The ferocious storm known as 'The Night of the Big Wind', which struck Fermanagh on Sunday, January 6, 1839, doing untold damage to Enniskillen 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. On Saturday 4th August, her newest composition Dark Hedges will receive its first performance at the Proms in the Albert Hall, London. It will be performed by flautist Sir James Galway, the Ulster Orchestra, and the Ulster Youth Orchestra. She hopes to return to composing the opera in the autumn.
To accompany these developments, the book that inspired the opera, Peter Carr's Night of the Big Wind, has been re-issued. To reflect current austerity, it has been republished at its original 1991 price of �4.95.
The 'hurricane' devastated Enniskillen. As the Impartial Reporter recorded, "On Monday morning Enniskillen presented a frightful aspect; the shops were all closed as if death had visited the inmates of each; the streets were covered with broken slates, thatch and rubbish".
"An awful extent of damage has been done; windows broken and blown in; trees uprooted; roofs blown off; chimneys thrown down; floors forced in; cattle maimed and killed; and hay and corn blown away." "One man who, living near the edge of the lake, went upon the roof of his house to preserve it by putting weights on it, was himself blown away and perished in the angry waters." "Among the buildings that suffered most," continued the Erne Packet, "we may reckon the Royal School at Portora� the distillery has been nearly levelled� In Castle Coole, the beautiful demesne of the Earl of Belmore, the number of trees prostrated is estimated at 15,000. At Ely Lodge� more than 2,000." "At Florence-court the damage is proportionately great. At Crom Castle, that princely building recently erected by John Crichton Esq� some of the castellated towers and chimneys are said to have been dashed through the roof." "The accounts from the country are most distressing. The poor people's houses are unroofed and some of them burned to the ground, hay and corn mostly blown away. Their prospects are most melancholy. May God pity and assist them under this most awful visitation of his Wrath." No date or location for the opera's premiere has yet been determined.