I woke last Tuesday morning to the terrible news that my beloved city of Lisbon had been devastated by a natural disaster. The news crier in the street had the breaking news as a Portuguese ship had docked in the night. A massive earthquake shook the city; it was followed by a tidal wave which swept all before it. The tremors were followed by a series of fires which lasted most of the week and gutted the city. The ship coming from Porto had the news and it is believed that thousands have been killed. The captain and some of the officers have been in Dick’s Coffee House and the Globe telling their story to all interested customers; never have the Dublin coffee houses been so busy. Since then further reports have been coming in via London and Paris.
Initial reports indicate that an earthquake occurred close to the Algarve region on the morning of All Saints’ Day (Saturday, 1 November). This tremor was felt in Cork on the same day at 36 minutes past nine in the morning, and a massive swell from the sea swept into the Bay of Kinsale in the afternoon. I had read about it in The Dublin Journal last week, and never suspected the devastating results it would have elsewhere. Many Portuguese towns have been completely destroyed, but Lisbon, as the most populous city with over a quarter of a million inhabitants, had the greatest devastation done and the greatest loss of life. Most of the city’s churches collapsed crushing those worshipers who were attending mass for the feast day.
Then the worst was to come, about an hour and a half after the first tremor, tidal waves crashed in from the River Tejo and flooded into the low-lying Terriero do Paço and the Baixa. The royal palace at Paço da Ribeira was destroyed and the docks at Alcântara were inundated. Part of the Custom House sank into the river. The Irish church and college of Corpo Santo at Cais do Sodré have been reduced to rubble. I believe that Belém was less badly affected and hopefully my friends in the Irish community at Bom Sucesso have survived. At first the royal family were reported to have been killed, but they were in Belém when the disaster hit and were saved. They are forced to live in tents in the palace gardens, and the king is quoted as saying: “I am without a house, in a tent, without servants, without subjects, without money, and without bread.”
I grew to love Lisbon when my cousins were studying in Portugal, one was training to be a doctor at the University of Coimbra and the other was being educated by the Dominicans at Corpo Santo. I stayed there one whole spring and travelled around the region. These days my brother imports wine from Porto and Setúbal and I have taken passage on his ships several times. It is hard to think of all the beautiful buildings now in rubble, and worst of all is the huge loss of life. With its labyrinth of alleyways and closely packed houses it is clear how so many perished. I do not think I could bear to visit again to witness all this destruction. Some of my friends and I hope to raise a subscription to gather money, food and clothes for the survivors, many of them now homeless and starving, and we will send help on the first ship sailing for the region.