Thursday 14 December 2017

Backlash: How can we tame the cruel sea?

The days of trying to turn back the tide with sandbags and shovels are over and it is the future of our coastline communities that is at stake. Graham Clifford reports.

Storm Christine hits Lahinch in County Clare as high seas batter the county Clare town for a second time in a week. Photo: Sean Curtin
Storm Christine hits Lahinch in County Clare as high seas batter the county Clare town for a second time in a week. Photo: Sean Curtin
A terrible beauty: Wayne Timmons takes pictures of Storm Christine as it hits Lahinch in Co Clare. Photo: Sean Curtin
Water runs through the streets of Lahinch. Photo: Alan Place
Ripped from the sand: The wreck of the iconic schooner Sunbeam, which ran aground on Rossbeigh beach in 1903, was lifted from its resting place and tossed almost half-a-kilometre away. THINKSTOCK
Mary Brosnan and her dog Gizmo on the bough of the wreck in its new position. THINKSTOCK; DON MacMONAGLE

Graham Clifford

By the middle of the week, the extent of the damage caused by Superstorm Christine had become painfully apparent in homes, businesses and communities across the country.

Trucks filled with gravel and sand zoomed around the promenade at Lahinch, Co Clare, while JCBs filled holes and removed giant boulders from the car park. Workmen, still battered by the elements, beavered away clearing debris.

In other parts of the western seaboard, homes were still under water. Entire roads were swept into the sea, with islands created along the coast.

"I was born and reared here and I've never seen it as bad," explained Lahinch local Kieran Glynn. "It looked like Beirut, like a bomb went off, with debris, rocks and boulders everywhere. It's a miracle nobody was injured."

In the town's Sea World complex, general manager Joe Garrihy is still counting the costs of the storm.

"It's easily in excess of €100,000 and also we've had to close our doors because there are problems with access. The bulk of the damage was caused in our plant room," he said.

"Pumps and the boiler system that heats our pool and circulates the water were all damaged and will have to be replaced."

Plans to open a marine interpretative centre focusing on local submarine inventor John Philip Holland are still in place, although the audio-visual system, which is key to making this a tourism draw, was damaged.

"We hope to get it back up and running as quickly as possible and we still aim to launch the Interpretative centre in the next few weeks," said Garrihy.

"We've been inundated with calls, emails and texts offering help. We even had a university in Nebraska offering support. I think you only know what you have when there's a threat of it being removed and that thought frightened people."

Rosemary Buckley, who owns a surf shop and house on the town's battered promenade, explained how the relentless crashing waves affected her.

"The shop itself wasn't too badly hit but we have a house next door which we're renting out to a young couple and that was destroyed. A rock smashed the patio doors on the first floor. In our 24 years here, I've never seen it so ferocious."

While Lahinch has a long history of super waves (the postmaster Francis Talty recalls one in the 1950s which left thousands of dead fish strewn along the roads), it's the threat of more to come which worries some locals.

"When we opened the shop here, the water temperature used to go down to about six degrees in the winter, but now it never dips below 10. That must have some effect on things," said Buckley. "Also, erosion has made the big boulder rock armour on the sea front here all but disappear."

Like so many others, she is keeping her fingers crossed that the insurance companies come to her assistance before the main tourism season begins.

On the Aran Islands, entire roads were washed away, with one local describing 'an island on an island'.

On Achill too, the sea breached defences with worrying ease, leaving many homes under water.

Along the south coast from Bantry to Tramore, coastal communities felt the force of Mother Nature, as did the likes of Bray and indeed Dublin itself on the eastern seaboard.

In Galway's Spanish arch, councillor Niall McNelis's 'Claddagh and Celtic Jewellery' store suffered when the Corrib burst its banks. Two-and-a-half feet of water flooded the business.

"We've had to close for about two weeks but there are so many others in the same boat here and in Salthill," he said.

Only last month, Galway City Council approved funding of €25,000 for a feasibility study to look at ways of making the Salthill area even more attractive to tourists.

McNelis predicts that allocation will now be redirected to the clean-up operation.

"From demolished boats to flooded roads, this area has been hit badly. There was even a famine ship memorial we helped put in place two years ago in Salthill, which was destroyed. That was so sad to see.

"For now, we need to use what funds we can to restore the city and assist the 60 businesses that were flooded."

But rather than just cleaning up and carrying on as normal, McNelis believes the focus has to be on the future.

"The days of sand bags outside doors has to stop. We need to look into proper ways of providing a quality drainage system and flood defences. This will continue to happen and maybe worsen. We have to do what we can to limit the impact."

In the village of Glenbeigh, Co Kerry, stunned locals are still reeling from the destruction caused by high tides on the nearby beach at Rossbeigh.

The road which ran down the spit at the popular blue-flag beach was destroyed, while a children's playground took the full force of the storm.

Near-apocalyptic scenes greeted locals when they ventured to the beach last week after rocks and boulders had been lifted and carried from the

beach front to higher ground.

There are now fresh concerns for the safety of roads in the area.

"It was astonishing to see the power of the sea. Our beautiful beach has been ruined," says Michael Cahill, who has lived in Rossbeigh all his life and who is an independent county councillor.

Even the wreck of a schooner which ran aground on the beach in 1903 and had become an iconic sight locally was ripped from its resting place and tossed almost half-a-kilometre away.

While the stones and boulders will eventually be replaced, the road rebuilt and, funding allowing, the playground restored, Rossbeigh's biggest problem lies in the gradual destruction of its sand dunes.

"The dunes on the split provide a natural defence for low-lying areas further inland in places like Cromane, Dooks and other parts of Glenbeigh.

"They are disappearing at an alarming speed and so what was once just Rossbeigh's problem has become a much bigger problem for other areas.

"For years I've been stressing the need to do something about such erosion but successive governments have decided not to. Now we see the consequences," said Cahill.

Noel Riordan, who runs the Glenbeigh Shellfish business in nearby Keelnabrack, can testify to that.

"This was the first time since we opened our current production business that we've been flooded. We're based further inland from Rossbeigh and with the high tides and lower sand dunes we're now in the line of fire of such storms, so to speak.

"The flood damage means we've had to close part of the processing side of things for at least two weeks. We need special machines to clean up the mess and remove biotoxins.

"We hope that we can get something from our insurance company. The worry is that normally you can only claim once for flood damage. We have high tides coming again in February and if we have a similar combination of natural forces I'm not sure there's any way we can protect the business from further flooding."


Rising tides . . . and rising costs

* The clean-up bill following Superstorm Christine is likely to top €150m, raising fears that house, motor and commercial insurance premiums will rise by 30pc.

* The worst recorded storm in Ireland came on January 6, 1839, when a hurricane swept across the country leading to several hundred deaths and wide-scale destruction. It became known as the Night of the Big Wind or Oíche na Gaoithe Móire.

* Six of the 10 warmest years in Ireland have occurred since 1990.

* Global land precipitation worldwide increased by approximately 2pc over the course of the 20th Century. In Ireland, annual rainfall in northern and western areas has increased over the last two decades.

* Satellite observations show that Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 11.5pc per decade, relative to the 1979 to 2000 average.

* Air temperatures in the Arctic region have, on average, increased by about 5°C over the last 100 years. Western parts of the Antarctic Peninsula are among the fastest-warming places on Earth.

Irish Independent

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