by ehistoryadmin on December 23, 2015

Christmas snow yields to New Year’s floods

Liam Kenny

The New Year of 1915 started off with mixed fortunes as far as the Kildare Hunt was concerned. Their sport was favoured and then frustrated by a rapidly changing weather pattern which had already assailed the countryside with storm, snow, frost and flood, since the week of Christmas. The hunt met at Enfield on the first Saturday of the New Year and was favoured by a fine day after some early frost. A big following turned out to pursue quarry across the river Blackwater. In the almost breathless words of the hunting correspondent: “soon we were galloping over the plains of Meath.”

By the following Tuesday the weather had deteriorated and this time the hunting meet was in the higher territory of the Wicklow hills with the hounds starting from Blessington. The correspondent reported that “we had some very cold hail and sleet before hounds moved away about noon”. The Wicklow foxes seemed cannier than their Meath counterparts and managed to remain in hiding while the frustrated huntsmen blundered around as the weather turned vicious.

The Kildare Hunt was not the only activity impacted by the volatile weather which had alternately drenched and frozen the country over the last fortnight of the old year. “Christmas weather” was a phenomenon reported by the Kildare Observer’s Monasterevin columnist who wrote that all the week previous to Christmas day the country was covered with a white mantle of snow, and skating operations were just in full swing until on “Xmas morning the conditions changed, and the seasonal weather was followed by heavy rain and storm, making the day anything but pleasant.” Indeed the residents of Monasterevin and environs were to endure days of disruption as the snow and rain swelled the river Barrow until it burst its banks and flood thousands of acres. As the paper recorded: “All the main roads were covered with inches of water and, in some instances, to a depth of a couple of feet.” Monasterevin neighbourhoods such as Drogheda Row, Passlands and Skirteen suffered severely. Even by the standards of the long history of inundation in the Barrow basin the flood disruption was serious and widespread. From Rathangan to Monasterevin, Vicarstown and on into Athy, the country for miles in the vicinity of the Barrow was covered in water. Many householders were forced to abandon their homes. In the districts of Derrylea and Derryoughta families had to flee from their houses on New Year’s Eve as the low-lying countryside was flooded by the relentless rise of the river. According to veteran Barrow watchers “not for the past fifty years has such an inundation been witnessed, or such hardship and suffering.”

The story was similar in north Kildare where the normally well-behaved Liffey was put under pressure by the volume of melting snow and rain and soon both the river and its tributaries had burst their banks. The catastrophic weather gave rise to the some rare sights. In Maynooth residents of the side streets awoke to find their pigs swimming in their styes after the Lyreen river inundated the town. The portion of the town that suffered most was Parson Street where the residents were constantly engaged in baling the water out of their homes and in erecting improvised dams made of road scrapings. Down river in Celbridge the waters also threatened with the Liffey rising to an astonishing eight feet above its normal winter level. Here aquatic pigs were again part of the story. As the Celbridge correspondent wrote with a wry tone: “In one yard where a pig was kept the water rose to four feet and some strategy had to be restored to in order to rescue the animal”. Truly a case of “if pigs could swim” rather than “if pigs could fly”.

The county town did not escape the ravages and the Naas town surveyor was forced to rouse the Urban Council workmen from their seasonal slumbers when the little streams flowing into the town turned into thrashing torrents. The Friary road was converted into a veritable river, Poplar Square was swamped, and the Sallins road outside the Catholic church was also under water. The unfortunate residents of Friary Road had up to two feet of water in their kitchens. Mr Hall, the town surveyor, and his workmen worked long into the night to remove the blockages and let the flood waters escape. The meteorologically inclined Naas correspondent pronounced that “The flooding was caused by a rapid thaw which set in on Tuesday and Wednesday after the heavy snowfall on Monday.”

The erratic weather – whether frost or flood – brought accident and incident to many places. On Christmas Eve an Odlum’s motor-lorry laden with flour on board careered off the road at Kennel bridge on its way from Naas to Dunlavin. The vehicle tipped into a six foot deep ditch where it remained over Christmas Day. The shop-keepers of Dunlavin sent horse-drawn carts to remove the flour on board from its precarious position.

There was more drama in Kilcock in the heavy frosts when a turf seller from Donadea arrived on top of the canal bridge with his load. The road surface was like glass and in order to negotiate the slope descending towards the town he unyoked the cart from the horse. Enlisting the help of some local stalwarts he attempted to guide the laden cart gently down the slope. However one by one the helpers lost their footing and the turf cart careered down the bridge until it collided with the wall of a house. Fortunately there was no injury other than a broken shaft on the cart. It seemed as there was no let-up in the weather with the North Kildare reporter writing with a degree of resignation: “ North Kildare was visited by another snowfall on Monday last (27 December 1914), the ground being covered to a depth of between eight and nine inches.”

Let us hope that the weather in the first days of the New Year is kinder than that visited on our forebears by the calamitous climatic conditions of Christmas and New Year one hundred years ago. Leinster Leader 30 December 2014, Looking Back, Series no: 414.

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