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The Big Snow 1982: ‘We had most of the sheep gathered, 300 in all, when the blizzard started’


Roundwood sheep farmer Sean Malone has experienced worse snowfalls than 1982.

Roundwood sheep farmer Sean Malone has experienced worse snowfalls than 1982.

Roundwood sheep farmer Sean Malone has experienced worse snowfalls than 1982.


THE heavy snowfall of 1982 may have wreaked havoc country-wide but for Roundwood sheep farmer Sean Malone the snow of 1963 and 1947 was even more severe.

Any form of snowfall tends to majorly impact on Roundwood and surrounds, as it is the highest village in Ireland, and located on a plateau which is 238 metres above sea level.

Sean, who was one of the leading figures behind the establishment of the Wicklow Cheviot Sheep Owners’ Association, has experienced all sort of weather conditions in his many decades farming sheep in the Roundwood area, and while the snow of 1982 was serious, it didn’t compare to 1963, 1947, or even the Beast from the East in 2018.

Sean said: “Things were bad in 1982, but the snow of 1963 was worse and the snow of 1947 was the worst I have experienced.

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"Back then you had a shortage of fodder and machines weren’t available to clear the roads.

“The snow of 1982 didn’t last as long but it was still very bad, and there were huge snow drifts everywhere.”

Sean and his brother had planned together their sheep off Luggala at least one or two days before the snow was due but didn’t get to it in time.

“The plan had been to walk the sheep from Luggala back to our farm in Roundwood, roughly a five mile journey,” said Sean.

“On the day the snow was due to fall, we drove headed to Luggala and parked our car at the Pier gates.

"We had most of the sheep, 300 in all, gathered when the blizzard started and within minutes we could not see where we were going,

“We eventually managed to walk the sheep back up to the Piers gate but when we got there, I could not get into the car as the locks were frozen.

"I had to keep blowing hot air on the lock until it finally thawed out before I could finally open it.

“It was dark as I drove the car behind my brother Pat and the sheep. We made it as far as Sleemane when the car got stuck in the snow.

"We continued the rest of the journey on foot until we got back to the farm.

"My brother and I then drove the tractor back up to Sleemane to tow our car home.

“When I got home my feet and legs were so numb with the cold that I did not realise my boots were full of water,” said pat.

“It continued snowing throughout the night and drifting so by the next day when we went to check the sheep on the farm, most of them were covered in deep drifts.

"My brother Pat had a great sheep dog at the time who was able to pinpoint where the sheep were buried beneath the snow.

"We then had to physically dig out the sheep from the drifts. We managed to save almost all of the flock.

"I remember vividly that some of the sheep were covered with a lather of sweat when we dug them out because they were all on top of one another.”

"We lost approximately ten sheep subsequently however, due to pneumonia after they were taken out of the drifts.

"That taught me a valuable lesson to always gather our sheep in time ahead of bad forecasts.”

Sean also recalls a man being airlifted by helicopter out of Lough Dan in 1982 after becoming snow bound, before being dropped off in Roundwood.

“He was being interviewed by a reporter afterwards and was asked was it the biggest snow he had experienced.

"He said: “Not at all. 1933 was the biggest snow. It was real fine snow and when I got to the kitchen in the morning I found a snow drift the size of a potato pit.” He had one of those massive keys in his door which you would find in a jail.

"There was a big keyhole in the door for the key to fit in and because the snow was so fine, it had come in through the keyhole and left a big snow drift in his kitchen. I remember that well.”

The Beast of the East proved particularly problematic, while other incidents of heavy snow have also resulted in the loss of life.

“People were lost in the snow of 1943. I know there was one man in Trooperstown who didn’t make it.

"More sheep were lost as well in the Beast of the East than in 1982 because the snow fell heavily in the lowlands, as well as the uplands, so everywhere was covered with snow.

“We are always hit bad in Roundwood and it can be a very difficult time, especially for farmers. My generation are used to it.

"You have to be prepared and be ready to move your sheep to lower ground or as close to the farm yard as you can. You learn from experience.

"It’s especially hard on farmers who may have sheep located 20 miles away, as they have to reach the sheep on time before they are covered up by the snow and are lost.

"Snowfall, especially heavy snowfall, is always problematic.”