Floods: Ireland's newest island - where tractors ferry cut-off families home
Published 04/01/2016 | 02:30
With freezing flood waters surrounding their homes, many families are dreading this Wednesday as children return to school.
In Athlone, many children will be dependent on the help of local farmers or the army to ferry them through the water safely.
Locals in Muckanagh, just a few miles outside the town centre, joke that they now have their own island.
"It is modern Ireland's new Craggy Island," said Carmel Boyce.
Tractors act as taxis, ferrying people to and from work, and on Wednesday it is likely that they will be used as makeshift school buses.
Carmel's father George Dooley has been helping 25 local families to go about their daily business by shepherding them on tractors through four feet of water every day.
Mr Dooley's farm has been inundated with water since November and the roads in the area have been undrivable for more than a month now.
"In the summer I have 80 acres of land, but in winter my farm is only 50 acres," he says as he jumps on to his tractor to make another trip.
He makes at least 10 trips per day, and has already used four times more diesel in the past month than he would use all winter: "It is costing a fortune in fuel but sure it has to be done," he said. "You can't leave people stuck."
Transport boxes on the back of three local tractors are the only link for the 25 "island" families. Each box measures only five feet by three feet.
Postal deliveries cannot reach the homes - and while locals joke that it means there are no bills coming through their letterboxes, Ms Boyce said life in the area has been very difficult.
"We have to put the wheelie bins on the transport box and drive them in and out if we want to do our rubbish. Simple things that you take for granted become so difficult," she said.
'If the tractor is going, you have to go too. There were days when I might not be working until 12, but if the tractor is going at 9am then you have to go too.
"Something as simple as getting the shopping in is a quest. Dad has a front-loader on the tractor and we have to put the shopping into that.
"You stock up the freezer, you stock up the press and then you are in for the flood We should not be stuck here for four weeks."
She said that getting children to school this week would be very tough.
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"We will need the army to come here this week now or put the children up on the tractor so that we can get them in and out of school."
The journey that the children will have to make on the tractor can be dangerous when it gets dark, and local councillor Tom Farrell has had to put stakes along the road to map out where it is safe to drive.
"The road is completely submerged and the stakes are the only guides you have to see where you are going," he explained. "It is barely passable in a tractor now. It has really got out of hand," he added.
"There are two 10 feet-deep drains either side of the road and if you go into those it is curtains.
"The front wheel of a tractor went off the edge last week and they nearly went in. If you go in there, you're a goner."
The Taoiseach visited the area before the weekend and said that he would make sure the flooding did not cut off people again.
Mr Dooley said that he would make sure the promise was kept.
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"I am sick and tired of it," he said. "The Taoiseach told the council that he would raise the road and get something done. If he doesn't, we'll be on to him."