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Page 9 of 32
The Big Wind

Rain. You never saw anything like it! Wind. You never felt anything like it! If I tell you what I saw and what I felt, you won't believe me. But the marks are there. The signs of devastation linger.

I was only a gossoon at the time. A time of great troubles. Maguires, O'Neills, O'Donnells, raiding and pillaging. And no one could gain the upper hand.

My father was killed. An uncle too. My mother grieved full sore. Down to the abbey she would go. Masses for their souls. Novenas for peace. Paters and Aves, "Is eadh do bheathas" and "Ar n-athars."

For me, the life of a monk. 'Twas all laid out. She and the abbot agreed. Two more years and a novice monk of Bernard I would become.

The night of the big wind changed all that. And not for me alone. Changed the lives of everyone.

That was a strange year, a very strange year. A dry spring. A drier summer. Then came the sickness Madar had foreseen. Now, that was a name I couldn't mention in mother's hearing. "A mad man. A really bad man. Read the clouds? Read my backside!" Mother was like that. A prayerful woman. A pious woman. A righteous woman. But, when roused, a holy terror who didn't mince words. Maybe 'twas the O'Neill blood in her, for didn't she come from Tir Eoghan?

Maybe that's where I get my own contrariness. When I take a scunner--- What? The big wind? The night of the big wind? Sure that's what happens when you're growing old. Easily led astray. The thoughts come crowding in. The memories won't go away. And sometimes they get jumbled up.

What was I? Just turning twelve summers the next year.

Tending castle horses was my job, on the hill above the ford. A meanly job. Not a job for a soldier's son. But my mother's wish was law, and the warrior corps was forbidden to me.

The month after Nolaig, on the eighth day, and the sun clouding to the west, was when the horses sensed it. At first a general restlessness. Then, as the clouds grew greyer, a tossing of manes, a stamping of feet, a nervous whinnying.

All wind died. The air itself stood still. The hair on my scalp rose up.

Across the bay, from Knocknaree to Slieve League, a solid bank of purple black. Menacing. Threatening. Lowering.

Off the hill I chased the horses, down the north bank and into a swale. There they milled nervously, rolling eyeballs, dripping sweat.

Back to the summit to see what was happening, and no sense that anything could happen to me.

Down at the bothans I saw people running. Some for the castle. Some up the river. A lot on the cliff above the south bank.

Below to my right something came to my sight. The estuary waters-- they drained right out! Otters and seals flopped on dry land.

I tell you the bar was as dry as cork in an empty bottle! The sea retreated into the bay. To the edge of the universe, it seemed like to me.

Then a roar split the heavens. The ocean rose up and raced for the shore. The great bank of cloud sent flashes of lightning and pealings of thunder. And it, too, moved landward, gathering speed.

High above on Cnoc na gCapall, the Hill of the Horses, I saw it all, how the sea formed one wave, a massed mountain of water, and came crashing inshore.

A great tidal bore, it smashed through the bar and swept up the river. It altered its channel, you can see to this day.

Inis Saimer was buried, Muldory's old dwelling swept away.

Now comes the part you'll find hard to believe. That immense wave, that mountain of water, swept over Assaroe!

At Caol-Uisce its fury was spent, and the Erne sent it back to the sea.

All the while the winds grew in strength, with deafening thunder and a deluge of rain. Trees uprooted, cattle drowned. Bothans and houses beaten into the ground. People buried underneath. Desolation all around. And it lasted all night.

To this day you can gather seashells in the Erne's watercourse. To this day the old people talk about the night of the big wind. I, Miles, saw it all, rain sodden, clinging to a strong yew tree, high on the hill, on Cnoc na gCapall.

My mother, God rest her, perished that night. With her death died her dream that I enter the monkery. My spirit was set free to soar as high as that hawk you see, circling, circling, circling, in the blue sky above the Falls of Assaroe.

"The Age of Christ, 1478. A great tempest arose on the night of Epiphany, which was a night of general destruction to all by reason of the number of persons and cattle destroyed, and the trees and houses, both on water and land, prostrated throughout Ireland."
     (Annals of the Four Masters).

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