I’m sitting here looking out at our sodden paddock, where the ponies Sam and Charlie, excited at being back together on terra (semi-)firma, chase each other with uninhibited delight. Many in Ireland are still struggling to recover from the storms that recently wreaked havoc across the country and I’m reading a piece about another relentless storm our family once faced.
Just over sixty-one years ago, on 9 December 1954, my mother woke up for school as usual, having spent the night with her Aunty Kay, in their home at number 80 Leinster Avenue. The rest of the family slept at Aunty Kay’s cottage in Lower Jane Place, further along the North Strand, closer to Dublin city. This was all quite normal. As Mam came down the stairs that morning, she noticed the floor below shimmering in the sunshine. Can you imagine her shock, when she reached the second from last step and freezing-cold ‘shimmering’ river-water filled her shoes?
She raced back upstairs to call Aunty Kay and together they opened the front door to a vast scene of chaos spreading out all across North Dublin. Mam and Aunty Kay somehow managed to sleep soundly, not only though the battering winds and torrential rain, but also through the sound of their neighbours banging on their door the previous night. The neighbours had tried in vain to alert them to the rising flood waters, as the River Tolka, then normally a foot-deep rivulet, burst its banks.
Many householders in the North Strand, East Wall and Fairview suburbs were marooned in upstairs bedrooms and in some cases the water levels even reached ceiling height. Hundreds of people were evacuated in rowboats. Truckloads of evacuees were taken to hospital and comforted with blankets and hot drinks. Five acres in Dublin were under water and a state of emergency was declared as many were left homeless.
Yet, a major disaster causing significant loss of life was narrowly avoided. Within hours of the 9 p.m. Belfast passenger train arriving safely at Amiens Street Station, the railway bridge over the River Tolka collapsed. The railway lines were left hanging in situ and all trains were immediately cancelled.
The solid stone pillars, each four or five feet in width and erected over 100 years earlier, were washed away by the raging river. My grandfather, Kevin Wynne, had long predicted the bridge was unsafe. He had often warned his family to never linger beneath it for shelter as they chatted to friends, but to hurry on by to safety.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alderman Alfie Byrne, started a relief fund, raising thousands of pounds to help those worst affected by the floods. Our family did not submit a claim, but everyone in the area put to good use the £10 voucher received for Guiney’s Department Store.
I think the below photo shows children standing on the railway embankment, looking down Stoney Road, towards the River Tolka and number 80 Leinster Avenue is one of the corner houses facing the camera - maybe someone with a better memory than mine can pin-point which house it is exactly?
North Strand Floods, Stoney Road, 1954
For more remarkable footage of the North Strand floods, see also this British Pathé film on Youtube.