Shannon community responds to plans to dredge the river

‘Not before time’ say locals as OPW pledges to undertake strategic maintenance works

Farms and houses along the River Shannon were badly affected by floods last winter. Photograph: Alan Betson

The announcement that the river Shannon will be dredged to curb future flooding, has been welcomed by many communities living near its banks.

One such area is Cootehall, Co Roscommon.

Local mother Edel McGuinness’s baby Nathan was just six weeks old when the road outside her home near was transformed into a river.

“It was really bad. We had to cross fields with the baby and the shopping,” said the mother of three, who recalls having to jump across a drain in one of the fields. “I thought I would go mad, stuck in the house with a newborn baby for weeks,” she said, recalling days when she was more likely to see a boat than a car passing on the road.

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A year on, she is delighted that there is now a plan to deal with the flood danger.

It was announced on Friday that the Shannon Flood Risk Group, which is led by the Office for Public Work, has accepted that “strategic maintenance works” must be carried out on Ireland’s longest river. State agencies now acknowledge that “we must make room for the river”, said Minister of State for the Office of Public Works (OPW) Seán Canney.

Roscommon-South Leitrim Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice said he felt "vindicated". However, he said, "we have to be realistic and honest with people, this work will not be done overnight".

Retired ESB worker Richard Hazell has lived at Cleagheen, Cootehall for 40 years. In 2009, the water was 4ft high on the road outside his house. Last year it got to 3ft, he said.

Roads raised

Since then, both Roscommon and Leitrim county councils have raised the roads on either side of this community. Hazell says this will help, but it will not be a permanent solution, as the road is “built on bog”.

"It's not before time," was his reaction to the news that dredging is now going to be done. "We were able to stay in our home last year, but we were cut off on both sides," he said. "We live about three miles from Carrick, but we had to take a 15 mile diversion when the road was flooded."

Hazell’s home overlooks the junction of the Boyle river and the Shannon. “We can see the rushes and the reeds coming up through the river and it is absolutely full of silt,” he said.

Gerry Bambrick, from Cootehall, said that without work on the tributaries which flow into the Shannon, rural communities will continue to suffer.

“In the 1940s and 1950s, they paid people to dredge these tributaries by hand,” he said. “They were on the small farmers’ dole and they dragged the water and made drains by hand.”

The 60-year-old said he will believe it when he sees the dredging begin. “They have talked about dredging the Shannon at every election since I was a babe”.

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland