No, this is not a tsunami warning. But did you know that our coasts may have been hit by several tsunamis over the past 15,000 years? Ireland’s stormy seas have thrown many other events at us too.
It’s no secret that Ireland is lashed by stormy seas from time to time. RTÉ’s Teresa Mannion can attest to that. She’s braved many a storm to warn us of treacherous roads and the dangers of swimming in the sea. Her Storm Desmond weather warnings lifted our spirits during some very bad weather and achieved viral fame around the world.
But here at Old Moore’s we’ve recently discovered a remarkable interactive map of Ireland’s extreme wave events that allows you to explore for yourself just how treacherous Ireland’s stormy seas can be.
The map was put together by researchers from universities in Ireland, England and France. They compiled a catalogue of tsunamis, storm surges and huge waves dating from the turn of the last ice age right up to the present time.
So where did they get this information from, we hear you ask. The researchers used a combination of sources to build a picture of these extreme wave events – eyewitness accounts, newspaper reports, scientific reports, and data from ocean recording devices. They note that caution should be used when interpreting the eye witness accounts, which may not be 100% reliable.
But you don’t need to worry about a tsunami hitting your home while you’re sleeping. Most of the map’s recorded tsunamis are listed as questionable or doubtful, and were perhaps large waves generated by stormy conditions.
The oldest event included in the map is the Peach Slide, an underwater landslide that took place almost 15,000 years ago 250km off Ireland’s North West coast, and may have caused a large scale tsunami to hit our shores. Most of the recorded events are more recent, however. Many include breath-taking eye witness accounts of huge waves and damage to property but also, sadly, loss of life.
Incredible Eye Witness Accounts
One spectacular event included in the map is Oíche na Gaoithe Móire (the Night of the Big Wind). This storm, probably the most damaging storm to hit Ireland in centuries, occurred in January 1839. According to stories that have survived through generations, large quantities of sand from Ballyshannon Harbour in Co. Donegal were moved two miles inland, and three acres of bog in Limerick were moved nearly a mile. Many houses were damaged and people spoke of sea water being carried inland and pouring down chimneys.
It was even recorded that waves broke over the Cliffs of Moher during the storm, an astonishing sight to imagine. A ship’s log book gave an account of the ship being thrown onto a reef but luckily the crew escaped two hours later when ‘a dreadful sea lifted the whole brig clear off the reef.’ Wow.
There’s many more fascinating eye witness accounts, like the stories from Eagle Island Lighthouse, off the coast of County Mayo. In 1837, ‘an ocean wave (there being no hurricane at the time)… swept over the island, the lightkeepers with their families taking refuge in the tower, just in time to save their lives, when the roofs of the dwelling homes were carried away... The sea… must have risen at least 350 feet.’
Another account from Eagle Island describes an event in March 1861 when ‘the light room of the East tower was struck by the sea smashing 23 panes, washing some of the lamps down the stairs, and damaging the reflectors with broken glass beyond repair. It must have been an incredible wave to have come up 133 feet of rock and then a further 87 feet of lighthouse tower to cause so much damage’.
Check out the map yourself for more of these fascinating stories. And remember, don’t take risks on treacherous roads.