It’s a terrible thing to be homeless. If I get over this, I will build a house in the area but I could never come back here with the fright I got
people are not forced out of their homes in the future. According to Brendan O’Donnell, senior roads engineer with Donegal County Council, lessons will be learned from the recent flooding. He explains that after any major weather event, council chiefs sit down for a debriefing session to see what could have be done differently — and this occasion will be no different.
The issue of debris, trees and branches building up in rivers is something that will be discussed but Mr O’Donnell says this will require a conversation between councils and agencies nationally to work out what can be done and who is ultimately responsible for keeping rivers clear in future.
The council boss says calls are still coming in about damaged bridges and culverts, but the council must now draw a line under things and make a provisional estimate of the total cost of the damage and clean-up. He was reluctant to put an overall cost on it yet, but says the process is coming to a close.
He says a wet summer where peaty and boggy ground never got a chance to dry provided the worst possible backdrop for the amount of rain that fell on high ground on the night of August 22. The ground simply didn’t have the capacity to absorb the water and land was simply ripped away down hills, taking infrastructure like roads and bridges with it.
“It was a unique set of circumstances that exacerbated the situation — it’s difficult for any county to be prepared for that. If that kind of rain fell on flatter ground, you wouldn’t have seen the scale of destruction that we saw,” says Mr O’Donnell.
In the nearby town of Carndonagh, where the Carndonagh and Glentogher Rivers burst their banks, Patrick McLaughlin ‘Mooney’ believes lessons must be learned from the devastation, and he says rivers and their banks have to be cleared. A part-time farmer who works for Donegal County Council’s roads department, Patrick says State agencies must decide who has management of the country’s rivers and whose responsibility it is to keep them clear of debris building up.
Patrick was called up on the night of flooding to go out to keep the roads clear. While he worked tirelessly, 20 of his spring lambs drowned in a low-lying field at the back of his property. When he returned at 3am, the roar of the Glentogher was all he could hear at the back of his house. He knew his sheep were gone, and he says he was so tired and heartsick he couldn’t even go to bed.
“Myself and my father used to farm together. You get attached to your stock. Myself and my son, Pádraig, are carrying that baton now. Luckily, we found eight lambs in the garden next door and one ram. We gathered the others up, but there are some we’ll never find — they’ve been washed out into the bay,” says Patrick.
Walking through his field, which was the scene of the destruction, Patrick surveys the damage. It’s full of rocks and debris. It will have to be fenced once again and totally reseeded. In all, Patrick estimates €25,000 worth of damage has been caused. The replacement of a stone embankment alone will cost €5,000, but Patrick says he will spend the winter doing it. However, he is adamant that lessons must be learned so generations to come will not have to pay the price.
Over the mountain road in the town of Buncrana, where many other families have similar stories to tell, Susan Farren is manning a depot of goods donated by the public to help people affected by the floods.
A community activist, Susan was so moved by the devastation in Inishowen, she set up an appeal to help the people in the area. A local businessman gave her his premises to store donated items from duvet covers to kettles. It quickly became a hub for people from all over the country looking to do something to help Inishowen and people began arriving with van loads of toiletries and household items.
Susan says they have 50 families on their database and are doing what they can to help people affected by flooding. “There’s no particular type of family. Every single family’s needs have been different. For all of us volunteers, it’s been emotionally overwhelming. We’ve been working all hours and it’s worth it to see the joy on people’s faces when they have a sofa to sit on. That’s not to say everything is fixed. It’s a stepping stone to getting things sorted out,” says Susan.
The local effort to help people displaced or affected by the flooding is huge and ongoing. Last weekend, country music stars Daniel O’Donnell, Nathan Carter, Big Tom and Dominic Kirwan took part in the Flood Aid for Inishowen Charity Concert, raising €30,000 in the process. More events are lined up from charity spin-a-thons in local gyms to further concerts.
The big flood will loom large in the collective memory of Inishowen people for generations to come. Where you were on that fateful night will be a question oft asked in years to come. But what has come after will also be remembered. Neighbour helping neighbour putting things back together again. Friends showing solidarity and support. People fundraising and volunteering and giving what they can. People getting on with it in their own inimitable way. The storm has a force to be reckoned with in this place.