letter from Patrick McDonnell NT Ballinlough to his sister
ACCOUNT OF THE BIG SNOW
(24TH FEBRUARY 1933)
My Dear M & B,
I hope you are both well and that you did not experience
the awful blizzard, which visited us on Friday last. We
have just been through the biggest snowstorm in living memory.
I believe the last similar one occurred in 1867. I had often
pictured in my mind what it would be like to have the roads
blocked with snow six to eight feet deep, but now we have
I believe this storm will rank in the minds of the peasantry
with the big wind of 1839 and the lesser one of 1903. It
will be a long time until all the episodes of the storm
will be narrated and then of course they will all have to
be told over and over again.
I should mention of course that we do not know yet how Sissie
has faired, but of course we hope for the best.
Now to begin, we were invited down to Bradys (the
shop) for a card game on Thursday evening, but as it commenced
to snow about six oclock Ma and Gretta would not set
out. I was glad after that they didnt as it was snowing
heavily at ten oclock and eleven and we would have
got it very hard to get home.
On Friday morning we awoke to find the ground covered with
snow, only about an inch, however, and it was not snowing
then. When we were eating our breakfast at nine oclock
it commenced to snow again, rather fine snow with a driving
I started out to school and was overtaken by Mrs. Kelly
at Peter Garveys Cottage, she was a sight. Her coat
and hat being covered with frozen snow. As we proceeded
down the exposed portion of the road, we felt the full force
of the icy blast and I was forced to cover my ear with my
hand as I could not stand the cold.
Fourteen children answered the roll call and I made up my
mind that I would dismiss them at 12 oclock, I expected
the priest down then to hear confessions. We could see through
the school windows that it was snowing heavily all the time
and that the wind had increased but we had no idea it was
so awful outside.
At 12 oclock the children got their cocoa and I went
round to the little house to tell Mrs. Kelly and Miss Plunkett
that I would let them home. At this time it was impossible
to see more that two yards ahead of you on the road and
as I was going into the school again I thought I saw a load
of fodder or something at the churchyard gate. On closer
investigation it proved to be a mound of snow about seven
I then marshalled the kids and told them how to proceed
on the homeward journey. I gave them strict instructions
to keep together and to go into the nearest house when they
could proceed no further.
Peter Gaynor called in then and said that he got it very
hard to get down. He took his own children in tow and also
all who were going his way. Sissie Reilly went with him
too and as she was to go up to Keoghs for the milk,
I told her to wait for me at Keoghs gate.
I then locked up, muffled up and proceeded homewards with
two wee cans of water from the pump. The snow was heaping
up on the left hand side of the road and even on the right
side it was 10 feet deep in places. I was almost winded
when I got to Keoghs gate and was glad of the shelter.
I saw that there was a small tree right across the road
a few perches ahead.
Since Sissie Reilly was not appearing I had to go up to
Keoghs for her. The yard was filled with Sheep and
Cattle all covered with snow, the weirdest thing you ever
saw. Sissie Reilly and I then started for home. When we
got on to the road we honestly could not see one yard ahead
of us with the driving snow, while the icy wind almost took
our breath away. I got the wind up in more senses than one
and Sissie Reilly became hysterical. I judged it better
to stand awhile to draw our breath. Thus fortified we started
off again, often floundering through snowdrifts two and
three feet deep.
At last Peter Gaynors cottage loomed ahead and I went
into see did they all get home safely and what became of
the two Mulvanys from Seymourstown who had also been
at school. I found that Peter had them inside and I took
them up to our house. I met Paddy Nulty starting out to
meet Sissie and when he left Sissie in, he came up after
me to tell me how he was going down to tell me not to let
out the children until someone called for them.
I then got the wind up about three children who had to go
on beyond the little new cottage on the Virginia Rd. Station
road. I know that if they were overcome I would be partly
to blame. Paddy Nulty volunteered to inquire after them
as he had to go down to tell the postman that he could not
drive him into Kells.
I could hardly eat my dinner with the excitement of my journey
home and my anguish about the children. However, Paddy Nulty
reappeared in about an hour and a half with the following
He found that the two girls remained in Finnens but that
the little fellow had started out on his own! Paddy then
started out with the two girls (I should mention that Frances
Nulty was with them too). They inquired at Dalys and
found that young Walshe had passed there anyway. They then
entered the next collage and found him sitting at the fire.
It appears he went on a little farther but getting a bit
bogged had the good sense to come back.
The Nultys, having collected him, started out again,
but on being confronted with a wall of snow ten feet high,
they returned and defrosted the children in the last mentioned
cottage. They were not removed from there until 9.30 that
night although within a quarter of a mile of their own home.
This story eased my mind regarding the children and I started
to enjoy the comforts of a good fire. I should mention that
I gave Paddy Nulty a glass of whisky for his trouble. I
had a mouthful when I came home myself as I was shivering
like an aspen, not so much with the cold as with fright.
Gretta in the meantime was looking after the needs of our
two protégés. Their father arrived about half
four, dead beat. It took him three hours to do the journey
and he was nearly lost in a snowdrift at Johnny Smiths gate.
It appears he began to shout for help on approaching our
house but of course was not heard above the howling of the
storm. We could not of course allow him face home again
and so we had three for the night.
The back door could not be opened with all the snow that
was against it (it opens out you know) and so I went out
with a shovel to relieve matters. I found no table, no paraffin
tanks, but a big heap of snow up to the latch of the door.
I had a nice job to shovel it away while the storm still
raged. The open shed was filled almost to the roof with
snow while there was about a foot of snow on top of the
car in the shed. The house had a peculiar appearance on
the outside, every window was completely blocked up with
snow and there was a fringe of snow about six inches wide
all round the frames of the front door. Mrs. Kelly and Miss
Plunkett got as far as Keoghs where they remained for the
night. The postman remained in his little tin hut all night.
It was very weird to be sitting inside at the fire listening
to the howling of the storm, while we could see nothing,
as all the windows were blocked up with snow.
The hens did not put even their beaks out all day. They
had to be fed inside in their house and locked up again
immediately, they only got one feed. As poor Judy and Pearl
would have no place to lie outside they were kept indoors,
both that night and the next and I must say they behaved
very decorously indeed.
Ma and in fact we all were troubled about Sissie, afraid
she would be so foolish as to try and brave the storm in
her endeavours to reach Piercetown. As I said before we
do not yet know how she fared. The storm eased off about
nine oclock. We heard on the wireless that it was
pretty bad in Dublin too. All traffic stopped etc.
The Shannon Scheme Wires were broken down, all communication
with the provinces was cut off both by road, rail and wire
and there were several pathetic S.O.Ss
Well we slept but on Saturday morning what a sight met our
eyes when we ventured forth. I should say here that I was
up and out at 8 oclock and after a preliminary survey
I armed myself with a shovel and started to excavate passages
from the various doors and sheds etc.
The road from our house to Peter Gaynors was pretty
clear, there being only about two feet of snow on it, but
from the pump right across the road to Nultys garden,
there was a hill of snow seven feet high at least. I could
not look across it. This hill continued up to John Lynchs
shed, here there was a valley and beyond that again the
snow was eight feet deep almost to Brennans Cottage.
The surface of the snow was not level, but in places took
on the most fanciful shapes like curling waves or the curved
backs of old fashioned furniture.
On the Chapel side the snow become deep below Gaynors
Cottage and from that down to Keoghs was eight feet
deep all the way. Neddy Quinn from Barney Hill was the first
wayfarer to pass by. He was going to look after Cattle at
Condys Cross. It took him three hours to reach our
house and as he breasted the snowy waves armed with a short
shovel, which he plunged in the snow at every step, he looked
like an intrepid Polar explorer or a bold Swiss Mountaineer.
Mrs. Kelly came next escorted by Johnny Keogh (Miss Plunkett
faced home across the fields with another escort), then
came the postman, trudging his weary way to Kells. Paddy
Nulty and I then faced for Finnens for water and of course
cigarettes, I resurrected by leggings for the occasion.
It was comparatively easy to walk on top of the snow and
in places we walked into the fields and on to the road again
just for the fun of it. From Keoghs to Finners the road
was not too bad and on the left side of the road there was
a pass all the way only about one foot deep. When we arrived,
old Finnen was busy cutting a pass from the shop door to
the pump. Here the snow was 2 feet deep.
Tuesday 3.00 pm
The childrens father faced home after breakfast on
Saturday morning, but he did not bring them with him so
we had them on Saturday night too. After dinner on Saturday
Gretta and I faced for the well at Brennans. We had
quite an exciting journey and while the snow was for the
most part hard, we now and again sank down to our knees.
Barney called down to see us. He said that the road from
his house to Condys Cross was even worse than ours.
The question now was how long would the snow remain and
how long would the food supply hold out. Well we were lucky
to have a good supply of bacon, butter, tea, sugar, flour
and some bread, while we could procure fresh mutton from
I had to dispense some bags of coal to the neighbours so
as to keep the home fires burning. On Sunday morning we
were up betimes, but the snow had abated very little. We
were not sure whether the priest could come or not and we
were in and out watching him.
We could see the people walking across the snow clad fields
from Balgree and Ballyhist and then a lot of people appeared
in the field beyond Nultys garden (it was easier to
go by the fields). Then Father Drake appeared breasting
Mt. Blanc at John Lynchs shed and behind him in single
file came 15 or 20 others.
Gretta and I went down to mass which was short and sweet.
We met Mickie after mass and he told us that both Matt and
Alick were again confined to bed and that Alicks breathing
was a bit short. Matt too is very feeble and has to be helped
in and out of bed. They have a hard job nursing them both.
Unfortunately I cannot go over to see them until the snows
clear. We sent the two Mulvanys home with their friends
after mass on Sunday. I went down to school on Monday, but
only a few scholars turned up so I packed them home again.
I did the same to-day (Tuesday). It is much harder to travel
to-day as the snow is soft and treacherous and Im
thinking it will be even worse to-morrow.
Some Items of the Storm:
The children set elephant traps in the snow
and were well rewarded to see some travellers plunge into
Gaynors white goat did not become visible until Monday,
she was covered up in a drift alongside our field. She is
Keoghs had a goat, which only thawed out yesterday
also they had been walking across her for two days in a
big drift. She also is alive.
A few fields over beyond Nultys a bullock was smothered
in a huge snowdrift. Several people had to dig sheep and
lambs out of the snowdrifts.
I dont know how the poor birds survived the storm
but anyway they turned up quite perky on Saturday morning
and gladly availed themselves of the crumbs we put in the
We have, or rather the Nultys have, rediscovered a
new well down a bit from John Lynches shed. It may turn
out useful now that the pump is undrinkable.
All roads from Dublin are passable to-day, except the Dublin
to Kells road. The postman walked out from Kells to-day,
but I hadnt my letter ready for him. In any case it
would get no farther than Kells as the Dublin road is blocked
and the trains are not running on account of the railway
In front of our door the snow was level with the window
sill. Some of the fields were hardly covered with snow while
all the roads were blocked. It is raining heavy now (3.30pm
Tuesday) so that will cause the snow to melt much faster.
Katie Keogh was to have been married in Dublin this morning
to a man called Fallon, a native of Multyfarnham. He has
a garage in Clare Street, Dublin. Father Lynam was to go
up to marry them and Mrs. Keogh, Johnny, young Seán
and Miss Plunkett were to be there too. I suppose the wedding
had to be postponed. Katie herself is in Dublin and may,
however, have been married.
Father Drake was saying mass in Johnny Tullys on Friday
morning. He had to leave his car there on the road and walk
home. Several cars were snowed up between here and Oldcastle.
Lynchs big Lorry was the last car to pass on Friday
morning. We shall anxiously await its return from Oldcastle,
as it will be the dove with the olive branch, which will
show us that the snow has abated from the face of the roads.
I hope Jimmie has by this time recovered from the flu. I
suppose he is in the continent by this time. You cannot
say at any rate that this is a short letter or an uninteresting
one. I hope it will absolve me from writing again until
after Easter in any case. Am not posting until tomorrow,
Your affectionate brother
The postman has just arrived with your weekly bulletin.
We were glad to note that you all got over the storm ok.
No word has arrived from Sissie yet. I am dropping her a
line now as postal communication has been restored.
G and I were at mass this morning. We brought some ashes
home to Ma. No school today either. We heard there were
9 or 10 lives lost in the storm. It is reported that 5 children
were lost in the storm but the report is not confirmed.
It appears Dr. Mulvany, our bishop, was on his way from
Navan to Athboy on Friday last. He was forced to take refuge
in a little shop outside Athboy (it must be near Moyaugher)
and stayed there all night. He is still held up in Athboy.
We heard to-day that K. Keogh may have been married as Fr.
Drake walked into Kells and wired instructions to proceed
with the marriage.
is still 3 feet of snow on the road to chapel.
of Ballinlough-Kilskyre Historical Society