneyhoogan Bog about a mile from the town, and rushed with great violence down the steep slopes towards Killashee Road.”

“Several poor creatures, who lived in bog houses, ran out with their families, up to the waist in water hoping to save themselves. A poor man, named James Bracken, went out with his family; in a short time the force of the water and the violence of the storm threw him down, with one of his children in his arms, and he never rose again.”

“He was found dead on the side of the road in the morning. Another of his children, and two orphans named Dennison who resided in his house were also lost. They were brought in a cart to this town to have an inquest held on them, and a more heart-rending sight never was seen here.”

The date and location for the opera’s première has yet to be determined, and will be reported in a future edition of the Longford Leader.