This winter Ireland has experienced a succession of storms which have produced new rainfall records and left thousands of homes damaged and lives wrecked as swollen rivers burst their banks and the cold silty water washed through homes and businesses throughout the country. This is the River Suir at Clonmel, Co Tipperary. In fact, to be quite truthful it isn’t. The photo was taken from the bridge that normally crosses the river, but it now stands merely to suggest where the river should be.
Flood defences can be effective and the €40m spent protecting the town of Clonmel appear to be working as the river Suir sweeps past The Quays on the southern side of the town. The local council has the responsibility of erecting them whenever a flood is forecast and they take many man hours of putting together, yet the council staff worked long into the night to ensure the town was saved; so far! The river level is around five feet above the street where the green van is parked.
The crisis has brought the local community together with businesses offering goods and services to help the beleaguered who are caught in flooded houses or left homeless until the water subsides and they can return to what is left of their lives. The Irish Red Cross have moved swiftly into action with the their Community Resilience programme, identifying and checking upon all those that are most vulnerable to the storms, and it is not always obvious who it may be. Here, Darren Ryan of the Clonmel branch loads sandbags into their 4X4 which are to be taken to the house of an elderly lady in the area. The bags had been filled that morning by volunteers from Cahir, a neighboring town a few miles upstream.
The affected house lay high in the hills near Clonmel. An unlikely place to be affected by floods but during the previous day a spring had opened up in the kitchen threatening to soak the rest of the house as it sought an exit. Grace, now in her seventies, had spent the whole of the night with a bucket and mop clearing it away before a neighbour had found some sandbags, but hardly enough to contain the flow. Darren and his colleague, Brian Lafford, had brought some more in the hope of sealing the floor above the source.
Brian arranges the bags in a tight pack around the stove where the water was entering the old building. Grace was born and raised in this house and lives happily here with close neighbours, although it is several miles to the nearest shop. In the past she has survived a lightning strike which shocked her speechless for several days and hopes to return to breeding ponies now that she is over an illness that laid her low for a while. A remarkable lady who retains her independence, a fact greatly respected by the Red Cross who aim to support all in the community in their own homes rather than dictate how they should live.
Having completed the job and leaving a few sandbags spare should they be needed Grace insisted on making tea and offering cake before we left. Despite the lack of sleep and her advancing years she remained cheerful and resolute that this minor drama would not deter her from her continuing to live where she belongs. “I don’t think God wants me yet” she pointed out and her simple faith in life can be a lesson to us all. Having ensured that she had food and milk enough for the new year Darren and Brian said farewell with strict instructions that she should call again if she needed help in any way.
Keeping a fleet of vehicles on the road is a huge expense and a having a 4X4 may seem an unnecessary luxury for a charitable organisation, yet they prove their worth and no more than during these storms when the roads and lanes are awash with debris and the surfaces are littered with potholes. Getting half a tonne of sandbags up to Grace would have been beyond most vans in such conditions and so the ‘jeeps’ earn their keep despite their cost. Clonmel are presently raising funds for a new ambulance for which they need €80,000, money they need to find from the community, but it will not be wasted.
Dusk was settling in when we returned to the town. Much of the organisation’s work is done in the evening when the volunteers are home from their jobs. Darren and Brian took a detour to check out the flood defences along the Quay before heading home. This is the street we see in the second photo and if it were not for the barriers then the water would be level with the vehicle’s roof rather than just a few inches up the tyres. Despite this apparent success there are many houses who remained unprotected so when the water leaves the real job of clearing up begins. Once again the Irish Red Cross will be in the thick of it, bringing practical aid and comfort to those whose homes are damaged and belongings are lost.