The bridge, a tragedy and a family that supported each other through everything
Family Fortunes: Our childhood was swept away in the year of the big freeze
The Bangor Erris bridge in Co Mayo, the scene of near tragedy
My parents married in Aughleam Church, Blacksod, Co Mayo, in January 1947, just before the onset of the big freeze and blizzards of that year.
Kathy Heneghan came from nearby Termon, and as a nurse was obliged to resign her position on marriage. My father, Jack, was from Mulranny but worked in Ballycroy, and that is where they met.
Jack had a car for his job, and a favourite childhood memory for me were day trips to visit our relations in Termon and surrounding areas. A particular one stands out, as a fierce storm had raged that day and was still in full flow as we set off for home, baby sister Cáit tucked into mother’s lap in the front of the car. Overcoming tidal flooding at Elly Bay and Belmullet, on the lonely stretch past Bangor Erris, brothers Michael, Noel and myself waded barefoot in front of the headlights to test the depth of the water in places, before we eventually made it home safely, after a storybook adventure, as I saw it.
The next day, Jack learned that his was the last car to cross the Overflow Bridge at Bangor Erris, on the previous night, before it collapsed into the Owenmore river. So the adventure was almost a tragedy.
And indeed we were to learn exactly what that meant just a few months later when Jack himself died suddenly.
We had wonderful supportive neighbours and relatives and a mother determined to give us every opportunity in life, so, although things had changed forever, a new normality gradually settled, and we had a happy upbringing with plenty of the usual fun.
To get our father’s job Kathy learned to drive but relied on 13-year-old Thomas, especially for reversing and turning, and I recall a new garda in the village coming to the house to talk to her about that.
John (12) cooked us tasty meals for which we gave him little thanks and lots of backchat. But it was normal growing-up banter and we all had our chores, did our shifts and time moved and merged into adulthood.
Kathy left us more than 30 years ago but thankfully we siblings are still all well and preparing for our annual summer get-together nearly 58 years after that bridge and our childhood were both swept away.