The Tempest Murders, Detective Ryan O'Clery is speaking to his sister Claire about a storm called The Night of the Big Wind, which is an actual storm and the largest ever to hit Ireland. I'll let Claire tell the story:
She brushed non-existent crumbs from the countertop before continuing. “He asked for her hand in marriage on New Year’s Eve. Let’s see, I believe it was 1838. Yes, that’s right. December 31, 1838.”
“How can you be so certain of the date?”
“Because seven days later, Caitlín was dead.”
His head jerked up and he stared into Claire’s eyes. They were as green as the fields of Ireland and now she cocked her head and eyed him curiously.
“He’d gone to Dublin, so the story goes,” she continued slowly.
“Aye. He’d been called away on business. And as Fate would have it, the great flood came while he was gone and Caitlín was swept away.”
“The great flood.”
“Don’t you remember any of your schooling, Re?”
“I suppose I don’t.”
“Aye, surely you do. It was Oiche na Gaoithe Moire.”
“Oiche na Gaoithe Moire,” he repeated the Gaelic name. “Night of the Big Wind.”
“Aye; that’s it. History says that just a couple of days prior, they had a huge snowstorm that blanketed Ireland. With it came a cold front. But the next day, they had warm temperatures the likes of which they hadn’t experienced in years. It caused all the snow to melt and melt rapidly.”
“So the great flood was caused by melting snow.”
“You really don’t remember your schooling now, do you, Re? It wasn’t that at all. It’s just that the warm front settled in over Ireland as another cold front came across the Atlantic. It was January 6, 1839—Epiphany.” Her voice took on a whispered note as though she was telling a ghost story. “There were those in the faith who had forecast the end of the world would occur on January 6, 1839—the day of Epiphany. So when the air grew completely still, so still they could hear the voices of neighbors miles apart, there were some who thought the end was near.”
He waited for her to continue. His cheeks were growing flush and he could feel beads of sweat beginning to pop out across his brow. “What happened then?”
“By nightfall, there were gale force winds. They moved from the western coast of Ireland all the way to Dublin, where Ríán Kelly had traveled. Some said the winds were accompanied by an eerie moan, a rumbling of sorts. But not thunder; it was a sound never heard before nor since. It increased as the winds grew. And then the northern sky turned a shade of red that had never been seen before.” She sipped her coffee while she watched him. “We know now it was the aurora borealis. But there was widespread panic amongst the people. And when the sky darkened once again, it darkened to the color of pitch.”
He reached for a napkin and mopped his brow.
“Are you feeling alright, Re? Would you care to lie down?”
He shook his head. “I want to hear the rest of the story.”
“Well, so the myth goes, Ríán Kelly left Dublin immediately. It was a miracle he made it back to the village at all. He traveled through the night, in the rain and the hail, with the winds all about him. Bridges had been washed away; the wind had been so strong—stronger than anything Ireland had experienced in more than three hundred years—so strong that it whipped the Atlantic into a fury and pushed it all the way across the island. Streams and creeks became raging rivers. Whole villages were wiped out. Even some of the castles were beyond repair.”
He rested his elbows on the counter and put his head in his hands.
“You’re sure you don’t want to lie down, Re? You look as if you might faint.”
“I’m fine,” he said. “What happened when Ríán Kelly reached his village?”
“It was gone. Oh, there were a few buildings still intact. The church, for one. But Caitlín O’Conor’s home had been washed away. There was no sign of Caitlín.”
“So that’s where the story ends, does it?”“Oh, no. I suppose it’s where it just begins.”
When I wrote Dylan's Song, I used a real storm that occurred in October 2011. Rains continued for days, eventually causing the flood walls to break. Some areas experienced such severe flooding that the villages were cut off from the rest of the country. Bridges were washed out, roads were flooded, and gale force winds of 100km were recorded. I'll let Dylan Maguire tell the story:
“Then on the twenty-second o’ October, we’d been married three years by then, it started to rain. And she went into labor. I telephoned ‘er mother—mine was God knows where—and I wanted to take ‘er to the midwife straight away. But ‘er mum came to the cottage and said it would be awhile yet; the labor pains were more than an hour apart. So we waited.
“I stayed right there with ‘er. For twenty-four hours it rained and the labor pains grew more intense. I must ‘ave phoned the midwife, Mrs. Gallaghan, two dozen times. I hated seein’ her in such pain. I despised it. But it was nearly three kilometers to Mrs. Gallaghan’s home. I had no auto—I walked to work each day—and she was clearly in no shape to walk. I thought o’ carryin’ ‘er but her mum and her pup had moved in for the duration and they said I was crazy.”
He stared at the tombstone for a long moment before continuing. “I know now I shouldn’t ‘ave listened. I should ‘ave gathered ‘er in me arms at the first sign o’ labor and I should ‘ave carried ‘er into the village. But I didn’t. I waited there and listened to ‘er screams. And on the twenty-fourth, after she’d been in labor for nearly forty-eight hours, the flood walls broke.” He swallowed. “The bridge by the cottage was washed away. We were surrounded by a moat that threatened to come up into the house but there was nowhere we could go. And I couldn’t swim with ‘er in me arms.
“I was frantic. She was screamin’ non-stop and it went on hour after hour. This can’t be right, I thought. Surely, every woman couldn’t go through this h’ail.”
After a moment, he continued. “I’d gone into our bedroom where she lay in a sea o’ sweat and when she saw me, she reached for me. And when I bent down to hear ‘er, she said, ‘Mickey, if you don’t get me out o’ here, I’ll die.’ It seemed like it took forever but finally I got Thomas—Father Rowan now, but he wasn’t a priest yet then—on the phone; the cell reception was so pitiful, it’s a wonder we connected. But he understood enough to know that Alana was in deep trouble. It took him a few hours but he located a rowboat and he came to the house.
“And I announced to ‘er parents that I was takin’ ‘er to the next village. To a proper doctor. The midwife had done nothin’ but tell us to wait. And I was through waitin’. I thought I’d have to thrash ‘er father to get past him, but once she was in me arms, they stood aside. But as I loaded ‘er into the rowboat with the rains comin’ down like a dam burstin’ o’er us, ‘er mother said to me that ‘er death, were she to die, would be on my head.”
He wiped at his eyes again and his arms squeezed Vicki tighter. “Father Rowan got us to the church and he helped load ‘er into his auto. And we took off, with ‘er screamin’ every single minute, though I know she was tryin’ hard not to.”
He shook his head and stared into the sky. The clouds had succeeded in blotting out the moon and the stars. “The first bridge we came to between the two villages was washed away. I had no choice but to turn back and try a different route. And by the time I reached the second bridge and the water was rushin’ o’er it, she was passed out beside me. And I thought, better that she be passed out because at least now she’s feelin’ no pain.
“I turned around yet again and tried a third route. And we’d gotten o’er the bridge and were on the straight-away to the village when she awakened and she begged me to stop right where I was.
“I didn’t want to. Every second counted and I’d pushed that pedal to the floor to get ‘er to a doctor as fast as I could. But she convinced me to stop.
“She asked me to hold ‘er. And I did. Right there, in the middle o’ the road, with nary another soul in sight. I held ‘er. And she said to me, she wasn’t goin’ to make it. And she wanted me to know she loved me and she’d always love me.”He choked. “She died in me arms.”
My latest book, A Thin Slice of Heaven, uses a freak snowstorm as a backdrop to prevent Charleigh from leaving the castle and also prevent anyone else from reaching it. Ireland very rarely gets snow and the country does not have snow removal equipment as states do in much of the United States. I'll let this video tell the story: