Winds of misfortune


IT WAS in mid January 1993 that Dr John Tyrrell of UCC last hit the headlines. On that occasion he was a passenger on a car ferry to France that seemed to encounter a freak wave in Irish waters with quite spectacular results, and since he is something of an expert on such matters Dr Tyrrell's account of that event was widely publicised.

Tomorrow night he emerges once again from the anonymity of academe to deliver the Irish Meteorological Society's Christmas lecture. Its title, "Winds of Misfortune" is strangely appropriate to Friday 13th, but the subtitle ties down the subject matter more precisely: "The Failure of Wolfe Tone's Expedition in December 1796". It will recall the arrival of a French fleet in Bantry Bay 200 years ago.

Acting on the axiom that any enemy of Britain must be Ireland's friend, Theobald Wolfe Tone hit Paris early in 1796, there to persuade the French that an excursion to Ireland might be in their interests. As it happened he was pushing a door already almost open, but his assurances that any invader would receive a friendly welcome from the indigenous population were a bonus.

The French fleet of over 40 with 15,000 men aboard set sail from Brest, and by had already anchored in the temporary calm of Bantry Bay. Unfortunately, gales and rough seas throughout the voyage delayed the rest, and the advance party had to wait at Bantry for the arrival of their leader, Gen Hoche.

Moreover, the shelter afforded by the bay proved only temporary; another storm blew up and in due course the entire fleet was swept out into the Atlantic and the expedition had to be abandoned.

However, as Dr Tyrrell will explain tomorrow night, the weather was by no means entirely against the overall success of this ill fated venture, and indeed it almost neutralised the English fleet to the potential advantage of the French, although the latter failed to take advantage of such opportunities as it put their way.

Using a variety of historical and other sources, Dr Tyrrell will demonstrate that a wide range of weather conditions was experienced during December 1796, and he will examine their tactical importance to the main protagonists. The talk begins at 8 p.m. in the usual Earlsfort Terrace premises of UCD, and anyone with an interest in the subject is more than welcome to attend.