The Times We Lived In: Water, water everywhere

Published: February 9th, 1990. Photograph by Peter Thursfield

Clonmel, February 1990. As the river Suir threatened to inflict widespread damage on Co Tipperary, it was a frightening and distressing time for the people who lived in the town and its surrounding area.

Distress due to flooding, in fact, was general over Ireland. A report in this newspaper on Thursday February 8th recorded that “Munster and south Leinster were the areas most affected by the storm which swept in from the Atlantic and then passed over to Britain late last night. The worst flooding was reported in southern coastal areas and in counties Carlow, Laois, Offaly, Waterford, Tipperary, Cork, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim.”

Clonmel was in a particularly perilous state, “with large parts of the town under several feet of water and most bridges over the Suir impassable. The nearby village of Ardfinnan was almost totally cut off, with floods of three feet reported. Cahir, eight miles from Clonmel, suffered its worst flooding in 40 years . . .”

The following day, Peter Thursfield’s scary photograph did a superb job of conveying the sheer scale of the flood, as well as the ghastly beauty and power of the river in spate.

The wintry trees have already been subsumed, as has some sort of pitiful human structure – a shed? a park bench? a bus shelter? – towards the top left-hand corner of the image. On the right, the buildings of the town seem to huddle together, stoic in the face of inundation.

Stoicism in the face of inundation has been a recurring theme for the people of Clonmel – and other Irish river towns. Before the completion of a new flood defence scheme in 2012, the town’s quays flooded, on average, six out of every 10 years.

So far, the €40 million engineering project has kept the town’s homes and businesses dry. Another €40 million scheme has recently been completed in Bray, Co Wicklow. They’re said to be future-proof, designed to cope with the rising sea levels which climate change brings in its wake. So we can only hope that images such as this one are truly a thing of the past.

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