Category Archives: news

Storm Ophelia and 1839 storm

The autumn gales are coming in style with the biggest weather system to come north from the Azores known to records. Hurricane Ophelia will be a Srom by the time it gets to us but will be blustery tomorrow afternoon and evening.

This area is not unused to autumn gales .. its a common occurance so  trees. buildings and “stuff” are just well prepared. This one is cioming from unusual directions so could cause more problems.

It looks like 1839 was an equally unusual event : this from a facebook post by  Turtle Bunbury


By Turtle Bunbury

The Night of the Big Wind was the most devastating storm ever recorded in Irish history. Known in As Gaeilge as ‘Oiche na Gaoithe Moire’, the hurricane of 6th and 7th January 1839 made more people homeless in a single night than all the sorry decades of eviction that followed it.

The calm before the Big Wind struck was particularly eerie. Most of the eight million people living in Ireland at the time were preparing themselves for Little Christmas, the Feast of the Epiphany.

The previous day had seen the first snowfall of the year; heavy enough for some to build snowmen. By contrast, Sunday morning was unusually warm, almost clammy, and yet the air was so still that, along the west coast, voices could be heard floating on the air between houses more than a mile apart

At approximately 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the rain began to fall and the wind picked up. Nobody could possibly have predicted that those first soft raindrops signified an advance assault from the most terrifying hurricane in human memory.

By 6 o’clock, the winds had become strong and the raindrops were heavier, sleet-like, with occasional bursts of hail. Farmers grimaced as their hay-ricks and thatched roofs took a pounding. In the towns and villages, fires flickered and doors slammed. Church bells chimed and dogs began to whine. Fishermen turned their ears west; a distant, increasingly loud rumble could be heard upon the frothy horizon.

At Glenosheen in County Cork, a well-to-do German farmer called Jacob Stuffle began to cry.

At Moydrum Castle in County Westmeath, 78-year-old Lord Castlemaine decided to turn in early and go to bed.

In the Wicklow Mountains, a team of geographic surveyors headed up by John O’Donovan, finally made it to their hotel in Glendalough; they had been walking all day, often knee-deep in snow.

Sailing upon the Irish Sea, Captain Smyth of the Pennsylvania studied his instruments and tried to make sense of the fluctuating pressures.

By 10 o’clock, Ireland was in the throes of a ferocious cyclone that would continue unabated until 6 o’clock in the morning. The hurricane had roared across 3000 miles of unbroken, island-free Atlantic Ocean, gathering momentum every second.

It hit Ireland’s west coast with such power that the waves actually broke over the top of the Cliffs of Moher. Reading contemporary accounts, the impression is that if Ireland did not have such magnificent cliffs forming a barrier along our west coast, the entire country would simply have been engulfed by water.

The noise of the sea crashing against the rocks could be heard for miles inland, above the roar and din of the storm itself. The earth trembled under the assault; the ocean tossed huge boulders onto the cliff-tops of the Aran Islands.

Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of the hurricane was that it took place in utter darkness. People cannot have known what was going on. The wind churned its way across the land, extinguishing every candle and lantern it encountered. The darkness was relieved only by the lightning streaks that accompanied the storm and the occasional blood-red flicker of the aurora borealis burning in the northern sky.

All across the country, hundreds of thousands of people awoke to the sound of the furious tempest, their windows shattered by hailstones, their brick-walls rattling, their rain-sodden thatched roofs sinking fast.

As the wind grew stronger, it began to rip the roofs off houses. Chimney pots, broken slates, sheets of lead and shards of glass were hurtled to the ground. Rather astonishingly, someone later produced a statistic that 4,846 chimneys were knocked off their perches during the Night of the Big Wind.

Many of those who died that night were killed by falling masonry. Norman tower houses and old churches collapsed. Factories and barracks were destroyed. Fires erupted in the streets of Castlebar, Athlone and Dublin.

The wind blew all the water out of the canal at Tuam.

It knocked a pinnacle off Carlow Cathedral and a tower off Carlow Castle.

It stripped the earth alongside the River Boyne, exposing the bones of soldiers killed in the famous battle 150 years earlier.

Roads in every parish became impassable. All along the Grand Canal, trees were pulled up by the roots and hurled across the water to the opposite bank.

Thousands of timber cabins were destroyed by the storm. Surviving inhabitants had no choice but to flee into the pitch-black night in clothes that were presumably soon utterly drenched by the intense rains and snows which accompanied that cruel, piercing wind. Many sought shelter amid the hollows and hedges of the land.

Farmers were hit particularly hard. Hay-ricks in fields across Ireland were blown to pieces. Wooden fences and dry-stone walls collapsed, allowing fearful livestock to run away. Sheep were blown off mountains or killed by tumbling rocks. Cattle were reported to have simply frozen to death in the fields.

The next morning, one of Jacob Stuffle’s neighbour recalled seeing the distraught German ‘standing high up on a hillock looking with dismay at his haggard farm … his comfortable well-thatched stacks swept out of existence. Suddenly, he raised his two hands, palms open, high over his head, and looking up at the sky he cried out in the bitterness of his heart, in a voice that was heard all over the village ‘Oh, God Almighty, what did I ever do to You and You should thrate (treat) me in that way!’

Stuffle was not the only man who believed the hurricane, occurring on the night of the Epiphany, was of Divine origin. Many saw it as a warning that the Day of Judgment would soon be here. Some believed the Freemasons had unleashed the Devil from the Gates of Hell and failed to get him back in again.

Others maintained this was simply the night the English fairies invaded Ireland and forced our indigenous Little People to disappear amid a ferocious whirlwind. (Irish fairies, of course, are wingless and can only fly by calling up the sidhe chora – the magic whirlwinds).

The well-to-do did not escape; many mansions had their roofs stripped off.

Lord Castlemaine was fastening his bedroom window when the storm blew the windows open and hurled him ‘so violently upon his back that he instantly expired’.

His brother-in-law, the Earl of Clancarty, later reported the loss of nearly 20,000 trees on his estate at Ballinasloe. Similar figures came in from other landed estates in every county; one landlord declared his woods were now ‘as bald as the palm of my hand’. At the Seaforde estate in County Down, an estimated 60,000 trees were lost.

On January 6th 1839, timber was a valuable commodity. 24 hours later, so many trees had fallen that timber was virtually worthless. Millions of wild birds were killed, their nesting places smashed and there was no birdsong that spring. Even crows and jackdaws were on the verge of extinction.

In his hotel room in Glendalough, John O’Donovan was fortunate not to share Lord Castlemaine’s fate. He was struggling with the shutters when ‘a squall mighty as a thunderbolt’ propelled him across the room. When he viewed the damage next morning, he described it as if ‘the entire country had been swept clean by some gigantic broom’.

Dublin resembled ‘a sacked city …the whirlwind of desolation spared neither building, tree nor shrub’. The Liffey rose by several feet and overflowed the quay walls. The elms that graced the main thoroughfare of the Phoenix Park were completely levelled, as were the elms at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. The trees on Leinster Lawn outside the present-day Dail were unrooted and scattered ‘like prostrate giants on their mother earth’.

The back wall of the Guinness Brewery collapsed killing ‘nine fine horses’. A witness next morning described how ‘the noble animals [were] stretched everywhere as if sleeping, but with every bone crushed by the ponderous weight of the wall’. Military sentry boxes were blown off their stands and ‘scattered like atoms’.

A glass shop on Nassau Street became ‘a heap of ruins’. On Clare Street, a chimney collapsed on a woman who had only just got into her bed, killing her instantly. Police stations and churches opened the door for thousands of terrified citizens who brought their young and frail in for protection. Even churches could not be trusted on this night of Lucifer.

The steeple of Irishtown chapel caved in and the bell from the spire of St Patrick’s Cathedral came down like a meteorite; mercifully nobody died in either instance. Phibsborough Road was a bombsite of exploded windows and fallen chimneys ‘as if by shot and shell’.

One of the 40 female inmates at the Bethesda Penitentiary on the north-side(where the National Wax Museum stands today) took the opportunity to ignite a fire that destroyed the building as well as the surrounding houses, school-house and chapel. Two firemen died trying to extinguish the flames.

The hurricane did not stop in Dublin. It pounded its way across the Irish Sea, killing hundreds of luckless souls caught at sea.

It killed nearly 100 fishermen off the coast of Skerries.

It killed Captain Smyth and the 30 people on board the packet-ship Pennsylvania. Ships all along the west coast of England were wrecked; dead bodies continued to wash up onshore for weeks afterwards.

At Everton, the same wind unroofed a cotton factory that whitened all the space for miles around, ‘ as if there had been a heavy fall of snow’.

Estimates as to just how many died that night vary from 300 to 800, a remarkably low figure given the ferocity of the storm. Many more must have succumbed to pneumonia, frostbite or plain old depression in its wake. Those bankrupted by the disaster included hundreds who had stashed their life savings up chimneys and in thatched roofs that disappeared in the night.

Even in those days it was ‘an ill wind that turned none to good’ and among those to benefit were the builders, carpenters, slaters and thatchers.

The Big Wind also inspired the Rev Romney Robinson of the Armagh Observatory to invent his world-famous Robinson Cup-anemometer, the standard instrument for gauging wind speed for the rest of the 19th century.

But perhaps the most unlikely beneficiaries of the Night of the Big Wind were those old enough to remember it when the Old Age Pensions Act was enacted in January 1909, 70 years after the event and 100 years ago this month. The Act offered the first ever weekly pension to those over 70. It was likened to the opening of a new factory on the outskirts of every town and village in Britain and Ireland.

By March 1909, over 80,000 “British” pensioners were registered of whom 70,000 were Irish! When a committee was sent to investigate this imbalance, it transpired that few births in Ireland were registered before 1865. As such, the Irish Pensions Committee decreed that if someone’s age had ‘gone astray’ on them, they would be eligible for a pension if they could state that they were ‘fine and hardy’ on the Night of the Big Wind.

One such applicant was Tim Joyce of County Limerick. ‘I always thought I was 60’, he explained. ‘But my friends came to me and told me they were certain sure I was 70 and as there were three or four of them against me, the evidence was too strong for me. I put in for the pension and got it’.

So, I guess we can thank our lucky stars that, even if weather forecasters don’t always get it right, we of the 21st century do at least get some warning before the next Night of the Big Wind comes along. Hmmm, it seems so very calm outside just now. Tis time for a little stroll perhaps …


This story was written and first posted by Turtle Bunbury ( in 2012. The accompanying painting by Albert Bierstadt is entitled ‘Storm in the Mountains.’

Image may contain: mountain, sky, cloud, outdoor and nature


Other local history societies -update autumn 2016

We have a variety of local history societies who run winter talks, and a new family history group in Oban.

The Rockfield Centre has a heritage hunters group, building on the Oral History project who have created several Oban heritage walks, which will be happening again as part of the Oban Winter Festival on the 26 November

Oban & Lorn family history society has just been formed to bring together folk interested in their genealogy where we can meet and learn from each other and other speakers. Absolutely not confined to Oban families, but we might use local examples when exploring new skills to provide more material for Rockfield a the future local history centre.

The timetable and list of talks is Here

Lorn Archaeological and Historical Society meet monthly in Oban with a wide variety of speakers

Appin Historical society meet on a Saturday afternoon.  Members have a wide knowledge of the local area but do not have a genealogical answering service.

Lismore heritage centre holds a great repository of community, family and local history. Open to the public through the main season.

Dalmally history group work tirelessly through the year creating displays for Dalmally show and other local events as well as publishing books on the local area, while developing the catalogue for there amassed collection of local material. The also run winter talks.

Dunollie museum is open through the main season, but also have volunteeer groups working on archiving, the collection,  the exhibitions, events and worki g the loom.

Mull museum


Oban war and peace museum are open through the main season and have special exhibitions during the Winter Festival


Autumn 2016 Newsletter

Ardchattan Parish Archive

Family, Social and Local history of the area between Loch Etive and Creran, Lochawe & up to Glencoe : learning about the People and Places of Barcaldine, Benderloch, North Connel and Bonawe : genealogy, history, geology, archaeology, ecology, events, stories and images : Big Bang to Present Day !

Things have been a bit quiet around the Archive for the last few years, people visiting, things collected, and some fun on Facebook. The online archive has begun to take a bit of shape. But its time we began doing a little more, maybe?
So the Archive will start being open between 2-4 pm Friday afternoons from the beginning of October, to come and browse the records & books; learn more about your family history; share memories and stories; scan images; help with the cataloguing & transcribing and maybe plan some more activities. There is sooo much to learn, and some fun folk to learn from.

This link is to very short questionnaire with a list of possible talks and workshops – to find out what folk are most interested in, what times suit you most, and whether there are ideas for possible speakers and workshop leaders. Even if you are unlikely to be able to attend this winter, please fill it in; every response helps us.

We will be using social media as well to help us all stay in touch. Please join the new facebook group here : to share stories, pictures, local family histories – you NEVER know WHO you will meet up with !! It is always fun when cousins make new connections.
Please Feel Free to share this invitation along to anyone else, near or far. I have included people from beyond our parish and our shores, as you may be planning a visit and can get involved online along with the rest of us.

Scottish Community Heritage Conference is IN OBAN this weekend !

Saturday 17th September at 10:00–17:00
Argyllshire Gathering Hall, Oban

Tickets are still available (a bargain at just £10, including lunch!) and should be booked through the conference page on the Archaeology Scotland website –

Scotland’s Community Heritage Conference at Oban
Saturday 17 th September 2016
9.15 -10 Registration desk (tea and coffee available)
10.00 Conference opens
10.00 Robin Turner (HES, Chair) Welcome
10.10 Caroline Boswell & Rhona Dougall (Oban Communities Trust) Oban Social History – Heritage Hunters
10.35 Elaine Black (ACFA) Riddle of the sands – ACFA Tiree Survey 2016
11.00 Katie Hunter (DRBs Scottish Women’s History Group) : The Frederick Douglass Project: a 19th century Scottish protest campaign
11.25 Coffee break
11.45 Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association : Exploring and celebrating the heritage of the Ardnamurchan peninsula
12.10 Robert Hay (Lismore Historical Society) The Lismore Nave Project
12.35 Campbeltown Grammar School The historic township of Glenrea
13.00 ONE MINUTE MAYHEM! 60-second presentations by conference delegates
13.15-14.50 Lunch and Stalls
Two lunchtime events will begin at 13.45, each lasting about 60 minutes:
a. Oban Built Heritage Trail, led by volunteers from Oban Communities Trust
b. Architectural Orienteering Trail with a difference (and a prize!) led by Scotland’s Urban Past
14.50-17.00 Community Empowerment Seminar introduced by Phil Richardson (Archaeology Scotland)
(with coffee break at 15.40)
This year sees the implantation of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, which will open up new possibilities for publicly-owned assets to be transferred to and managed by local communities. This afternoon’s seminar will be an opportunity to discuss ongoing work and aspirations among communities across the country, and the skills and support that groups might need along the way.
We will hear from communities already involved in asset transfers, including Oban Communities Trust; Am Fasgadh regeneration Company (Kingussie); Forres Heritage Trust (Scottish Heritage Angels Award winners in 2015)
Short presentations from these three will be followed by a broad discussion, with professional experts in the field on hand to give their advice.
17.00 Thanks and Finish

Books to Buy

These books are written about our immediate wider local area. (and buying them through these Amazon links also provides a few pennies into the archive kitty)


Culture, Heritage, Arts Assembly in Argyll and Bute

Update July 2014
Dear Culture, Heritage and Arts Assembly member (and potential member)
Following on from the Queens Hall, Dunoon meeting last month the contract with BTS is now at an end and the next stage of the creation of a workable structure to develop the culture, heritage and arts landscape is about to begin. We would like to thank BTS for their hard work on the project. The future success of the Assembly is now down to all of us.
The first steps are to –

  • Increase the awareness of the project. The mailing list currently stands at around 350 which we know is the tip of the iceberg. It’s important that we get as many people on board as possible. Membership is on an individual basis not by organisation. The larger the ‘membership’ the greater the credibility, the sustainability and potential for activity and influence. Please do everything you can to spread the word and get people to complete and submit the ‘contact form’.
  • Create the eight geographic and seven thematic groups. Hopefully with your help this will be complete well before Christmas.
  • To democratically elect a Board from the geographic and thematic groupings.
  • Agree on which legal structure the Assembly should adopt.

The attached information sheet can be returned either by mail or email with your vote. Or you can use Survey Monkey by following the link – : which also appears on the information sheet. You MUST provide your name when voting so we can ensure ‘one person, one vote’. Again, pass this around but please note that in order to vote we must have a completed and submitted ‘contact form’. The closing date for this is the end of August.

So, by next Spring we should have a linked network of those working in the culture, heritage and arts sectors with a democratically elected board within a legally constituted organisation.

Many thanks for your interest and support for the project so far.

Attached are:
Ø Notes of the Culture, Heritage and Arts Assembly meeting held on the 18th June 2014.
Ø The Company structure survey (with the link to Survey Monkey).
Ø The Contact Form (which constitutes ‘membership’ until the final organisation is determined). Please circulate this as widely as possible.
Ø A poster to display.

Please forward this link to others you work with or may be interested in the Cultural Assembly and the health of the culture, heritage and arts sectors in Argyll and Bute.

Kevin Baker
Library and Culture Development Officer
Argyll and Bute Council
Tel: 01631 567978
Realising our potential together

CHARTS poster

Launch of the Property Valuation Rolls for 1920 – 28 October 2013

Scottish Valuation Rolls for 1920 are delighted to announce that the Valuation Rolls (VRs) for 1920 have just been added to the ScotlandsPeople website.

The new records, comprising 2,607,329 indexed names and 76,721 digital images (taken from 169 volumes), cover every kind of property that was assessed in 1920 as having a rateable value, and provide a fascinating snapshot of Scottish society in the wake of the First World War.

Red Fox Trail launched

The Ardchattan Parish Archive attended the launch event for the new Red Fox trail today.
There are 6 new boards for the Oban to Ballachulish cycle route – interpretation boards commissioned by Highland & Argyll and Bute Councils, researched by local historian John Macfarlane and produced by Rowan Tree Consulting

click on image for facebook album of the launch event

Ardchattan Book for sale 2013

Autumn update – reduced price : perfect for Christmas Presents : Just £9.50
(postage service is available at cost)

Raising funds for the church in 2013…. the republished ARDCHATTAN PARISH book – As We were.

this publication, first brought out for the first Homecoming, is a fabulous collection of images, memories and people from around the parish of Ardchattan : between Loch Etive and Loch Creran.

The book is available from Ben Lora Cafe, Kintaline Farm (which is also home to the Parish Archive, open to the public daily from 10 am)  and direct from Isobel Campbell (710288)