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Plague of…Locusts (?!)…Galway – 1689

Photo: Creative Commons
Photo: Creative Commons
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 6th May, 1841
According to the best account I can get of the swarms of insects which of late years have much infested the kingdom of Ireland, I find that this flying army was first taken notice of in the year 1688. They appeared on the south west coast of Galway, brought there by a south-west wind, one of the common, I might say, trade-winds of this country. From hence they made their way into the more inland parts, towards Bedford, a place belonging to George St. George, Bart., about twelve miles from the town of Galway. Here and in the adjacent country, multitudes of them showed themselves among the trees and hedges in the day time, hanging by the boughs, thousands together in clusters, sticking to the back of one another, as in the manner of bees when they swarm. In this posture or lying still and covered under the leaves of the trees or clinging to the branches, they continued quiet, with little or no motion, during the heat of the sun.
But towards evening or sunset, they would all arise, disperse and fly about with a strange humming noise much like the beating of drums at some distance and in such vast incredible numbers, that they darkened the air for the space of two or three miles square. Those that were travelling on the roads, or abroad in the fields, found it very uneasy to make their way through them, they would so beat and knock themselves against their faces in their flight, and with such a force as to smite the place where they hit and leave a slight mark behind them.
A short while after their coming, they had so entirely eaten up and destroyed all the leaves of the trees for some miles round-about that the whole country, though it was in the middle of summer, was left as bare and naked as if it had been in the middle of winter; and the grinding of the leaves in the mouths of this vast multitude, altogether made a sound very much resembling the sawing of timber. They came also into the gardens and destroyed the bulbs, blossoms and leaves of all the fruit tree, that they were left perfectly naked; nay, many of them that were more delicate and tender than the tree, lost their sap as well as leaves, and quite withered away, so as they never recovered it again particularly several trees in the curious plantation of one Mr Martin.
Nay, their multitudes spread so exceedingly, that they got into the houses, where numbers of them crawling about, were very irk-some; and they would oft to drop on the meat as it was dressing (sic) in the kitchen, and frequently fall from the ceiling of the rooms into the dishes as they were stood on the table while they ate – so extremely offensive and loathsome were they.
Their numerous creeping spawn, which they had lodged underground next the upper sod of the earth, did yet more harm in that close retirement than all the flying swarms of their parents had done abroad; for this young destructive brood, being underground, fell to devouring the roots of the corn and grass, and eating them up, ruined both the support of man and beast. This spawn, when first it gave sign of increasing every day, became a bigger worm, till at length it grew as big as a great white caterpillar; from whence according to the usual transformation natural to those smaller animals, came forth thus our flying insect.
The rage of this plague of vermin was fortunately checked several days. High winds, wet and mysting (sic.) weather, destroyed many millions of them in one day’s time.

Whence I gather, that though we have them in these southern moist climates, they are more natural, and more peculiarly belonging to warm and dry countries. Wherever these ill constitutions of the air prevailed, their bodies were so enfeebled they would let go their hold and drop to the ground from the branches where they struck; and so little a fall as this, at this time, was of sufficient force quite to disable, and sometimes perfectly kill them. Nay it was observable, that even when they were most alive and vigorous, a slight blow or offence would for some time hinder their motion if not deprive them of life. During these unfavourable seasons of weather, the swine and poultry of the country watched under the trees for their falling and ate them up in abundance, being much pleased with the food, and thriving well upon the diet. Nay I have been assured, that the poorer sort of the native Irish (the country then laying under a scarcity of provision), had a way of dressing them, and lived upon them as food.
In a little time it was found, that smoke was very offensive to these flies, and by burning heath, fern, and such like weeds, in this or that corner of their dardens or orchards which lay most convenient for the wind to disperse it among the trees, they would secure their gardens and prevent their incursions; of if they had entered, drive them out again.
Philosophical Transactions


B.A., M.A.(Archaeology); Regional Tour Guide; Dip. Radio Media Tech; H.Dip. Computer Science.

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