Thursday 13 December 2018

Remembering days of Debbie

Sir - The devastation and three sad deaths caused in Ireland by Hurricane Ophelia brought back vividly to me the horror of storms and especially Debbie in September 1961.

I was going to secondary school each day by train to Castlerea at the time, and only went on that Saturday morning as my school were playing a college match. The match was cancelled but with no phone at home or mobile there was no way of getting the message to me.

It was a lovely sunny morning as I was setting out, but little did I know what was to unfold later.

On hearing from my teacher, Miss O'Flanagan, that the match was cancelled, I settled into a bit of study in the school as the next train home was not until 12.30.

It was then that the storm started in earnest. The windows were rattling, slates were flying and it was complete pandemonium in Castlerea.

I made my way to the station at 12.15, dodging slates and all kinds of objects driven by the storm, to be told the trains were all cancelled due to trees being down on the lines. With no way of notifying my poor parents who were terrified at home, I decided to set off walking to my home 14 miles away.

I had persuaded the owner of Hunt's bicycle shop to give me the loan of a bicycle (he gave it only because we shared the same surname), but with all the trees down blocking my path and me cycling against the wind and lifting the bicycle over fallen trees, I decided to walk with my bicycle.

I eventually got home after some hours - cold, wet and sore after being buffeted by the winds and rain - to be met at the door by my parents who were so glad to see me home safe.

It transpired that the roof had been blown off our outhouse, an acre of our stooked barley had been blown away and our large rick of hay had been overturned on to the road through our village. It was all very upsetting and costly to my parents, but I was home safe and that was my parents' only concern.

My father had to yoke his horse and cart and fork every bit of hay and make a new rick the next day, and the outhouse was duly re-roofed, but the acre of barley was never seen again.

Modern technology, especially mobile phones, would have got the message to my poor mam and dad that their son was safe and sound, and I can now understand their anguish at the time.

Ophelia did lots of damage to certain parts of Ireland, and unfortunately caused fatalities, but at least we had the consolation that we were notified about it days in advance and could make some preparation for its arrival. Hurricane Debbie and so many other storms and hurricanes of old just arrived with little warning.

Murt Hunt,

Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo

Sunday Independent

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