Limerick’s ‘Night of the Big Wind’ to become new opera

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

PUCCINI’s Madam Butterfly it certainly won’t be, but tales of the ferocious storm that battered Limerick in 1839 and saw at least 16 people killed are to be refashioned into an opera.

PUCCINI’s Madam Butterfly it certainly won’t be, but tales of the ferocious storm that battered Limerick in 1839 and saw at least 16 people killed are to be refashioned into an opera.

The storm, known as ‘The Night of the Big Wind’ which struck Limerick on January 6, 1839, did untold damage to the city and county - and is now to be the subject of an opera.

Belfast composer Elaine Agnew 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.

Ms Agnew, widely regarded as one of Ireland’s most exciting young composers, is a former composer in residence with RTE’s Lyric FM and the National Symphony Orchestra.

She hopes to start composing the opera in the autumn, the Limerick Leader has learned.

This weekend Ms Agnew sees her latest composition Dark Hedges receive its first performance in London’s Albert Hall.

While no date or location for a premiere of Ms Agnew’s opera about the huge storm which battered Limerick in the 19th century has yet been determined it could be the next piece by the Belfast composer to grace the stage.

The book that inspired the opera, Peter Carr’s Night of the Big Wind, has been re-issued to mark the exciting news - and will be available at its original price as was in 1991 - 7. Ms Agnew was not available to discuss the project given that her latest project opens in the Albert Hall this weekend, yet the files of the Limerick Chronicle - the oldest newspaper in the Republic of Ireland by some distance - tells the tale of how, for five hours Limerick endured ‘the horrors of a perfect hurricane.’

The account of the storm is truly apocalyptic, detailing how people fled their houses “in terror of their lives, seeking shelter under porticos and archways, no living creature being able to stand in the streets while the spirit of the tempest was careering in all his might through the air, streaks of lightning at intervals illuminating the midnight darkness, and a shower of slates at every angle, strewing the ground with broken particles and flying before the tempest like shreds of paper”.

It continues: “When affrighted families hurried from their beds to the vaults below for protection, they were repulsed in despair by the rush of water from the inflowing tide, raised to an unusual height by the force of its kindred element”.

“The best built houses of the New Town… trembled in the rude embrace of their imperious visitor, and were sadly dismantled… house tops and flues fell prostrate, the crash of window glass was general and incessant, while to crown the panic… a whole stack would occasionally tumble down, after struggling with the blast like a drunken man.”