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The Great Lisbon Earthquake

The Great Lisbon Earthquake

The Great Lisbon Earthquake, 1 November 1755, as recorded by Fr James White, Limerick

The Great Lisbon Earthquake was a devastating earthquake that completely destroyed the Portuguese capital of Lisbon on 1 November, 1755. Not only did it destroy Lisbon, it also had devastating effects on the surrounding countries as well, such as Spain, Morocco, the UK and Ireland, with the tsunamis caused by the earthquake even stretching as far as the Caribbean islands. The following extract from the White Manuscript highlights the impact that the earthquake had on the southwest coast of Ireland.


Extract from the White Manuscript, pp 135-8 Limerick Diocesan Archives.

'On the first of november being saturday, at 36 minutes after nine o’clock in the morning, there was felt in the City of Cork, a very sensible shock of an earthquake. Its duration was almost a minute, in some places its motion was observed to be slow and gradual, not unlike that of a ship under easy way; in other parts short and tremulous. It seem’d to be confined to the centre of the City from east to west. The people hearing mass in broad lane chapple were shuck and greatly alarm’d thereby, very few on the north or south sides of the City felt it; it seem’d to begin at Coal harbour.

Nota bene. It seems this is the first Phenomenon of this kind ever heard of in this Kingdome. Tis true that in England about three or four years before, there were repeated shocks of earthquakes felt in London and elsewhere. The same day viz the 1st of november, about two o’ clock in the afternoon, the sea swell’d in an inaccountable manner in the town of Kinsale. It rush’d in like a mountain flood in ten minutes time 13 feet higher than usual, without the least breeze of wind, overset some ships and boats, broke their cabals and anchors, went off in the same space of time, and return’d and went off at different times after, until the same violence; it wash’d over the adjacent port of the town, which greatly alarm’d the inhabitants. There were the same accounts from different parts to the westwards of Kinsale and Cork. At this time the tide was full ebb, the fishing boats were whirl’d about with a motion as quick as the fly of a sack, and those of them which had no people on board to manage them sunk directly in the eddy water as in a whirlpool. There sudden flexes and reflexes of the sea continued until ten at night, and seldom more than a quarter of an hour between each return, to the great terror of the inhabitants. The water did not rise gradually, but rather with a hollow and horrid noise, rush’d in like a deluge and rose six or seven feet in a minute, and as suddenly subsided. It was as thick as puddle, was very black, and stunk insupportably.'


Image: Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2022, October 25). Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Lisbon-earthquake-of-1755.

Author: Conor Moore, TY Gaelcholáiste Luimnigh on work experience, Limerick Diocesan Archives.

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