The Big Wind

Written by Beatrice Coogan
Review by Janice Ottersberg

In 1839 the Big Wind swept in and devastated Ireland. Around this true weather event is woven the saga of the O’Carrolls, a landed gentry family, their servants, tenants, and neighboring peers. In Kilsheelin Castle, Sterrin is born in the turbulence of the storm to Sir Roderick and Lady Margaret. Shortly before the storm, the housekeeper took in a little abandoned boy and named him Young Thomas. When she dies in the storm, she takes with her everything known about Thomas. Young Thomas grows up as a household servant in the castle with no knowledge or memory of his past while Sterrin lives her life within the castle’s privileged world. Thomas and Sterrin become steadfast friends as she interacts with the servants and tenants. When famine comes to Ireland, Sterrin sees the starvation and the cruel evictions, but her childish attempts to relieve their suffering are useless. Sir Roderick is a kind, although out of touch, landlord. He does his best for his tenants but is helpless to make a real difference in the face of such devastation made worse by the merciless actions of many of the landlords.

The political turbulence in Ireland is woven into the story covering 30 years of Irish history: Daniel O’Connell’s campaign against the Act of Union, the famine, England’s injustices, mass emigration, and the rise of the Fenians. Following some of the storyline and details can be a challenge because Coogan assumes more knowledge of Irish history and politics than the average reader. There is humor mixed with the bleakness of poverty stricken, starving tenants, and the picturesque descriptions of the country shine through the depictions of human suffering. The Big Wind is a rich, wonderful sweeping novel with memorable characters.