Cork traders count the cost of flooding as clean-up operation swings into action

High tide led to south channel of River Lee overflowing its banks early on Tuesday

Rising flood waters have led to parts of Cork city centre being flooded with some business owners having to bail out waters after the River Lee burst its banks. Video: The Irish Examiner & Richard Jacob/Idaho Cafe


Traders in Cork city centre were counting the cost of yet another flood as they began a clean-up operation on Tuesday after high tides caused the River Lee to burst its banks and flood low-lying parts of the city.

Cork City Council had issued a flood warning for high tide for 8pm on Monday and for 8.35am on Tuesday and initially it was thought businesses had escaped damage as buildings and doorways had not been breached at high tide.

The South Channel of the River Lee had overflowed the quays at Morrison’s Island and Fr Mathew Quay and flowed into the South Mall before spilling over the centre of the roadway there and flowing into Oliver Plunkett St.

Streets linking Oliver Plunkett St to the South Mall such as Pembroke St, Cook St, Marlboro St and Princes St also flooded but business premises seemed to have escaped due to a combination of high steps, flood barriers and sandbags.

But strong flood waters began to circulate around the GPO on Oliver Plunkett St and nearby streets such as Winthrop St and Caroline St began to flood with many premises inundated to a depth of a foot or more of water.

Peter Mark hair salon during heavy flooding on Winthrop Street, Cork city. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Peter Mark hair salon during heavy flooding on Winthrop Street, Cork city. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Elaine McCarthy of Peter Mark’s Hair Salon on Winthrop St told how the flood waters came up quickly as she and colleagues were preparing to open for a busy day as women sought to get their hair done before the Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions kicked in.

“We came in about eight o’clock and everything was fine, but then about 10 to nine I was looking out and saw a little bit of surface water on the black slates in the middle of the street and then in the space of five minutes, it came up.

“It was like a swimming pool – we ended up with almost a foot of water here – it’s all tiled so it’s a question of getting the place cleaned and sanitised but we’re hoping to get open again today because we were full with bookings.”

Nearby, Emily Kavanagh and Susan Angley of Boojum Mexican burrito bar were also busy cleaning up and they too spoke of how suddenly the water levels began to rise, coming in from both Winthrop St and a side door on a laneway leading to Caroline St.

“It came literally in the space of five or 10 minutes,” said Ms Kavanagh. “One of the lads went out to get coffee and as he walked back down the water came flooding in and it was up to my knees.

Ms Angley added: “It came up the shores from what I could gather – it was mucky water but I don’t think it was sewer water thankfully – we’re lucky we have concrete floors and very little wood but it still involves a big cleanup.”

Shane Kennedy of Diane O’Mahony Jewellers also on Winthrop St was also counting the cost of the flooding as he and his colleagues tried to clean up the residue from the flood waters as quickly as possible.

“It’s a bit of an improvement on the flood waters of 15 or 20 years ago – it’s a bit cleaner but it’s still fairly dirty out there and it’s not what you want flowing into shop especially when you’re getting the place looking nice for Christmas.”

Steve Andrews from the Vodaphone shop at the corner of Winthrop St and Oliver Plunkett St said they had heeded the flood warnings from Cork City Council but still found themselves involved in a major clean-up operation on Tuesday.

“We kind of prepared for it last night: we took all the high end stuff, the computers, off the shop floor – we had sandbags down but there was a gap in the shutter and there was just a mad flow of water into the shop.

“This is exactly what businesses don’t need in the city with the lockdown coming. We expected the place to be absolutely thronged for the next two days but this is going to kill industry and economy in the city.”

On the South Mall, general manager at the Imperial Hotel, Bastien Peyraud said it was the worst flood that he had encountered since he arrived at the hotel two years ago, but his staff are experienced in dealing with such events.

“We are closed because of Covid-19, but the warnings were very clear and we were well prepared. It [the water] only came up to the step on our Pembroke St entrance but some water did come in to our cafe from the South Mall.”

Philip Scott in Badger and Dodo Coffee Shop on South Mall was preparing to re-open following an early morning clean-up by him and his colleagues.

“We were in at about 7.30am and everything was fine but just after high tide, which was about 8.30am, [the water] started coming in and within minutes we had maybe three or four inches of water all the way to the back of the shop.

“We were putting down the sandbags when it started, but a bus passed by outside and that sent a tidal wave of water flooding into us, but we escaped without any major damage apart from the skirting boards warping a little.”

Conor Healy, chief executive of Cork Chamber surveys the level of flooding on Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork city. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Conor Healy, chief executive of Cork Chamber surveys the level of flooding on Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork city. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Cork Chamber CEO, Conor Healy was out visiting the affected businesses. He said such flood events were entirely preventable if the Lower Lee Flood Relief Scheme had not been delayed by a legal challenge.

“We have business people cleaning out their premises and we had members of the public planning to come in ahead of Level 5 lockdown coming into play so the flood is another impact on business losing out on a couple days of trade.

“But this is all preventable – there is a flood prevention scheme for Morrisons Island that would prevent up to 90 per cent of this type of tidal flooding and it’s supported by the OPW, Cork City Council and the broad business community.

“But the scheme is being held up – the process needs to take its course but it needs to move forward quickly to construction and in 18 months you could have a scheme in place which would prevent this type of occurrence.”

Cork City Council director of services, David Joyce said that the council had issued warnings regarding the risk of flooding from high tides on Monday night and Tuesday morning and had made sandbags available to property owners.

Approximately 25-30 cars that had been left parked overnight on Morrison’s Island, Fr Mathew Quay and the South Mall had been inundated when the south channel of the Lee overspilled its banks and flooded.

Mr Joyce said: “It’s the worst flood we have had in Cork in more than five years – it’s a very significant flood and waters remained high even after high tide this morning due to the heavy winds which we had predicted.”

Back on Oliver Plunkett St, businessmen Michael Cronin and Leo O’Callaghan were outside their premises, discussing the impact of the flood and comparing it to previous floods they have witnessed.

Mr Cronin said: “We weren’t badly affected in 2009 – the flood just came down the middle of the street, not into the shops. But 2014 was bad – we were hit on the Monday night and again on the Tuesday afternoon that time.

“The water came down Grafton St off the South Mall this morning and there was a strong flow of water. One of the things that surprised me about it was that high tide was at 8.35am but it kept coming up for an hour afterwards.”

Mr O’Callaghan pointed to business people sweeping up leaves on Oliver Plunkett St, saying that leaves had blocked up the drains and prevented the water draining away, but overall he was philosophical about the event.

“Nobody was killed and that’s important and we have been here before, in 2014, but we picked ourselves up after that and as we face into a lockdown now, this is another blow but people will pick themselves up again.”