The Lady behind the Storm: The Irish astronomer that Storm Agnes is named after

By Katy Thornton

September 27, 2023 at 3:13pm


Something to think about when your brolly goes inside out.

The woman of the hour, Storm Agnes, was actually named after an Irish astronomer and science writer.

Met Éireann and the UK Met Office have been working together on the naming programme since 2015, with the Netherlands’ KMNI joining in 2019, and this year Ireland has two Irish specific entries; Storm Agnes, which we're currently experiencing, and Storm Jocelyn which may come down the line.

Who was the lady behind the name Storm Agnes?

Agnes Mary Clerke was born in Skibbereen, County Cork in 1842. She was home-schooled alongside her older sister Ellen, by her parents, John and Catherine - John studied classics at Trinity College but also did course in mathematics and astronomy.

Agnes showed interest in Astronomy at an early age; by eleven she had already read Herschel's Outlines of Astronomy.


Throughout her teens she began writing about the history of astronomy, and often used to study the sky through her father's telescope.

Agnes was later tutored by her brother Aubrey in advanced mathematics, physics and astronomy; the latter was studying at Dublin University at the time. In her 20s, Agnes moved to Italy with Ellen, where the women studied science and lived in Florence for the better part of ten years, before they finally settled in London.

In 1885, Agnes published her most well known work, A Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century, which became commonly used for its discussion of the spectroscope.

Perhaps Agnes' biggest achievement came in 1893 when she was awarded the Actonian Prize by the Royal Institution.

Agnes died in London in 1907, at the age of 64, but as you can see she was a very impressive person.


Other Storms named after an Irish scientist

If we get as far as a J-letter Storm, this will also be named after an Irish scientists.

Met Éireann has named it after Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a brilliant astrophysicist who discovered the first pulsating radio stars (or pulsars) in 1967. She led a distinguished career in research and teaching, with an emphasis on empowering women in physics.

Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell said this the inclusion of her name:

“I am delighted to feature in this distinguished list celebrating science and hope that if a potential “Storm Jocelyn” happens, it may be a useful stirring-up rather than a destructive event! Science advancements increase our knowledge and understanding of the world around us, and I think this is wonderful example of science-based services communications.”


We'll be sure to do a rundown of Jocelyn's work and life if Storm Jocelyn hits.

Header images via Maths History & Getty


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