THE ferocious storm known as 'The Night of the Big Wind; which struck Ireland on the night of Sunday January 6 1839, doing untold damage to Lisburn and its hinterland, is to be the subject of an opera.
Belfast composer Elaine Agnew, a former Composer in Residence with RTE Lyric FM and the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, 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
Elaine is widely regarded as one of Ireland's most exciting young composers. 2012 will be a busy year for her. Her newest composition Dark Hedges received its first performance at the Proms in the Albert Hall, London on August 4. It was performed by flautist Sir James Galway, the Ulster Orchestra, and the Ulster Youth Orchestra.
Inspired by Peter Carr's book, Night of the Big Wind, which has been re-issued, Elaine hopes to return to composing the opera in the autumn.
Lisburn was badly mauled in the storm, with the Ulster Times reporting that it was assailed by 'one of the most awful hurricanes that has been felt perhaps for centuries.'
The storm produced terror. As their houses fell in around them, the
seeking shelter. But the streets were just as dangerous with debris from shattered houses and even slates and bricks flying through the air.
The next morning the town presented a 'melancholy spectacle...with houses stripped and stacks of chimnies blown down in all directions...the poor inmates left in the most deplorable situation.'
'Trees that had stood the shock of ages now lie prostrate...and the roads in many places are completely stopped from the immense mass of trees lying across them. Some fine old trees in the Castle gardens, perhaps the largest in Ireland are smashed to atoms.'
The destruction was universal. Hillsborough suffered 'very severely.' Belfast looked as though it 'had been reduced by artillery.'
In Dromore, 'though circled by high hills, the damage was calamitous. Here the storm was so severe that the people became 'well nigh frantic, many believing that, 'it was do wind at all but an earthquake:
At Annadale, 'the oldest oaks were torn up by the roots.' At Belvoir there was a huge loss of trees, and two lace chimney stacks collapsed into the mansion house, almost killing several servants.
But it was the countryside that felt the full force of the storm. Hedges were uprooted. Corn and haystacks were scattered, 'to the four winds of heaven.' Even the very grass lay flat, 'as if cowed and frightened'. Many houses were burned, for when the wind broke in, the fire became a tiny volcano, the sods and coals 'dancing on the hearth: Countless sheep were killed by flying rocks and by drowning. Cattle were maimed and killed in falling byres.
No date or location for the operas premiere has yet been determined.