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
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
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
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