Athlone floods: ‘Youths were kicking sandbags into the river’

Exhausted locals six weeks into battle to keep contaminated floodwater out of their homes

Noel Fallon has lived on Wolfe Tone Terrace in Athlone for 54 years. Today, he lives there with his wife and daughter. His three grown-up sons have long since left home, but they have returned to help battle the rising waters.

“This is the worst it has ever been. I know it was awful in 2009 but it was nothing like this,” he says. Looking close to breaking point, he almost whispers: “It’s pure tiredness. We are all worn out from the tiredness.

“We are nearly six weeks into this now. You just get lost in time and you don’t know what day of the week it is. Christmas didn’t really exist this year I know that. There are no words to describe it. You just have to get on with it.”

Conor Pope took these shots this morning in the Athlone area as he covered Ireland's continuing flooding crisis

A photo posted by The Irish Times (@irishtimesnews) on

Most of his days now are spent manning the pumps put in place by Westmeath County Council and keeping an eye on the sewage, an ever-present threat at the town end of the terrace.


“I have kept the water out of the house so far but the thing about here is it just comes up through the gardens. I’d say the water is probably under the house now. But I don’t know. I can’t say for sure.”

Tampering with pumps

However, Fallon and his neighbours have not just to worry about the rising Shannon, the pumps that have turned 24 hours a day, the sewage or the conditions of the sandbags.

“We have had issues with youngsters coming down trying to turn off the pumps,” he continues, shaking his head. “It is unbelievable. You’d think that at night-time, at three or four o’clock in the morning you’re not going to have anyone down here.

“But by God you have them all right. Last Tuesday, we would’ve had 40-50 young people down here and they were actually kicking sandbags off the walls into the river. And what can we do? Nothing really, we don’t have any authority.

“We rang the guards and they have come down for sure but the lads just disappear and then come back. It’s a stress we really don’t need. It’s bad enough with the water.”

Sandbags removed

The youths, fuelled with drink, gather in Burgess Park “even though it is flooded” before heading to local discos: “Then, they are not allowed into the nightclub because they are drinking so they go around the town,” he says.

His anger is shared by neighbour Harry Waterstone: "The kids are not from the town. They are bussed in. They have absolutely no sense of what is happening here. For them, knocking sandbags and turning off pumps is great fun."

Psychological damage

Wolfe Tone Terrace, which is usually more than 50m away from the Shannon’s waters, has been Waterstone’s home for more than 60 years: “It is a frightening place to be now,” he says.

“Our homes are within minutes of flooding every single day and it has been like that for weeks and weeks. It has taken a huge psychological toll on us,” he says.

For weeks, residents have known that catastrophe was but minutes away.

"The pumps stopped working for 15 minutes a few days ago," says Adam Courtney, a soldier and a resident, "It was frightening to see how fast the water started rising then".

“We are manning the pumps in shifts. You could be on between 3am and 6am, or 6am and 9am. But you don’t really sleep much when you’re not on.

“It’s very stressful getting up every morning thinking ‘Will today be the day I’m flooded?’”

Nodding his head in agreement, Waterstone says: “There is such a huge level of fear now. This has happened before. It is happening again. And it will keep happening. And we are powerless.

“When the cameras and the journalists are long gone, people will still be clearing up and trying to repair the broken lives.

“These past six weeks have taken such a toll.”

The pumps and the sandbags beckon once more.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast