Saturday 24 February 2018

'In 2009, Fermoy flooded twice in 10 days. Now that fear doesn't exist...'

Protected: Fermoy's defence system.
Protected: Fermoy's defence system.

Graham Clifford

Year after year, the people of Fermoy struggled to quell the untameable River Blackwater. Flooding over the years has destroyed businesses and homes in the centre of the north Cork town.

In 1916, two soldiers garrisoned there were swept away in the raging waters and drowned. In 1946 and 1980, two especially severe floods hit the town and in 1988 there were four floods - one of which saw waist-deep water engulf business premises.

But this year, for the first time in Fermoy's history, there are no such fears. There are no sandbags being handed out and no army personnel waiting to carry schoolchildren safely over the bridge that divides the town in two - because earlier this year the building of a sophisticated flood-defence system, at a cost of €38m, was completed.

This week, as water levels rose, the swollen Blackwater stayed within its banks as it passed on by.

"It's a new dawn for the town. Fermoy is now safe from flooding and while there will be tougher tests for the new flood-defence system, I think it would take something of biblical proportions to breach it," said Joe Carney, the owner of the popular Grand Hotel which sits on the river bank and which has been flooded repeatedly over the decades.

Walls measuring three to four metres in height now protect the perimeter of the town centre, with lower walls built at strategic points within its core. Demountable defence barriers can also be placed at both sides of the bridge.

This week the metal barriers were erected along a portion of the river bank in the event of a sudden rise in the water level.

More than 7,000 cubic metres of concrete, 1,200 tonnes of reinforced steel, 1,400 sqm of steel piling and five kilometres of pipelines were used in the construction of the flood-defence system, which took five years to complete.

Additionally, four pumping stations, three of them underground, were placed along the river in order to remove excess water.

"In 2009 we were flooded twice in 10 days, it nearly floored us for good," explains Joe Carney.

"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."

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