Roads and ditches disappear

Heavy snowfalls make life unbearable for many trapped in rural communities, and while there were heavy snow falls in 1963 and 1982 none were as severe as that of '47. In this article,Jim Nolan, the well-known Ballinrush story teller in rhyme or prose, gives us an insight into what he considers the worst snow fall during his lifetime.

The big snow of ‘47
FIFTY-SIX years have gone by since the big snow of 1947 but I can still remember it, as if it only happened five years ago, how Mother Nature prepared the ground so well before she sent on the snow. For two weeks we had a black frost day and night with a strong east wind and then on February 2nd, when everywhere was bone dry at 3pm, the snow started to fall. It was almost dark at that time and you could see if flying along the ground until it came against a ditch or a wall.

I can still remember the peculiar sound of the wind that evening and all through the night it was a real steady and constant blow as if it was coming from some big blower in the heavens.

Our house was facing east and the snow was so fine it blew in through the keyhole in the kitchen door. I went into the room with the light from the candle. I could see the snow falling on the bed where I was going to sleep. That time the houses were not like modern ones of today, there was no ceiling or felt, just the old small slates and rendering with lime and sand.

Over the years it had lost its grip and often on a windy night a lump would fall on the bare boards and with the noise you would think the roof was after falling in.

I shook the snow off the blanket to the floor and got into bed. It was the same as lying on the floor of a cold room in a meat factory.

I had to make myself as small as I could and push my feet inch by inch to try and warm the bed. When I got up the next morning and looked out I could not believe my eyes, the yard could not be seen and the lane was completely filled with snow. I walked to the cross and looked all around and all I could see where the tops of the trees, the three roads were completely blocked with snow. You could walk across Ballinrush Hill on top of the drifts from one field to the other.

I often remember my mother, God rest her, telling me how herself and Mrs/ Pat O’Neill and Mrs. O’Neill of Hollybrook walked from Ballinrush Cross to a wake in Ballaghmore. She said they never saw the road or a ditch the whole way. Thomas Davey of Rathnageera died around the middle of February and I went to the funeral across the fields. I can still see Pat Kelly of Drumphea coming over the lane with a Fordson tractor. He had a dray behind it and a coffin tied on the dray with a rope (a dray with a fork of a tree). About ten days later had elapsed from the time he died before the coffin could be got into the house. The road had to be cleaned before even the tractor could travel. Frank Curran and myself carried in the coffin and the few people that were there left the room.

I said to Frank to lift the corpse by the feet and I would lift the shoulders but when I began to lift the shoulders he gave a big long snore and Frank flew out the door and wouldn’t come back. Mrs Hennesey and myself did the job and a couple of more men carried out the coffin and put it down on the dray having tied it securely. Pat swung the Fordson into action and set off towards Drumphea. We were only gone a few yards when the present Dick Nolan ran up and put his hand for Pat to stop. He said you may lift up the skimmers you are going too deep”.

There were a lot of sheep lost that time in the drifts but there was one expectation, a ram found alive at Gorman’s of Aclare after seven and a half weeks. He was in a sort of a cave and his own breath had melted the snow and he had eaten grass, rushes and even bushes. He was very weak but Tom Gorman nursed him back to full health and he said afterwards that his performance was second to none when mating time came the following October. The frost and snow of 1947 brought hardship, especially to people living along way from a town or a village. One man stands out above all the others, Mogue Connors from Upper Coolasnaughta.

He was a big strong man and he carried a bag of oats on his back twice a week from his own house to Donoghues of Myshall to have it rolled to feed his livestock and carried it back the same day. Most people fed with oats but they left it to the animals to roll it or they ground it themselves the best way they could.

There was a family known as Byrnes of the hill where there were three brothers, all bachelors. The house was very isolated and none of them had been seen for three weeks. A few neighbours organised a posse to go and see how they were. They didn’t go empty handed, they brought tea, sugar, home-made bread, eggs, home cured bacon and twist tobacco.

They knew they were all pipe smokers. It took them hours to get to the house and when they arrived they could hardly see it as it was almost covered with snow but there was a path from the kitchen door to a little shed in the yard which was full to the roof with good dry turf.

They opened the door and went in to find the three men sitting around a glowing turf fire though the kitchen was filled with smoke, not from the fire but from the three pips which were glowing full blast and if the good Samaritans thought they were going to find the Byrnes in a bad way they had another thing coming as the house was full with all kinds of food.

There was a chest of tea, a bag of sugar, a side of bacon but into five pieces hanging in the chimney. There was a biscuit tin on the table half full of rings of twist tobacco. Jimmy Byrne was the cook. He thanked them for coming and insisted they stay for a meal. He took a fletch of bacon from the chimney and with a sharp knife he cut a big pan of rashers and fried them with two eggs each on the turf fire. The boys did justice to the meal and started down the hill for home, bringing with them the food they had brought with them earlier in the day.

Not too long ago I was talking to the late Johnny Nolan of Shean in Robert’s Lounge and the talk came around about the snow in 1947 and he told me about a man, Dan Caffle (Caulfield) was his proper name). He told Johnny he never went outside the door for a whole month. Johnny of course, to hear his answer,asked him what did he do when he got a call of nature. I won’t write down the answer he got but if anyone would like to know I will tell them privately!

As I have mentioned, the snow brought a lot of hardship, especially to old people but the younger generation had some great fun. A lot of lads my age (I was 25 at the time) would meet every night in Myshall, we had a slide down the middle of the street from Doyle’s corner down around Donoghues and for about 30 yards down the croppy Road. It was soo slippery you could not stand on it. We would all sit behind each other with one hand on the ground, when everyone was in position you just lifted your hand away and went.

Nicky Kelly (RIP), did not slide himself but every night when we were finished sliding he would pour buckets of water on the slide to have it ready for the following night. that went on until the thaw on St. Patricks Day and then with the thaw came the floods, which caused havoc to the roads and lanes especially on hilly ground. There was a trench two feet deep and three feet wide down our own lane and the last of the snow didn’t go until until May.

I wonder if we got the same snowfall nowadays how would we cope with it. I think it would be worse on people now that it was then. You can imagine what it would be ike if the E.S.B. was off for even two weeks, no way of cooking, no water, no heat and no television. I just hope and pray Mother Nature won’t get it into her head to send a repeat.

Courtesy of The Nationalist