The Great Storm of 1903

On the night of the 26th March 1903 a severe storm caused havoc in parts of County Kildare and West Wicklow.

While it was not as severe as the which ravaged the west north and midlands in January 1839, and when it was reported that 300 lives had been lost ( another estimate was 90 fatalities, 37 of them at sea), only one death was recorded in 1903, but the damage to property was extensive.

In Moyvalley 500 trees fell in the More O’Farrell estate, with 100 Scotch spruce blocking the drive.
But there was far greater destruction on the La Touche property at Harristown where 1400 trees fell, and at the O’Connor Henchy estate at Stonebrook where ‘fully 1500’ were lost.

A window was blown in at the Catholic Church in Celbridge, and there was also damage to the Workhouse.

At Naas, “almost every building in the town suffered. The open space in front of the Town Hall was strewn with slates and the remains of broken panes, and many portions of the street were littered with debris, and the Workhouse severely damaged. The door was blown off the Water Tower. Lord Mayo’s greenhouse at Palmerstown suffered.”

The noise of the wind at Athy was compared to that of artillery, and in that district the RIC Barracks and many dwellings were unroofed, or damaged by falling trees.

In Kilcock a shoemaker was imprisoned in the debris of his house, but when rescuers reached him he cheerfully said that he was quite comfortable where he was!

A curious result of the storm “could be observed in the woods where thousands of dead birds: crows, wood pigeons, starlings and others were laying in heaps, some of them decapitated, the most bruised beyond recognition.”

The only human fatality was at Downings where the collapse of a roof killed the five year old son of a labourer living in the gate lodge: “at about 3am the second child called his father saying ‘Tom was killed.” When the father lit the candle he found the bedroom in ruins and a huge tree stretched across it, and the child almost covered by a fallen wall and roof.”

Another topic, which was much discussed that month, was the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, which was that year declared a bank holiday.

The Leinster Leader was to be closed on March 17th, “thus co-operating in ensuring the success of the movement initiated by the Gaelic League.”

In an editorial on the proposal of celebrating the National Holiday it observed. “that the proposal achieved the sympathy and support of every section of Irishmen, with one notable exception. The Licensed Traders have arrived at a decision which, in our opinion is both injudicious and unpatriotic. They have refused to sanction the universal closing of the public houses on St. Patrick’s Day.”

The publican pleaded concern for the convenience of the public, and the existence of shebeens. The Leader did not agree that the publican was “a man sacrificing himself and his over worked employees on the altar of public accommodation. No one expects such virtue from a human being in business, and to allege it as an adequate reason for selling drink on the first great National Holiday is to trifle with public intelligence.”

At the Spring Assizes two soldiers from the Curragh were charged with theft from the shop of Mr. H.W. Church at Ballysax “of a large quantity of pipes, tobacco pouches, brooches, sliver cigarette cases, watch stands, 69 sliver rings , etc.”

They were sentenced to 12 months hard labour.

Christopher Rourke pleaded not guilty to a charge of stealing a 57 lbs. lump of coal; value seven and a half pence, from the Great Southern & Western Railway at Naas.

In his defence it was stated that Rourke “was an old man and it was not reasonable to think that he could have gone through all the acrobatic performances described” (climbing over various obstacles to get to the rail wagon). The jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

Courtesy of the Leinster Leader
By Con Costello