The night of Sunday 6 January-Monday 7 January 1839 is remembered now, only in folklore as The Night of the Big Wind that battered all of Ireland. Indeed it became a milestone in Irish history against which other events were measured.
Where ordinary men and women disdain such epoch-making events as defining battles, they remember such things as this. Indeed this one in particular.
It was exactly seventy years later – in January 1909 – that the Old Age Pension was introduced for people over seventy years of age. In a time when birthdays – indeed birth YEARS – were neither celebrated nor remembered, and official registers were often neglected, it was not that easy for officials to check eligibility for this much-sought-after bonanza. There were people who – having recorded their ages as in the mid-fifties just eight years previously when filling in their Census returns – suddenly remembered that they were, in fact, up to ten years older than that!
‘Were you born BEFORE or AFTER the Night of the Big Wind?’
‘Och, before! Before! Definitely.
Sure, I min’ it well.’
Officials, calculating from parish birth returns, estimated that the new pension had a 128% uptake of those deemed to be eligible to draw it! They must have been pleased! Indeed, one wag waxed lyrical in praise of his new-found wealth.
‘Twas in Newry I was born, an’ I’ll surely blow m’ horn
As I often did before – without attention
Then your han’ I’ll warmly shake
An’ with joy this statement make
That I’ve lived to be the drawer of A PENSION!
Not like the tillers of the soil, who daily grind and toil
Through hours of sleet an’ rain their clothes are drenching!
While the snarling winds do roar
In my bed I’ll snugly snore
Till I wander into town, to spend my PENSION!
‘Tis little wonder that I’m cracked
O’er this Old Age Pension Act
For it must have been an Irishman’s invention
Sure the English brains – and Scotch
Would have on’y made a botch
Of granting to an Irishman his PENSION.
Since I’m three score years and ten
Ach! I don’t remember when!
Though of poverty I’d suffered apprehension
Indeed when times were at their best,
Such recourse I did detest
An’ I’d scorn them ‘uns that deigned to draw a PENSION.
But on that day I drew my crown
Many’s the haff’un I sank down
In a public house whose name I dare not mention
Though it was hardly out of place
An’ I thought it no disgrace
To celebrate the comin’ of my PENSION.
Still, it was the Night of the Big Wind I was talking about!
The Newry Telegraph of the time noted:
‘Among the numerous devastations committed in this neighbourhood, we learn that in the demesne of Mr Synott (Ballymoyer, Whitecross) the havoc made by the storm was truly lamentable. At least 10,000 trees have been broken or so completely mutilated as to require their being cut down … the houses of the farmers are stripped of their roofs … one fatal accident occurred; a young man, son of a schoolteacher called Allen, was killed by the falling of his chimney which also severely injured several members of his family ..’