The Irish lighthouse keeper who gave D-Day the go-ahead


Category:  History & Sociology

Via:  hallux  •  one month ago  •  18 comments

By:   Geoff Maskell - BBC

The Irish lighthouse keeper who gave D-Day the go-ahead

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

As a young woman growing up in County Kerry, Maureen Flavin Sweeney dreamed of moving to the United States.

Belmullet in County Mayo, on the Atlantic coast of Ireland, was as far west as she got.

There she married a lighthouse keeper, raised a family and on 4 June 1944 made a weather report that changed the course of history.

Built in 1866, the lighthouse at Blacksod lacks commanding views out over the vast ocean.

It does, however, have geography on its side at the very western edge of Europe.

For the D-Day invasion planners in southern England, Ms Sweeney's weather reports would be the first to confirm any break in the weather.

After a settled month in May 1944, conditions at the start of June were much less favourable for those planning the operation to re-enter Nazi-occupied France.

What was D-Day?

That operation - D-Day, also known as the Normandy landings - would see troops from the UK, the US, Canada and France attack German forces on the coast of northern France on 6 June 1944.

It was the largest seaborne invasion in history and one of the most significant events in World War Two, which marked a turning point in the fight against Nazi Germany.

However, Operation Overlord required a very specific set of conditions: to take place shortly before dawn, on a rising tide and preferably on a night with a full moon.

That limited the available dates to 21-23 May, 5-7 June, 18-20 June and 3-5 July 1944.

Narrow window of opportunity

Dates in May had been discounted for logistical reasons and on the night of 2-3 June, Ms Sweeney reported bad weather; a rapidly falling barometer and a force six wind.

This report was forwarded from the Irish Met Service to the Allied headquarters in southern England.

Unusually, Ms Sweeney received a call back a short while later.

It was a woman with an English accent asking for confirmation of the report.

Her future husband, lighthouse keeper Ted Sweeney, had just returned when the call came through.

“We checked and rechecked, and the figures were the same both times, so we were happy enough,” she later told Ireland’s Eye magazine.

It was a call that shaped history.

History's most important forecast

Some 12,000 aircraft, several thousand vessels and 150,000 troops would eventually take part in D-Day on 6 June.

The weather report from Belmullet was enough for the chief meteorological officer, Group Captain James Stagg, to advise that the invasion be postponed by 24 hours.

“The whole situation from the British Isles to Newfoundland has been transformed in recent days and is now potentially full of menace,” Stagg had told General Dwight D Eisenhower.

For the Allied troops waiting under canvas in camps across the south of England, the weekend of 3-5 June saw strong winds, low cloud and rough seas.

On Saturday 3 June, Eisenhower gave the order to postpone.

A break in the weather

Eisenhower and his commanders faced a real dilemma balancing secrecy and success.

Launch the invasion in bad weather and risk failure, or delay and increase the chance of the invasion plans leaking.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had already imposed a ban on travel and communication between Britain and Ireland, both north and south, on 14 March 1944.

But weather reports were still being received from neutral Ireland under an agreement signed between the two governments in May 1939.

Information from 10 Irish weather stations - including Blacksod - was supplied hourly. And on 4 June the crucial information came through.

Group Captain Stagg believed a ridge of high pressure was building up from the Azores.

A ridge that would give a window of better weather.

And on 4 June, confirmation came from Belmullet when Ted Sweeney reported: “Heavy rain and drizzle cleared, cloud at 900 feet and visibility on land and sea very clear.”

At 04:15 on the morning of 5 June 1944, Eisenhower met with his senior staff and told them: “OK, We’ll go.”


Maureen Sweeney received a medal from the US House of Representatives

Maureen and Ted married after the war, but neither knew the role that they had played in D-Day until 1956.

In that year the weather station was automated and moved from the lighthouse to Belmullet town and the secret was shared with the couple.

It was announced more publicly in 2004 with the unveiling of a plaque at the lighthouse and in 2020, Maureen Flavin Sweeney, then 98, received a special US House of Representatives honour for her part in the war.

She passed away on 17   December 2023 .

The importance of weather

If the invasion had been postponed again until the next available date, 18 June 1944, the results could have been very different.

That week the worst storm for 40 years arrived in the English Channel and would have made the landings impossible.

In 1961, while going to his inauguration, President John F. Kennedy asked Eisenhower what had given him the edge on D-Day.

He replied: “Because we had better meteorologists than the Germans.”

Those meteorologists had Maureen and Ted Sweeney carefully watching the weather on the rural west coast of Ireland.


jrDiscussion - desc
PhD Principal
1  seeder  Hallux    one month ago

Good girl!

Professor Principal
1.1  devangelical  replied to  Hallux @1    one month ago

the first weather girl...

Professor Principal
2  Gsquared    one month ago

Great story.  The history of D-Day is extremely interesting.  The entire history surrounding WW2 and all of the facts and circumstances leading up to it is amazing to study.

Professor Principal
2.1  devangelical  replied to  Gsquared @2    one month ago
The entire history surrounding WW2 and all of the facts and circumstances leading up to it is amazing to study.

especially when comparing it to today's events...

Professor Principal
3  Kavika     one month ago

Wonderful story, Maureen and Ted are the silent unknown heros.

Professor Quiet
4  shona1    one month ago

Morning...from little things big things grow and it certainly did on June 6th 1944...

So many people would probably have contributed in a small but significant way that day unbeknown to them what was about to unfold...

The beginning of the end of WW2 in Europe and the world heaved a sigh of relief..

Drinker of the Wry
Senior Expert
4.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  shona1 @4    one month ago
So many people would probably have contributed in a small but significant way that day unbeknown to them what was about to unfold...

No doubt but secrecy and deception were paramount for this operation and between the allied forces and the French resistance, they were very effective,

Professor Quiet
4.2  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  shona1 @4    one month ago

I'm reminded of a line from the movie Ladyhawk starring Rutger Hauer and Mtthew Broderick. "Great storms announce themselves with the smallest of breezes." That great storm was the Allied landings at Normandy on June 6 1944.

Split Personality
Professor Guide
5  Split Personality    one month ago

The Irish are my favorite ancestors!

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
5.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Split Personality @5    one month ago

Rewarding terrorists for their unprovoked massacre of so many innocent civilians puts them at the end of MY line.  However, I assume you have different, much better, ancestors as well. 

Professor Quiet
5.2  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Split Personality @5    one month ago

Mine are the Scottish, although I do have Irish heritage as well. I had my genealogy done by a professional geneologist and by Ancestery.com. both traced my ancestry back to the de Balliol family of Picardy in France and then to Guy de Balliol and John de Balliol, aka King John the 1st of Scottland. In addition, another ancestor was none other than William Wallace, otherwise known as Braveheart. Blew me away to find that out.

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
5.2.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @5.2    one month ago

My ancestry puts me in the middle of a conflict.  My mother was Ukrainian and my father White Russian - a reason I voice support for neither side.

Split Personality
Professor Guide
5.2.2  Split Personality  replied to  Ed-NavDoc @5.2    one month ago

When I was wee lad sitting on my paternal grandfathers lap he told me we were Irish pirates from Cork and the rest of the family would roar with mocking laughter.

60 plus years later Ancestry pegged us as 88% Irish from Cork; over the last few years that has increased to 99.3%

My mother's father thought they were Welsh, British royalty, turns out they were Irish, from Cork.

Go figure.

My Mexican wife's father said they were descended from Pancho Villa until she got into a grade school brawl defending Pancho Villa; turns out via Ancestry, that they are more Castellion, Italian and Greek than Hispanic Native American.

Interesting stuff DNA...

Professor Quiet
5.2.3  Ed-NavDoc  replied to  Split Personality @5.2.2    one month ago

That's only on my father's side. My family history gets more convoluted on my mother's side. My maternal grandfather was a blond haired blue eyed full blooded Spaniard. My maternal grandmother was half Mexican and  half Chiricahua Apache who grew on a small ranch in Cananea, Mexico about 60 miles from the AZ/Mexico border. She remembered as a teenager Pancho Villa and his men coming to their ranch to water their horses. He even offered to pay for the water. She said he was very polite and friendly to her and her family. 

Professor Principal
5.2.4  Kavika   replied to  Ed-NavDoc @5.2.3    one month ago

Damn, that's some interesting stuff in your background. I'm not that complicated, Ojibwe and Michif/Cree. Simple easy not too complicated, except when I try to explain to most people that we are dual citizens and they look at you with that strange look. Yes, we are according to the US government since we are recognized as Nations, example, I am a member of the Ojibwe Nation and a citizen of that nation and also a citizen of the US. We became citizens of the US in 1924 and it wasn't until the 1960s that all states recognized us as citizens. 

In 1898 my grandfather fought in what is considered the last of the battles of the Indian  wars. Sugar Point on Leech Lake, MN. The Pillager Band of Ojibwe defeated the US 3rd Infantry when they tried to arrest Chief Hole in the Day. The never arrested him nor defeated the Ojibwe. On the Metis side of the family many of my relatives including my great grand father fought the British at Red River War in Canda. 

Drinker of the Wry
Senior Expert
6  Drinker of the Wry    one month ago

Great story, thanks for posting.  I never knew ‘the rest of the story’.

Split Personality
Professor Guide
6.1  Split Personality  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @6    one month ago

You know those two guys on the SCR270 in 1941 would be household names if McDonald had convinced Kermit Tyler that

the Japanese were 130 miles out .

Instead Kermit Tyler is remembered for blowing off the warning and wasting 40 minutes of early warning.

Because it was determined that it was only Tylers second day on the job with zero training he was exonerated for his lack of action, stayed in the service retiring as a Lite Colonel 20 years later.

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
7  Buzz of the Orient    one month ago

Really enjoyed reading that story.  


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