July 1719 diarist weathered similar summer 'deluge'


THE MISERABLE, rain-sodden August Ireland is experiencing is not a modern phenomenon, an 18th-century manuscript recently digitised by Dublin City Library shows.

The handwritten diary, which covers 1716 through 1734, contains daily observations of the vagaries of Dublin’s weather. It recounts how the rain was so heavy in July 1719 that many of the city’s residents “thought the grand dissolution at hand”.

It also presents weather news from abroad, including reports from Poland that freezing conditions had caused bears to break into homes to devour “many children and cattle”.

The diary was kept by Isaac Butler who lived near St Patrick’s Cathedral and would have known Jonathan Swift, according to Eithne Massey, a senior librarian in Dublin City Library.

“The diary was part of the John Gilbert collection that was left to the library at the end of the 19th century,” she said.

Its author remained unknown to the library until this year, when research by Dr Alan Smyth at Trinity College Dublin confirmed his identity.

Butler was variously described as a meteorologist, an astrologer, a botanist and also a “Parish Constable” living in St Nicholas’s Parish at the corner of St Patrick’s Street and Bull Alley. He consorted with scientists as readily as quacks, collaborating with scientist John Rutty to conduct tests on claimed curative properties of well waters but then using astrology to predict weather, Ms Massey said.

His diary shows that some Augusts during his time looked remarkably similar to 2012. He records the weather on this date in 1727 as “rain mostly, all day, SW”, and again the same date in 1728 as “flying clouds and stormy, wind at SW, rainy even”. But on August 25th, 1717, the day offered “fair sunshine”.

Butler often added weather news to his diary, most likely gleaned from daily newspapers, Ms Massey said. He was able to report that July 17th, 1719, “brought such a deluge of rain, attended with the most violent thunder that ever was known in Dublin”. The floods that resulted caused “a great flood in St Patrick Street where a poor woman coming out of her bed was killed in the waters that were in her roome before any assistance could come to her, in short the consternation was so great that many thought the grand dissolution at hand”.

He reports on the severely cold weather in Poland during January 1729 when “the Cold and frost have been so Extream for these 3 weeks past, and the snow so Deep, that the Bears have done a great deal of Mischief in several Villages, where they get on the tops of houses which are only thatch’d, open them, and slide themselves down, and have killed several persons, devoured many children and cattle”.

He made ends meet by publishing an annual almanac with useful information including the tides for Dublin, a calendar and, of course, a few advertisements, Ms Massey said. He married three times and died by suicide, aged 65, through an overdose of laudanum and brandy.

The Butler diaries are one of a number of documents that will be digitised to make them more accessible to the public, Ms Massey said. They are available to view at