Ireland – the past Tsunamis of 1755 & 1761 – and the future

I recall vaguely hearing of/learning about the “Lisbon” Earthquake of 1755 at some point in the past but never realised that “Tsunamis” in 1755 and again in 1761 were experienced in Ireland following the “Lisbon” Earthquakes of both 1755 and 1761. There does not appear to be very much information online as to whether the effects of the Earthquake of 1755 (epicentre being off the coast of Portugal) were “felt” in Ireland other than a reference I found to the subsequent “Lisbon” Earthquake of 1761, which alludes to the 1755 Earthquake …

“In Cork an earthquake was felt at a quarter after noon. Was considered to be more violent than that of 1 Nov. 1755”

RHISE VOL.1 – Moreira et al., Review of the historical seismicity in the Gulf of Cadiz….

Furthermore and seeing the “effects in Great Britain” of the 1755 Earthquake as detailed below would lend one to assume that there were surely direct effects experienced in Ireland at the time. In any event, the “Lisbon” Earthquake of 1755 was followed some hours later by a Tsunami which hit the Cork Coast and which is alleged to have extended along the West Coast as far as Galway Bay.

The subsequent Earthquake of 1761 (again epicentre off the coast of Portugal) was directly “felt” at least in the Southern part of this Country and again followed by a Tsunami some considerable number of hours later, which again hit the South Coast. There would appear to generally be scant information available with regard as to how the Tsunami of 1755 affected this Country but even less information available as regards how the 1761 Tsunami affected. Therefore the following  details are mainly of the Tsunami of 1755 and as to how it is said to have affected this country.


There is much written on the 1755 “Lisbon” Earthquake which is estimated to have been a magnitude 8.5 – 9 quake which occurred at approx 9.40 am on 1st November, 1755. What unfolded at Lisbon can be easily be sought and read online. I shall simply use a part and rather colourful quote from one Sir Charles Lyell who later described this earthquake and it’s consequences generally, as I’m specifically concerned/interested in the after effects of this 1755 Earthquake in so far as they affected this Country;

(Sir Charles Lyell (14th November 1797 – 22nd February 1875) was a Scottish Lawyer and Geologist (said to be the foremost Geologist of his day) and an influence on a young Charles Darwin). If interested, background information on Sir Charles Lyell is contained here: Charles Lyell – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

“In no part of the volcanic region of Southern Europe has so tremendous an earthquake occurred in modern times as that which began on the 1st of November, 1755, at Lisbon. A sound of thunder was heard underground, and immediately afterwards a violent shock threw down the greater part of that city. In the course of about six minutes, sixty thousand persons perished. The sea first retired and laid the bar dry; it then rolled in, rising fifty feet above its ordinary level. The mountains of Arrabida, Estrella, Julio, Maravan, and Cintra, being some of the largest in Portugal, were impetuously shaken, as it were, from their very foundations; and some of them opened at their summits, which were split and rent in a wonderful manner, huge masses of them being thrown down into the subjacent valleys. Flames are reported to have issued from these mountains, which are supposed to have been electric; they are also said to have smoked; but vast clouds of dust may have given rise to this appearance. . . .

“The great area over which this Lisbon earthquake extended is very remarkable. The movement was most violent in Spain, Portugal, and the north of Africa; but nearly the whole of Europe, and even the West Indies, felt the shock on the same day. A seaport called St. Ubes, about twenty miles south of Lisbon, was engulfed. At Algiers and Fez, in Africa, the agitation of the earth was equally violent, and at the distance of eight leagues from Morocco, a village, with the inhabitants to the number of about eight or ten thousand persons, together with all their cattle, were swallowed up. Soon after, the earth closed again over them.

“The shock was felt at sea, on the deck of a ship to the west of Lisbon, and produced very much the same sensation as on dry land. Off St. Lucar, the captain of the ship ‘Nancy’ felt his vessel shaken so violently that he thought she had struck the ground, but, on heaving the lead, found a great depth of water. Captain Clark, from Denia, in latitude 36 degrees 24′ N., between nine and ten in the morning, had his ship shaken and strained as if she had struck upon a rock. Another ship, forty leagues west of St. Vincent, experienced so violent a concussion that the men were thrown a foot and a half perpendicularly up from the deck. In Antigua and Barbados, as also in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Corsica, Switzerland, and Italy, tremors and slight oscillations of the ground were felt.

“The agitation of lakes, rivers, and springs in Great Britain were remarkable. At Loch Lomond, in Scotland, for example, the water, without the least apparent cause, rose against its banks, and then subsided below its usual level. The greatest perpendicular height of this swell was two feet four inches. It is said that the movement of this earthquake was undulatory, and that it traveled at the rate of twenty miles a minute. A great wave swept over the coast of Spain, and is said to have been sixty feet high in Cadiz. At Tangier, in Africa, it rose and fell eighteen times on the coast; at Funchal, in Madeira, it rose full fifteen feet perpendicular above high-water mark, although the tide, which ebbs and flows there seven feet, was then at half ebb. Besides entering the city and committing great havoc, it overflowed other seaports in the island. At Kinsale, in Ireland, a body of water rushed into the harbour, whirled round several vessels, and poured into the marketplace.”

County Cork – Kinsale/Innishannon

As per the Site of the Irish Marine Institute: On November 1st, 1755, a series of tsunamis lasting more than seven hours tore at the south west coast of Ireland, “wrecking fishing boats around Kinsale” and “even damaging coastal buildings as far north as Galway Bay” Major Conference to Discuss Tsunami Warning Systems

Damage is alleged to have been caused to the harbour in Kinsale, of which no actual details appear to be available online.

An interesting “Informal Report” appears to have been prepared by a William H. Berninghausen, titled “Tsunamis and Seismic Seiches Reported from the Western North and South Atlantic and the Coastal Waters of Northwestern Europe” (Sept 1968 – US Naval Oceanographic Office) …

A Seiche is a standing wave in an enclosed or partially enclosed body of water. Seiches and seiche-related phenomena have been observed on lakes, reservoirs, swimming pools, bays and seas. The key requirement for formation of a seiche is that the body of water be at least partially bounded, allowing the formation of the standing wave. Seiches can also be induced by tsunamis, a wave train (series of waves) generated in a body of water by a pulsating or abrupt disturbance that vertically displaces the water column. On occasion, tsunamis can produce seiches as a result of local geographic peculiarities.

Berninghausen in this Report states that a Seiche(s) occurred very shortly after the “Lisbon” Earthquake in 1755 in Cork and the “sea was much agitated” (see page 30). He goes on to state with regard to the subsequent Tsunami that at Kinsale Harbour between “3 and 4 pm, the water came over the quay with such violence as to throw many people down” (see page 32). There are numerous References/Sources mentioned by Berninghausen and these can be read at the end of either of the above pdf links pages 37 – 44.

Following on from this, I attempted to see if there was further mention of this tsunami in the Kinsale area and was astounded to come across an entry regarding Innishannon in Wikipedia. The Village of Innishannon lies between Cork City and Bandon and on the River Bandon. The River Bandon flows into the sea relatively close to Kinsale Town and the River is tidal pretty much up as far as Innishannon.

The entry in Wikipedia states;

“The Innishannon bridge which crosses the Bandon river has been present in various incarnations since the 1600s. The original bridge was destroyed in the tidal wave backlash that swept Europe after the earthquake in Lisbon in 1755. The wave swept up the River Bandon, causing destruction and killing thousands from Kinsale and up along the river. The River Bandon, originally navigable to Bandon town, for the first English settlers, was permanently lowered to a much lower water level, making further down-river Collier’s key the closest reachable port.”

Innishannon – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I am not at all sure where this info on Wiki about the “wave” sweeping up the Bandon Estuary/River from the Kinsale area, destroying the Bridge at Innishannon, killing “thousands from Kinsale/up along the river” and making part of the river thereafter un-navigable came from. There is no reference document alluded to on the Wiki page. There are numerous other Websites online giving the same basic details but as to where the information comes from I have not been able to ascertain. I’ve never heard of this before now, having a long held interest in matters generally of a historical nature in Cork. Lyell referred to a body of water rushing into the Harbour in Kinsale (which would have certainly have travelled some way up the Bandon Estuary/River).

Berninghausen refers to people being “thrown down” in Kinsale, but it’s a rather dramatic jump for the Wiki entrant to state that “thousands from Kinsale and up along the river” were killed. That’s NOT to say it didn’t actually happen, I just haven’t seen written evidence of this occurring elsewhere online or from past knowledge of Cork historical affairs.

Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland 1837 is an excellent publication giving details of numerous places in Ireland in 1837 and often gives some brief prior history of such place. This came out some 80 years or so after the events of 1755 and nowhere is there any mention of either of the 1755 and 1761 Tsunamis in either the Articles relating to Kinsale or Innishannon. I would have thought that if thousands were killed in 1755 that it should at least have merited a mention in Lewis’ articles – but perhaps he was sticking to the present day with some of the past varied history of those places thrown in for good measure;

Lewis Topographical Dictionary – Kinsale
Lewis Topographical Dictionary – Innishannon

Update – 7th May 2009 … Since originally posting the above, I contacted Kinsale History Society and a Member of the Society was good enough to reply very quickly to me by email to confirm that they believed that the account as given in this Wikipedia Article regarding Innishannon might not at all be accurate as the accounts given in the various histories of Cork do not mention any casualties of such a nature.

I attempted to see if I could find some other information online as to whether there was ever such a “watery deluge” alleged to have travelled up along the Bandon Estuary/River having firstly entered the Harbour at Kinsale and sadly without much success. But I did come across the following, which seems interesting, or perhaps just coincidental;

Glebe House & Coach House Apartments

This property, which is in the vicinity of Ballinadee Village, is also close to the Bandon Estuary, along which this Tsunami/tidal wave allegedly surged and up the Bandon River to Innishannon. A Map indicating the property’s position is here;

Glebe House & Coach House Apartments

Most interesting to note as per the property owner’s Website that this property “is close to the wooded banks of the Bandon Estuary, and to the Heritage town of Kinsale”, that is was “built in 1690” and was “repaired in 1755” the self same year this Tsunami hit Kinsale and allegedly travelled up as far as Innishannon. But perhaps the property was simply being repaired for the first time in any event in 85 years which just happened to occur in 1755, the same year as a Tsunami allegedly hit the area. Quite a coincidence.

The Wiki entry also states that: “The River Bandon, originally navigable to Bandon town, for the first English settlers, was permanently lowered to a much lower water level, making further down-river Collier’s key the closest reachable port.” Collier’s Key (aka Collier’s Quay) is situate approx 1 – 2 miles downstream from Innishannon.

One of the earliest written references to Innishannon is contained in the Book of Leinster which was written circa the 12th Century, in which it is reported that in 837 AD Innishannon was ransacked and plundered by Viking pirates who came up the Estuary of the River Bandon.

Samuel Lewis in his 1837 Account states of Innishannon that “… its situation on the river, which is navigable for vessels of 200 tons’ burden up to Colliers’ quay, and for lighters into the town” Lewis Topographical Dictionary – Innishannon

This is a present day image of the surrounds of Collier’s Quay 1-2 miles below Innishannon: Panoramio – Photo of view from Colliers Quay, Innishannon, Cork, Eire.

To give upstream distances along the route of the actual Bandon River and Estuary itself as and from where it exits close to Kinsale up to Innishannon itself;

Innishannon – approx 8 miles upstream
Ballinadee (where Glebe County House is located) approx 4 miles upstream
Collier’s Quay – approx 6/7 miles upstream

County Cork – Castlefreke/Rosscarbery

It is alleged that the sand dunes at Long Strand, Castlefreke were created as a result of the 1755 Tsunami. Long Strand lies between Clonakilty and Rosscarbery to the South and on the Coast

.Panoramio – Photo of view from Colliers Quay, Innishannon, Cork, Eire.

It is also alleged that the sand deposits now in place from anknown as the Warren to Rosscarbery are a result of the 1755 Tsunami. Warren Beach today is approx 1 mile from Rosscarbery itself.

An image of the Warren area today:…rren-Beach.jpg

County Cork – Barleycove

Barleycove is situated close to Mizen Head and the nearest Villages would be Crookhaven or Goleen.

Again, it is alleged that the Sand Dunes at Barleycove were a direct result of the 1755 Tsunami.

An image of Barleycove and the Dunes:

(Personally, I would know each and every one of the above mentioned locations referred to in County Cork reasonably well, having visited all of them on many occasions over the years. It makes more of an interesting slant indeed for me to now consider that there is the possibility that this 1755 Tsunami allegedly may have played quite a part in the shaping of such locations!)

County Clare

Allegedly the Clare Champion Newpaper has previously reported that “deep and yawning chasms” were carved out along the Clare coastline at Killomoran, Caherglissane, Gort and Kinvara acting as testament of the great Lisbon earthquake in 1755 and furthermore that a castle at Coranroe on the north coast of Clare was also destroyed. I do not have any link to the Clare Champion re this, only the following Site: Past Tsunamis

It is also alleged that Aughinish Island in County Clare was created as a direct result of the 1755 Tsunami having previously been part of the Clare mainland. Uniquely in Ireland, this present day Island is separated from its own County by sea, but is joined to another County by road, in the sense that a road to the island was built across a causeway from County Galway by the British for access to a Martello Tower constructed in fear of Napoleonic invasion (1804-1810). This is covered by David Walsh in his Book “Oileain” at page 119 – see here: Oileain: A Guide to the Irish Islands – Google Book Search

Here also is an image of the present day Pier at New Quay, Co. Clare with Aughinish Island to the right which was allegedly severed from the Clare mainland following the 1755 Tsunami Panoramio – Photo of DSC03393

To those who know of “Linnane’s Bar” in New Quay (a short distance into County Clare from Kinvarra) the Bar overlooks this self same Pier and the land across the narrow stretch of waterway is Aughinish Island.

County Galway – Galway City

The 1755 Tsunami which hit Ireland is also said to have entered Galway Bay and allegedly caused damaged to the Spanish Arch(es) in Galway.


(Details and information are relatively scant as are contained below)

On March 31st 1761, there occurred another “Lisbon” Earthquake, with an epicentre again West/Southwest of Lisbon. There are theories that this was related to the 1755 Earthquake and also theories that it was not and that it was an independent occurrence.

The effects of this Earthquake were to have been “felt” in Ireland – “In Cork an earthquake was felt at a quarter after noon. Was considered to be more violent than that of 1 Nov. 1755” RHISE VOL.1 – Moreira et al., Review of the historical seismicity in the Gulf of Cadiz…

As per the Publication “The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake – Revisited” by Luiz Mendes-Victor, Carlos Sousa Oliveira, Joao Azevedo and A. Ribeiro “The 1761 earthquake was felt widely onland from southern Ireland in the North ….”;

The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake – Revisited – Google Book Search (see page 137)

What followed in any event after the 1761 “Lisbon” Earthquake was the 1761 Tsumani which hit the South Coast of Ireland.

Another online source states “The 31 March 1761 earthquake was felt in Lisbon at noon, alarming the inhabitants and throwing down ruins of the past 1 November 1755 earthquake. According to several sources the earthquake was followed by a tsunami that was observed as far as Cornwall (United Kingdom), Cork (Ireland)”: In Search of the 31 March 1761 Earthquake and Tsunami Source — Baptista et al. 96 (2): 713 — Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America

Another source states generally as concerning how this tsunami affected the South Coast of Ireland that “At Kinsale, at about 6pm, the sea rose suddenly 2 ft. and repeated rapidly in 4 min, this being repeated, though to a less extent, several times. At Carrick, at 4pm, the surface of the river Suir rose 1 ft. in 5 minutes. At Dungarvan, the sea ebbed and flowed five times between 4 and 9pm. At Waterford, the sea advanced 30 ft. along the shore, while at Ross (Co. Wexford) – perhaps this means “New Ross”???? a violent agitation of the river occurred at 7pm.” Tsunami Event


From the limited information available to hand online (and quite possibly limited information in every sense) it would appear that the Tsunami of 1755 dramatically affected this country. If details online are to be believed, it resulted in considerable deaths (if the unsubstantiated Wiki entry re Innishannon, Co. Cork were to be believed) and also a dramatic reshaping of the coastal outlines of the South and West of this Country.

Indeed, the following is also interesting which relates to the Dublin area specifically … “The harbour was tidal and required constant dredging. Nevertheless, it was continually improved and in the course of the century the banks of the Liffey were lined first with wooden and then, after 1755, with stone quays.” History of the Irish Parliament Online – Ulster Historical Foundation

Why was it after “1755” specifically, as per the above link and article, that the banks of the Liffey were lined with stone quays instead of wooden quays? Was it as a direct result of what was experienced in the Country following the Tsunami which hit the Southern and Western Coasts in 1755?

From the very limited information available, it would seem that the Tsunami of 1761 did not have the same adverse effects in this Country as the Tsunami of 1755.

Fast forwarding to recent times and no doubt posters here remember the 2004 “St. Stephen’s Day – 26/12/04” Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent Tsunami(s) which resulted in the loss of lives heading towards a quarter of a million. I was on vacation in California at the time and remember the morbid repetitive and overkill US Television Accounts which went on for days and also walking down to the very nearby Santa Cruz Beach to “experience” the remnants of the agitated waters lapping harmlessly against the shore.

As of 2007, Ireland was to examine setting up a tsunami early warning system, even though such a threat was believed to be remote. Min. Noel Dempsey stated that it would involve representatives of a number of ministries and state agencies like the meteorological service, the geological survey office and the marine institute. He continued on to say that “although the probability of a tsunami along Irish coastlines is statistically very small, the EU has decided to ‘fast track’ a number of initiatives aimed at predicting such events” Ireland Examines Tsunami Early Warning System

And as per the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) Site in the sense of the up to date present version as per their Site online:

“Since the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, considerable international attention has been directed at establishing an effective international warning system for the world’s oceans and seas. The International Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO has established an Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the North Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Tsunami Warning System (NEAMTWS) to deliver an initial system in the Mediterranean by end 2007 and a system for the whole region by 2011, which will focus on linking up existing national systems. GSI represents Ireland in this group. In parallel with this process, Ireland is working towards developing its national TWS capability.

Following discussion at the February 2005 meeting of the Government Taskforce on Emergency Planning, the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) was mandated to develop a concept for a tsunami warning system for Ireland in conjunction with other interested stakeholders, both national and international. The concept developed was approved at the meeting of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning in October 2006. The Government has recently mandated the setting up of an inter-Departmental committee to develop a fully designed and costed proposal. The committee will be chaired by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources with representation from Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Department of Education and Science, Department of Defence, and Department of Finance. A technical group will comprise GSI, the Marine Institute, Met Eireann and Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. The team is expected to complete the proposal and submit it to Government for approval later in 2007.

In an Irish context, tsunamis are low probability events that would have very significant impacts. Damaging tsunamis could affect Ireland from several geologically feasible scenarios. For example, recent modelling of a Lisbon earthquake scenario, conducted jointly with the UK, predicts waves up to 4m high along the south Irish coast. The proposed warning system could provide alerts up to four hours before a tsunami might reach our coastline. Its benefits for an informed public in such circumstances are obvious and very significant.”

GSI Web – Tsunami warning system for Ireland

In modern times, the most perceived possibility of another Tsunami affecting Ireland would appear to come from the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma in the Canaries. Researchers claim that the western flank of the Cumbre Vieja volcano might be caused to cave in after an eruption, sending a huge mass of rock, twice the size of the Isle of Man, crashing into the sea and unleashing an immense tsunami which would fan out across the Atlantic at speeds of up to 800 kmph. After 10 minutes, the wall of water would have moved almost 250 kilometres. The other Canaries and the West Saharan shore would be worse affected with waves of 100 metres from crest to trough. Florida and the Caribbean would be hit by waves of 50 metres some 8 to 9 hours after the landslide. Brazil would be hit by waves as high as 40 m. The Atlantic coasts of Spain, Portugal, France and Britain (and presumably factor in Ireland) would also be affected by waves as high as 10 metres.

But this may never happen in our lifetime (although this particular instance will almost certainly occur sometime, whenever that is). Plus of course one must factor in unforeseen occurrences which no-one can be aware of which may occur …. anywhere

Plus of course, one would hope … in modern times .. that if an event does occur … that we shall be forewarned of an impending Tsunami with some hours forenotice.

And to FINALLY conclude, have a read of an “experiment” as was commissioned by Defra, the Health and Safety Executive and the Geological survey of Ireland;

Executive summary

Ah Well   13.3.2011

One Response

  1. This is a live issue again, with an expert report recommending that Ireland should install a Japanese style tsunami warning system.

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