The Frosty Winters of Ireland: Poems of Climate Crisis 1739-41

Lucy Collins


The period between 1450 and 1850 in Europe is often referred to as the ‘Little Ice Age’ but it was in the years 1739-1741 that Ireland experienced some of the most severe weather conditions ever recorded in the country. The Great Frost, as it later became known, caused unprecedented disturbance in Ireland’s ecology: lakes and rivers were frozen, potato crops and grain harvests were ruined, and livestock and humans perished from hunger and disease. This devastation of the natural world was accompanied by upheaval in civic life, including the break-up of rural communities and an increase in crime and social unrest. Though the extraordinary weather witnessed at this time has largely been forgotten, it calls attention to the impact of climatic conditions on both human and non-human environments, as well as exploring the challenge these circumstances presented to existing human perceptions of the relationship between man and nature. Many of the poems written and published at the time explore this unprecedented experience, some drawing on the conventions of poetic representations of the natural world, others offering innovative expressions of diverse conditions. Using the work of well known figures such as William Dunkin and Laurence Whyte, as well as hitherto uncollected texts by lesser-known and anonymous writers, this essay will explore the poetic mediation of this important environmental event and consider its impact on our understanding of the natural world in Ireland in this period.


Poetry; literature and ecology; eighteenth-century literature; weather in literature.

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549