Sunday 17 December 2017

Defences keep Fermoy afloat but villages paying the price

A wall of steel protects the town's residents from the floods but elsewhere they're not so lucky, writes Graham Clifford in Cork

INVESTMENT: The flood defence barriers keeping the waters at bay in the town of Fermoy, Co Cork. Photo: Provision
INVESTMENT: The flood defence barriers keeping the waters at bay in the town of Fermoy, Co Cork. Photo: Provision

Graham Clifford

In a cosy corner of the Grand Hotel in Fermoy, locals enjoy their lunch and coffee, sharing tales of the Christmas just past.

Music plays and the perfect winter scene is completed with a burning log fire.

But just 30 feet away, the River Blackwater, swollen, fast-flowing and at its highest level in years, storms its way through the North Cork town.

Following yet another 24-hour period of heavy and persistent rain, the river has bulldozed its way north from Kerry - but here, for the first time in the history of the garrison town, it has been tamed.

Earlier this year the installation of a €38m flood defence system was completed and yesterday as the river rose again, the defences were raised to their maximum with the main bridge closed off to motorists and pedestrians.

It will remain closed until this morning when the situation will be reviewed again.

The town with the tag of 'the most flooded in Ireland' now finds itself in the unfamiliar, and somewhat surreal, situation of being dry while others fight back the relentless waters. Locals come to be pictured beside the new shiny flood defence panelling.

"It's just as well we had the flood defences up because those living along the quays believe the height of the river in recent days, especially on Wednesday night, was the highest they'd ever seen. Dangerously high. If that volume of water had swamped the town, we would have been destroyed," said local business owner and Fine Gael councillor Noel McCarthy.

He added: "The flood defence system took five years to install and there was a lot of disruption in the town when it was going up but I can tell you we're so happy it's here now."

And Joe Kearney, who owns the Grand Hotel, said: "In 2009, we were flooded twice in 10 days. It nearly floored us for good. But now that fear doesn't exist and it's a huge lift for everyone in the town. We have peace of mind and can look to the future without keeping one eye on the river."

Mallow, too, benefited from having its own flood defence system. While parts of the town, including the Park area, are still severely flooded, as are many secondary routes surrounding the town, it was protected from the worst of the flooding.

"Can you imagine what state this town would have been in if we didn't have the flood defences in place?" asked local man Denis O'Sullivan. He added: "We can live with flooding to roads and fields but not homes and businesses."

Three cars were stuck in flood waters on the Racecourse road towards Killarney yesterday afternoon and, while the road was declared passable, most motorists were taking no chances.

But, further downstream, it's the smaller villages and parishes that are paying the price for the flood defence victories in the likes of Fermoy and Mallow.

The Blackwater river levels in the village of Ballyduff, on the Waterford/Cork border, were at their highest in living memory yesterday.

Fields, roads and farmland were submerged and the R666-44 road from Ballyduff to Fermoy was closed at Ballynalacken/Kilmurry South after a heavy landslide. Roads were badly damaged as streams flowed from fields.

One local farmer told the Sunday Independent: "I've lived here all my life, 77 years, and I have never seen a river of that sheer strength passing through my village and my land. It has to be connected with the flood defence system in Fermoy. Because of it, the water doesn't slow down, its flow isn't impeded at all. It'll drown us unless the weather improves."

With more heavy rain expected to fall in the south east today, those living in Cork and Waterford are bracing themselves for more dangerous driving conditions.

And in parts of Midleton and Bandon, the two Cork towns worst affected, residents continue to clean out their homes after flooding caused by Storm Frank on Wednesday morning saw their houses submerged.

With limited flood protection, residents there are calling for similar defences to those built in other towns in the county.

Sunday Independent

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