No anniversary party for couple as they stay put to fight the floods
Liz and John O'Brien have been inseparable for 40 years. So when the gardaí and members of the Civil Defence in Clonmel asked them to evacuate their home on Saturday evening, the couple politely told those in reflective clothing that they would rather stay put and fight the floods together.
"On New Year's Eve we were supposed to have a party here in the house to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, but sure by then the house was flooded. We wanted to stay and protect our home so when the Civil Defence said we could stay in the Clonmel Park Hotel we told them we didn't want to leave," said mother-of-four Liz O'Brien yesterday.
"You don't just want to lock up your home and walk away from it. Personally I feel if I can see what's going on I'm more at ease with myself."
While most residents in the Kilgainey area of Clonmel were evacuated, a number decided to remain in their properties.
The O'Briens' home is one of three in the area to have been severely flooded in recent days.
Next door, one family owns two semi-detached homes; both were empty and lifeless yesterday, as up to four feet of flood water poured into the bungalows.
In all, 25 homes in this rural area beside the swollen River Suir were marooned on Saturday evening when flood waters crossed the road at two points, rendering Kilgainey inaccessible.
Some 14 homes were evacuated. Residents in nine houses decided to remain and two houses were vacant. Those who left on Saturday night were told they could return to their homes yesterday evening. Only emergency vehicles were able to make it through the floods leading into Kilgainey yesterday.
A picture of Liz and John, childhood sweethearts, on their wedding day on December 26, 1975, hangs above their mantelpiece - while the flood water laps at the grate.
"At least we had the Christmas," says John as he mans pumps leading out of a downstairs window. It's been six days since the house was first flooded.
Their son Shane, who is studying music in a London university, joined his parents for Christmas with his Texan girlfriend. "The poor girl had never seen floods like this before in her life," said Liz.
"Because of all the rain in recent days and weeks there's just nowhere for the water to go. I don't know how much more of this we'll have to take," said John.
In her kitchen Liz steps on concrete blocks, placed as makeshift stepping stones, to get around the room.
"I don't like walking on the blocks to be honest because I have a bit of vertigo," she said.
The O'Briens have lived in the house for 30 years and while flood relief works have taken place locally, they say this is the ninth time they have been flooded.
"We're just waiting now for the council to turn off the water, that's what normally happens after a few days of flooding. It's ironic being surrounded by water but none coming out of the tap," says Liz.
In Clonmel itself locals gather on the old gas bridge in the town - many shocked by the scene unfolding in front of them. The River Suir barges along, threatening to breach the €40m flood defence system.
Amy Joyce, who moved to the town for work in 2013, points to an area of the now- enlarged river. "That's where I run most mornings with my dog, you wouldn't even know there was a road down there now. It's frightening," she said.
Fears that the river might find a way through the barriers were somewhat allayed yesterday as the water level dropped.
"To be honest, all the people living along the river in the town and all the businesses in nearby streets held their breath," said one local businessman who has lived in the town all his life.
He added: "If the flood barriers weren't here, so much of Clonmel town would be under water. And for a while there we thought even the barriers would be breached. I do feel for those further downstream, like residents in Kilgainey and all the way to Carrick-On-Suir. They won't be as lucky as we've been so far."