Deluge, Ireland’s Weather Disasters, 2009-2010

Interview with Kieran Hickey on 103.2 Dublin City FM, Broadcast 13 Jan 2011

Author: Kieran Hickey

Publisher: Four Courts Press

Price: €14.99

What on Earth have we Irish done to deserve this? As our economy fell apart, and all the pain and suffering that this brought in its wake, then we have to face floods, record cold spells, snow and ice, a volcanic ash eruption that cut off our air links with the outside world, and even a meteorite crash and an earthquake. Are the Gods punishing us for our ‘greed’ and alleged ‘partying’ during the Celtic Tiger? To some it might appear so. Our financial woes are dealt with in detail elsewhere, but for the rest, this is a great resource.

Kieran Hickey is a lecturer in geography at NUI Galway, and this book certainly has an academic ‘air’ about it, in that facts and figures are presented regularly, and there is a huge amount of detail available for those that are fascinated by getting answers to say, how much rain fell in Gort during the November 2009 floods. But, there is a lot more too.

There are stories about the heroism of people who helped their neighbours in difficulty; about the politics of the crisis, and what lessons we can learn to better cope with such events in future. There is also lots of interesting material for the history buff, and the weather ‘anorak’ with records of extreme weather here going way back. For example, the ancient Irish annals talk of 668BC as being a year when the snow tasted of wine and the grass blackened. This could have been the result of ancient eruptions of Icelandic volcanoes and the wine tasting snow and black grass may have been caused by acidic ash.

This book shows up that we were to a great extent the architects of our own downfall. There was little or no preparedness for dealing with a combination of extreme weather conditions, and it took some time before the Government called a national emergency to deal with the crisis. Meanwhile, our planning laws had facilitated the building of many new homes on floodplains all over Ireland, and these homes were inevitably badly hit.

There is an interesting chapter analyzing what happened in Cork city, where there occurred arguably the most serious single flooding event in the country throughout this chaotic period. The reasons why Cork is always so vulnerable to flooding our outlined, and there is detailed consideration given to the decision by the ESB to release damn waters from the Inniscarra dam, as fears of a dam collapse grew. That decision led to the flooding of Cork. It was a decision that had to be taken, most agree, but many in Cork still feel that the ESB could have done more to warn people in advance.

More than anything this book again highlights how nature can quite easily bring a supposedly modern, developed society to its knees, leaving us with flooded homes and property, cold, without water, and unable to get about our daily business. That said, we can, and should, do far better in these weather crises than we have done up to now.

For example, one figure Kieran provides is instructive. The flood damage from the November 2009 flooding event alone, just one of many, was estimated at €100 million. A similar amount, at least, the author reckons should be provided for future flood prevention measures, but the Government has provided just €50 million. So, it might be an idea to buy a kayak, and a set of skies in advance of the next, inevitable flooding or Arctic freezing spell.

The big question for most people reading this would be: Is our weather changing permanently and are we going to have to suffer these severe floods and severe cold spells on a more regular basis from now on? Well, thankfully, it appears that the last few years somewhat bucked the general trend that would be expected as global warming proceeds. Under global warming we can expect longer, drier summers, but longer, wetter winters. No need to worry then.