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ON THE ICY PLAINS OF KILDARE

Leinster Leader January 14th 2010
 
 
On the icy plains of Kildare
 
The cold spell of bone-chilling severity over the past three weeks will go down in the weather history of Ireland as being one of the most prolonged freezes experienced in modern times. But County Kildare is no stranger to weather records. The lowest temperature recorded any where in Ireland in the 20th century was at Lullymore in west Kildare when on 2nd January 1979 the mercury plunged to a low of minus 18.8 Celsius. This was only marginally short of the lowest ever officially recorded temperature of minus 19.1 Celsius at Markree Castle, Co. Sligo in January 1881.
But in terms of severity the number of days below zero matters as well as the value of the coldest temperatures. Already Met Eireann have rated December 2009 as the coldest December for almost thirty years for many parts of the country. Indeed for the Met Eireann station at Mullingar, one of the closest fully equipped stations to Co. Kildare, last December was the coldest on record since the blizzard conditions of January 1982.
 The blizzard of 1982 has generated its own body of folklore. The snow fell deep in a swathe west of the Wicklow hills on a Friday evening, 7th January. Kildare bound commuters leaving work found themselves stranded on the dual-carriageway south of Newlands Cross. Quick thinking on the part of the Roadstone management who were then owners of the corporate premises near Baldonnel came to the rescue. As the snow began to freeze around stranded motorists a message was broadcast on radio that the Roadstone premises would stay open through the night. In a scene reminiscent of a story from polar exploration, drivers and passengers struggled through wind-driven snow to reach the shelter of the premises.
A mixed bag of dual-carriageway users found themselves spending the night under the same roof. They included truck drivers from Northern Ireland who were vocally impatient at having their journey interrupted; a benign bread-van driver who relieved hungry ‘refugees’ by dispersing supplies from his stranded van; and, incongruously, the armed soldiers from an Army cash escort, all thrown together in Roadstone that night. A similar scene was unfolding in snow-bound Naas where cinema manager Paddy Melia kept the Dara cinema open through the night. His generosity was appreciated by long distance drivers who in those pre by-pass years travelled through the Main Street of Naas on their route south.
The Saturday morning brought no respite. The Irish Times newspaper published a spectacular aerial photograph showing trucks jack-knifed across the centre median near Rathcoole and cars covered to their roofs in snow. Some Naas bound travellers walked the carriageway to Kill where they got a lift on a tractor the rest of the way.
A key component of the national emergency response - the Air Corps crews at Baldonnel – were snowed in but the airmen worked round the clock with their small fleet of helicopters to ferry supplies to isolated communities. Kildare’s highest village, Kilteel, was one of the grateful recipients of the Air Corps supply mission.
Prior to the 1982 blizzard one of the most severe weather events was the winter of 1962/63, reckoned by met historians as the coldest since 1740. The freeze set in over Christmas and on New Year’s Eve 1962 some 45 centimetres of snow (almost two inches) blanketed of Ireland. January 1963 brought little relief with continued sub zero temperatures making it the coldest January ever recorded.
However the winter which chilled itself into the memory of a generation was the ‘Big Snow’ of 1947. In this case it was the duration of snow fall which caused great disruption. From late January 1947 to March there were between 20 and 30 days of snowfall. The impacts in the Kildare/West Wicklow area were severe. A bus to Dunlavin had to be dug out of snow drifts. The canals froze throughout Kildare stopping the shipping of badly-needed turf from the Bog of Allen to the capital. People skated on the canal at Kilcock and there are photographs of towns-people sliding on the canal branch to Naas. There were more long term impacts of the 1947 freeze. The rationing restrictions of the Emergency era (second world war) was extended; coal supplies dwindled and there was no fuel for the steam-engines hauling trains on local branch railways such as the Sallins-Naas-Tullow line which was effectively closed, never to be fully reinstated.
The foreboding expressed  by James Joyce at the conclusion of his short story ‘The Dead’ set in a severe winter of 1904 comes to mind: ‘Snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves.’ 
More than a century later Ireland has experienced ‘mutinous Shannon waves’ in terms of the widespread flooding in November 2009. And in years to come, the memory of the snow and ice lodging on the plains of Kildare in January 2010 will no doubt be recalled along with its polar predecessors of 1947, ’63 and ’82.
 
 Series No: 161.

The icy conditions of times past in County Kildare are recalled by Liam Kenny in his 'Nothing New Under The Sun' series in the Leinster Leader.


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