Straide man documents weather
extremes in Mayo

Straide man, Martin Sweeney has always been fascinated by the weather. It was a hobby that evolved and grew after he was presented with a shortwave radio receiver by his brother Jimmy back in 1958.

At the time Jimmy was working on the Cunard ships and shortwave radio was the only way of picking up news from around the world when you were hundreds of miles out at sea. The receiver facilities allowed Martin to tune in to the Volmet weather station and the numerous daily reports for aircraft on the Atlantic route and other areas as well as the shipping forecasts.

Last Tuesday evening, Martin launched "Climate of Straide 1963 -1999 and Weather Extremes in Mayo During the 20th Century" at a reception in the County Library in Castlebar. Friends and neighbours were there to wish him well and celebrate the publication of the first book of records of its kind in the country.

Mayo County Council, in association with the County Library, were the sponsors of the publication and there to see the project reach fruition were Austin Vaughan, Mayo County Librarian (and a native of Clare) and Gerry King, Acting Assistant Librarian, who hails from Martins home village of Straide.

Austin Vaughan described the entire venture as a labour of love for Martin. "He has an immense knowledge of weather facts and lore and this combined with his love of his native Straide makes this a unique and valuable record of our weather in Mayo over the past 38 years. I wish to extend congratulations to Martin for making what might have been a very dry(!) subject into a fascinating piece of social history," said Austin.

Cllr. Jimmy Maloney, chairman of Mayo County-Council and Fr. Dermot Burns, P.P., Straide, joined in the words of congratulations to Martin on his notable achievement. The privilege of declaring the book launched belonged to myself on this occasion.

This was a memorable evening for Martin who outlined the background to his interest in weather-related matters and the start of his weather station in Straide in the early 1960s. Each month over the past few decades he has filed regular reports for Met Eireann and his station in Straide is one of just three that features from Mayo in the monthly publication of data by Met Eireann.

The tables outlining the rainfall for Straide from 1963-1999 as well as tables featuring the average maximum air temperatures from1970-1999 together with other intriguing facts in relation to numbers of wet days and hours of bright sunshine are contained here. They were formulated from Martin's home-kept records and typed up by Joan Geraghty from the Centre for the Unemployed in Castlebar who did a fine job in the process.

One of the most poignant entries in the book is in relation to October 28th, 1927: "Friday October 28th was a stormy wet day in Mayo as a deep depression was moving NE towards the west coast. By evening the wind became calm and at 6 p.m. the herring fishermen on the west coast of Mayo and Galway put to sea in curraghs with the sudden improvement in the weather.

However, they were not aware that the calm winds were associated with the centre of a storm depression, and at 7.30 p.m. when the storm centre moved to the NE, the winds suddenly increased to westerly storm force 10. Forty five fishermen were drowned in stormy seas, including 10 from Iniskea and 9 from Lacken. Two fishermen survived when the curragh was blown ashore at Tirrahe on the Munet Peninsula".

There is also a brief mention of the famous weather report despatched from Blacksod to London on June 4th, 1944 by Ted and Maureen Sweeney. "The Blacksod Weather Station sent a routine weather report indicating a sudden change to bad weather and on receiving this very important report, the Allies delayed the invasion of the Normandy beaches by one day."

The background to the Big Snow of '47 is briefly outlined by Martin. "After several weeks of very cold east winds from Russia, snow and strong winds set in on the night of Monday, 24-25th. The blizzard became severe on the afternoon of the 25th. With heavy and drifting snow and near zero visibility, diminishing by about 4 a.m. on the 26th, three people died in the blizzard in the Bellacorriek area.

"Most of the snow was swept into huge drifts which spanned across roads and railways and rivers, and Mayo was paralysed for a week. Severe frost followed and the snow lay on the ground for two and a half weeks. A few drifts survived on high ground until May. 1947 was rated as the coldest Winter of the century."

Hurricane Debbie in September 1961, a small tornado near Ballyhaunis on the 8th November, 1977 and the record rainfall of the 27th October, 1989 in Mayo are all given honourary mention here.
The general is delightfully interspersed with the local and Martin tells us that on the night of the 20th March, 1992, a severe thunderstorm struck the village of Muchanagh, three miles NW of Straide at 10 p.m. "There was extensive lightning damage. A power cut interrupted the Straide bingo." As politicians know, all things are truly local!

Martin, who for many years was a postman in the Straide area, is one of nature's gentleman and is very well known on the local card playing circuit. He still finds time to 'dabble' in shortwave radio and the various stations that operate on the bands.

"Two of the most interesting stations from a weather point of view are Sancta Maria in the Azores and Keflavik in Iceland as they are the most relevant to our climate. But I have my own favourite broadcast stations too like YLE in Finland and Radio Sweden to name but two," says Martin.

Copies of Martin's book are now available in the post offices in Straide, Bohola, Ballyvary and Foxford and retail at 8 euros or can be had direct from him in Straide for 10 euros which includes the cost of postage.

Courtesy of Michael Cummins and the Western People