IT OCCURS TO ME: 'You'll know you're in Alaska!'

The Beast from the East, and snowfalls of days gone by

Frank Galligan


Frank Galligan



It Occurs to Me: 'You'll know you're in Alaska!'

Drifts of snow, some 15 feet deep in the Bunoe area of Cavan prevented the delivery of mail to Lisboduff PO, the Anglo Celt reported on March 8, 1947.

Well, well...hats off to Michael Gallagher in Cloghan. I met him in Highland Radio a month ago and he predicted all of this with uncanny accuracy!
As I wrote in this column some years ago, in a piece for Sunday Miscellany, my late father came to Donegal during the big snow of 1947, a raw 19-year old Garda recruit from Killeshandra whose train journey from Dublin - where he had trained in the old Phoenix Park depot - through Belfast, Derry and eventually into the border station of Carrigans, had taken over 12 hours because of the blizzard conditions.
The Sergeant had come to the train station to meet him some hours before, accompanied by a giant German Shepherd, so by the time my father stepped off the train, the uniform and dog were pure white. Dad’s most vivid memory as he approached them was a sudden shake by man and beast, whereupon thousands of snowflakes cascaded on to the ground.
An authoritative voice curtly enquired: “Galligan, I presume.” My father, not given to monosyllables where a better opportunity presented itself, laughed nervously and replied: “Begod, Sergeant, for a minute there I thought I was in Alaska!”
He wasn’t sure whether the dog or the Sergeant growled, but the retort was unmistakable: “Listen, Galligan, when you’re six months in this godforsaken corner, you’ll know you’re in Alaska!”
Within weeks of the May thaw, he recalled, local farmers were finding frozen animal carcasses throughout east Donegal. Further west, it was even worse.
I was thinking of him during the ‘Beast from the East’ mayhem, and had a good laugh when a Cavan friend rang me and pondered: “If it was known as ‘The Pest from the West’ or ‘The Monster from the Midlands’, there wouldn’t be half as much excitement in the media!”
Meanwhile, back in his native Cavan in 1947, the Anglo Celt reported in the Kilnaleck News, that the snow had delayed the funeral of Mrs Mary Galligan, Aughaloora. The coffin had to be carried on the shoulders of the young men of the district to Ballynary cemetery, a distance of three miles.
The paper reported a number of men had to cut a way through the snowdrifts in front of the procession. In Arva the Celt centred on the the rescue of Miss Eileen Masterson by Messrs. Ml. Masterson and Jas Murtagh who had almost been smothered in a snowdrift.
The paper also reported that the funeral of Mr. Peter Stronge, Arva was delayed as the remains had to be carried through nine fields on a donkey and cart to the hearse which couldn’t get near the house because the lane had been blocked with snow. Neighbours of the deceased cut a pass half a mile long for the cart on which the coffin was taken.
The Swanlinbar News reported that it had been estimated that over 1,000 sheep had been lost in the snow but the true figure would not be known until the thaw was completed which at that time looked to be a long way off.
Swanlinbar had been completely isolated during the storm with no newspapers, telephone or post, no buses running and provisions were running short in the shops. The farming community was hit very hard by the storm and many animals were lost. Fodder and hay became very scarce.
The Ballyjamesduff News in the Anglo Celt of March 8 reported that two horses of Mr P Cosgrove, Carnin were found dead in a snowdrift near his home and he also lost a mare and heifer on grazing lands at Crossakiel. Because of the ferocity of the storm many people had to dig themselves out of their homes to reach their animals, those that had not been kept in sheds and byers.
Drifts of snow, some 15 feet deep in the Bunoe area prevented the delivery of mail to Lisboduff Post Office, the Anglo Celt reported on March 8. Bread vans also stopped running and all schools in the area were closed.
The severe frost that came with the heavy snow meant that cattle and horses had to be brought to rivers or wells for a drink, and the ice having to be broke on a daily basis.
Cross-border co-operation was very much in evidence. My grandfather, Andy Galligan, worked with the council on the roads and it was the hardy workers’ tough task to attempt to clear the roads, and many worked Saturdays and Sundays in an attempt to make the roads passable.
In Blacklion during the height of the storm a bus got embedded in a deep drift, and police and civilians rescued the twelve passengers, the driver and conductor and took them to Belcoo barracks.
They were served with a hot meal and were later put up by householders in the village of Blacklion.

Meanwhile in Donegal, as Sue Doherty recalled in the Derry Journal in 2009, Carndonagh’s John ’Jock’ McLaughlin, of Glentogher was 33 years old when the big one hit.
Although he was 95 back in 2009, he remembered it as if it was yesterday. Jock told Sue how the weather over the last few weeks have put him so much in mind of that time.
"The snow showers started from about mid-January onwards. There wasn’t huge amounts of snow, but it seemed like there was some snow or ice on most days. It could happen again.
"I wouldn’t like to see another big snow like it, but I suppose there’s better ways of dealing with it these days than there were back then.
"The big snow didn’t start until around 3 or 4 in the afternoon on March 23rd. I remember the Swilly Bus left Carndonagh. On its way back that night, it got stuck at Cross, Quigley’s Point. All the passengers had to stay the night in Hugh Toye’s.
“One of the most extraordinary stories was to do with Pat McLaughlin, from Glentogher. He was in hospital in Letterkenny and died. They tried to bring his body home but the hearse got stuck in Newtowncunningham.
"Then they brought him as far as Quigley’s Point in one of Jimmy Breslin’s lorries. But then the lorry got stuck too. So, they ended up bringing him the rest of the way by horse and sleigh - the snow was that atrocious that night. I had helped to dig that man’s grave earlier that day. Despite all the snow that fell and was lying all around, there wasn’t one bit of snow on or in the grave.
"Pat’s nephew, Owenie, who lived in Kinnaglug, arrived at the church the next morning for the funeral. Fr Bonner asked him how he’d managed to get there and he said he’d walked. He’d had a bit of bother though, as he’d put his foot into Hamilton’s chimney on the way!"
"The snow was everywhere, and deeper than I’ve ever seen. Across the road out there, it was right over the fence. And, in some places, where the wind blew it into drifts, it was as high as 30 feet.
“It was terrible hard to keep a fire lit through it. We had an open hearth and the sitting room opened right into the hall, so we had to keep a window open for the draught. It was freezing the whole time. The icicles were about a foot long. I’ve hardly even seen an icicle since!"