In the early morning of June 3rd, 1944, Maureen Flavin (21) dispatched a weather report from Blacksod, Co Mayo, that would change the course of the second World War.
The barometer at the remote weather station showed pressure was dropping rapidly, indicating a major Atlantic storm was due to arrive and blow right across western Europe. Based on Ms Flavin’s readings, US general Dwight D Eisenhower postponed the D-Day landing by 24 hours.
On Saturday, the 98-year-old, now Maureen Flavin Sweeney, was awarded a special US House of Representatives honour for her part in the war. Her role was recognised at a ceremony held at Tí Aire nursing home in Belmullet, Co Mayo, where she now lives.
Congressman Jack Bergman, who is the highest ranking veteran to serve in Congress, wrote on June 6th, the 77th anniversary of the D-Day landing, that he was “honoured to recognise the service of Maureen Flavin Sweeney”.
“Her skill and professionalism were crucial in ensuring Allied victory, and her legacy will live on for generations to come,” he wrote.
Her son Vincent Sweeney, who is the lighthouse keeper at Blacksod Point, said Ms Flavin Sweeney was proud of the dispatch’s influence, but primarily “happy that she got it right”.
“The main thing was that she got the forecast right…We could be wearing jackboots, if you like,” he said.
From the post office in Blacksod, the Sweeney family had been recording the weather every hour throughout the war. They sent their observations to the Irish Met Service in Dublin, which were then forwarded without their knowledge to the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force in England.
Ms Flavin Sweeney, who is originally from Co Kerry, did not learn until more than a decade later the influence of her report in 1944.
At 1am on June 3rd, the day she turned 21, Ms Flavin Sweeney’s readings caused alarm overseas. Later that morning she received a phone call from an English woman asking that she “please check… please repeat” the report. Examining the barometer again, Ms Flavin Sweeney and her husband Ted confirmed that a storm would indeed hit the English Channel on June 5th.
Unknown to her at the time this was the initial date chosen by Allied command for the invasion of Normandy, France, an operation that required clear skies for air support and calm water to ensure the safety of water-based landing craft.
A keen military history researcher, Vincent Sweeney expressed great pride in the role his mother and family played in the war. “The hair rose on the back of my neck in Normandy,” he said.
While the death toll on D-Day was big, “it could have been a lot more” were it not for the report from Europe’s most westerly weather station, he added.
Mr Sweeney noted that the remote area of Blacksod played an outsized role in world affairs. “For such a small place a lot has happened here,” he said.