Day 99 #100DaysOfOldDays
“Do you remember the Big ‘47 Snow?”
That was a question my dad asked people of his vintage and older—strangers too! When they said, “Yes, I remember it well”, Mam would roll her eyes and prepare to listen to the ‘Big ‘47 Snow’ conversation for the millionth time. People he met who didn’t remember the Big Snow…well, he told them all about it!
If Dad had been still alive during the 2020 pandemic and the lockdown that came with it, I think he would have said, “This is like the Big ‘47 Snow.” Death, isolation, fear, uncertainty.
Over 7,000 Irish people died from COVID-19. In comparison to that, hundreds died as a result of one of the biggest snowstorms ever to hit Ireland. But the country suffered in many other ways from the impact of the 1947 snow.
Snow fell sporadically during January and February, and Arctic winds blew for several weeks before the eve of the 24th February, when the biggest snow began to fall. It continued all through the night and the next day. A blizzard driven by the bitter Easterly gales, whipped the entire country. I hear stories that it snowed for close to fifty consecutive hours at that time.
Railway lines were blocked by 6 ft drifts. Main roads were impassable, buses couldn’t run. Turf bogs were buried under six feet of snow. Emergency fuel consignments came in from Britain.
Co Wicklow was hit hard. Many people were unable to leave their homes for a month. Some houses were completely covered in snow and there were people who lived on only potatoes for weeks.
The country experienced blackouts and 1000’s of phones were cut off. Farmers had to take their animals to lakes and rivers to drink, having to break the ice there on a daily basis.
Lavey Lake in Co Cavan, was one of the many lakes that froze over. A man even drove his car across it.
The Bailieborough news reported that the Tuesday night bus from Dublin got stuck in the snow near Mullagh and many passengers set off walking to Bailieborough. After their six mile trek, they called to Shaffrey’s Hotel (now the Bailie) and Mrs Shaffrey fed the cold weary travellers and gave them a bed for the night.
There are many stories to be told about the Big ‘47 Snow—some tragic, like this one.
A water-filled quarry in Kimmage had frozen over and to the local children it was a winter wonderland playground. The Gardaí had tried their best to keep the children off the ice but they always found a way in. On Sunday March 2nd while about twenty children were playing hockey, the ice broke. About half a dozen of the children plunged into a black hole of icy water.
Passersby rushed to rescue the children. Some were saved but tragically three of them died in the freezing quarry. One of the boys who died had been thrown a rope but he had held on to the hand of a young girl in the water beside him, and he lost his grip on the rope. The girl survived!
It was indeed a bleak period for many.
My uncle Philip recalls being told the story of the roads being level with the ditches and 2 ft icicles hanging from roof gutters. Deliveries of bread were dropped at my grandparents’ house for the two shops further up the hill.
My mother-in-law Betty, remembers a two-year-old neighbour child falling deep into a powdery snowdrift and having to be pulled from it. Their well, which was also used by the neighbours, was completely buried. Their water for many weeks was melted snow.
Snow that fell in parts of Ireland during January remained until the middle of March because of below freezing temperatures. Between the days of January 24th and March 17th, it snowed for thirty of them. On St Patrick’s Day there was still snow behind the ditches.
For weeks the country was a sheet of frozen snow and black ice.
Everyone who lived through The Big ‘47 Snow has stories to tell about it. Dad always enjoyed sharing his, and loved hearing other people’s memories too.
1947 is a memorable year weatherwise for the Irish, but for the Cavan people it’s memorable for a different reason. Sure wasn’t that the year Cavan beat Kerry in the All-Ireland final!