The Legend of Gelert

This morning 182 years ago, residents of Ireland were likely still awake from weathering one of the largest known storms to the area. January 6th, 1839, is known as “The Night of the Big Wind”, or “Oíche na Gaoithe Móire”.

They say that January 6th had a very lovely beginning. Fresh snow from the previous day blanketed much of the landscape, and Mother Nature’s disposition was reportedly calm and peaceful. Probably quieter than usual – you know, how a nice pristine layer of new fallen snow seems to absorb both the audible noise in the area it has cloaked, and, even with the dreariest of gray skies, bounces bright light of hushed tranquility throughout one’s psyche.

As the day wore on, however, it’s described that the temperature rose an unusual amount. Coupled with still air, one can imagine the feeling of warm, sticky humidity, locked in by the perpetual canopy of clouds.

In the evening, winds and rain started, gaining momentum, and lasting until daybreak on the 7th. The hurricane-force storm was unforgiving, shattering windows, plucking up chimneys, and peeling back rooftops. It’s estimated that nearly 5000 chimneys were destroyed. The wind and water carved up earth, exposing the buried remains of those who had been laid to rest years previously. All of this destruction found unsuspecting residents terrified, without shelter, or worse yet, impaled by flying debris from the tens of thousands of uprooted trees, shards of glass, chimney stones, or other matter.

Men, women and children struggled to survive the night, their livelihoods, animals, homesteads all being pummeled by forces beyond their control. And they did every bit of this in total darkness, lanterns and candles snuffed out by the gnarly, wet adversary. How frightening this must have been! Can you fathom, trying to keep your family calm, and remain safe, not knowing what to expect next, unable to see the hazards hurling at you or your loved ones? Many lives were lost, and thousands were left without homes by the time the skies cleared.

It could be said that recovering from a storm of this magnitude, without the conveniences of modern utilities and infrastructure that are present today, could take wearying years, or even decades. On the other side of that coin, we can ponder about how the strength of community, the commitment to loving thy neighbor, and the honorable standard of setting aside differences and offering a helping hand, could be a more valuable benefit than being able to phone the electric company to find out when power will be restored. Nevertheless, this is a huge hurdle to have overcome, and that still deserves to be acknowledged, 182 years later.

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