News Billy Keane

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Hard to believe that just five months ago the very same sea licked our toes

Published 09/01/2014 | 02:30

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The prom in Lahinch that received major damage during storm that hit the West coast over the weekend. Pic: Gavin Gallagher / SCP
The prom in Lahinch that received major damage during storm that hit the West coast over the weekend. Pic: Gavin Gallagher / SCP

The heroic men on the Kerry County Council pumps barely saved Ballylongford. The tidy, proud village is about a mile in from the fastest flow of the River Shannon.

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On Sunday, a mad unforeseen tide surged up the inlet at a relentless, unstoppable pace and right into the heart of the village. Then 22 homes suffered varying degrees of damage from the surging waters. And 22 families are without flood insurance after another disaster ruined their homes 10 years ago.

The neighbours huddle in little groups outside Ballylongford Church at the funeral of John Francie Ahern from Beale. John Francie was in his 80s and was a feisty, humourous character who loved to tell stories.

His nephew, Paddy McElligott, is building a house right by the water's edge on the Women's Beach of Ballybunion, directly in the line of the tide.

Earlier that morning, the waves crashed into Paddy's house. It was hard to believe that just five months ago the same sea licked our toes like a puppy in the sunniest summer in years.

On the morning of the funeral the high tide was frothing and vicious. A huge grey seal was washed up on the slip road just above the beach. Two seats were ripped up from the cement and vandalised by the confluence of the Shannon and the Atlantic.

The steel doors of Ballybunion Sea and Cliff Rescue's headquarters were smashed open by the waves. A deep sinkhole appeared on the road down to the Men's Beach. Locals say their giant footballing hero 'The Bomber' Liston would barely be seen if he fell in.

Ballybunion Sea and Cliff Rescue were out in all weathers making sure bystanders didn't venture too close to the mountainous seas.

A single car has been parked all week in the lower car park at the golf club. Just a few days before the Big Wind, the Sea Rescuers helped retrieve the owner from the sea.

We commiserated with Paddy McElligott at the back of Ballylongford Church. He told us then the story of his new house on the Women's Beach.

The front door is only 20 steps from the sands. The army bomb disposal unit were on their way to his and wife Mary's beach house, he said.

But Paddy was staying put, out of respect to his uncle. Paddy was told two grenade or rocket launchers were washed up on his site.

Paddy is a man not given to undue panic. He is what you might call phlegmatic. "We'll have to wait and see what happens. I wouldn't know much about bombs anyway," he said. In the meantime, Paddy would help lay his Uncle John Francie to rest.

Some things are more important than houses. And anyway, if the place is blown up, they will hear the explosion from the graveyard down the coast, if the baying wind stills for long enough.

The Tarbert Race -- the powerful flow of water running up the middle of the Shannon -- is turbulent even on days when the Big River is as calm as a holy water font. It is a river within a river. Local mariner, Micheal Finucane Senior explains the dangers.

"The race carries the entire pressure of the Shannon floods from the north as far up as Cavan, all the way down to the estuary," he said.

"Then when the winds and tide come in together from the North Atlantic, the waves are huge and dangerous. The water rushes up towards Bally and there's no stopping it."

The low pressure sends the floods heading for the village. Local councillor Liam Purtill, my Dad's first cousin, is hoping for compensation for the 22 who have no insurance.

He is fighting hard for Bally. I wonder if their homes were on the banks of the Dodder would money and flood defences be easier to come by.

Paddy McElligott and his wife Mary get good news after the funeral. There were no grenade launchers in his new house. No rocket or Exocet blew up Ballybunion. The Sea Rescue people used old watertight army boxes for storing equipment.

The weapons boxes were thieved by the tide and washed into Paddy's site. "All the hoo-ha was for nothing," said Paddy, as calm as could be. "It all worked out fine in the end."

It would've have taken Uncle John Francie the drinking of three halves of whiskey to tell this one. And then he might tell it again.

STANDBY

It's 8pm in Ballylongford on Monday night. High-tide time. The pump men from Kerry County Council are on standby. Sandbags buttress Novenas.

The tide flows in at about the four-metre level. The village is safe, for now, but even bigger tides are forecast for February and March. If the wind is strong and the Tarbert Race is bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, God only knows what will happen. But for tonight at least, the Estuary girls can celebrate Women's Christmas.

This Women's Christmas night is anniversary of the Big Wind, when hundreds were killed in 1839. Nature never goes away or gives way. The two Ballys know this. These Ballylongford people love where they live and will not be sent packing by storms or floods.

Cromwell's murderers slaughtered their monks. The O'Rahilly who was killed when he charged the British machine-guns at the Easter Rising came from here. His old home was flooded too. There was fire too. The Black and Tans burned out the village but Bally was rebuilt. Brendan Kennelly, from The Crooked Cross in Ballylongford, sums it up in his poem 'Begin'.

"Though we live in a world that dreams of ending,

that always seems about to give in,

something that will not acknowledge conclusion,

insists that we forever begin."

Irish Independent

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