Lakeside town on Shannon has learned from previous flooding

Tributes paid in Portumna, Co Galway, to ‘fantastic’ State agency response

Timmy Walsh and his lakeside neighbours in the south Galway community of Portumna don't need to check radio or social media to know how the ESB is managing the mighty Shannon river.

“Earlier this morning, the flood water was still all heading north. Next thing, it was slowly flowing south,” says Walsh, pointing to the large pools of river ebbing gradually around him.

“We knew then that the [ESB] had opened the weir below us at Parteen.”

Bordered by Lough Derg and the Shannon, Portumna has been particularly vulnerable to the impact of Storm Desmond’s torrential rains.


Even as the low winter sun catches a rainbow on the skyline, thousands of cubic metres of water have been streaming off the Slieve Aughty mountains, filling limestone caves and culverts and feeding swollen river basins.

The town of 2,000 has learned a lot from the floods of November 2009, notes Walsh, manager of the Emerald Star Line cruise hire company.

Fantastic reaction

“The Army, Civil Defence and

Galway County Council

have all been fantastic,” Walsh says as roaring pumps gulp up the overflow on to the nearby N65.

Hundreds of sandbags have been deployed on approaches to the bridge crossing the Shannon, and drains have already been well cleared.

"We have even learned what type of sandbag works and what doesn't, based on the 2009 experience," say Barry and Theresa Walker of the Ferry Inn.

“The big builders’ bags are far less effective than the small, real sandbags that can be stacked tightly and work like a good stone wall,”they say.

The inn, which has deeds dating back to 1795, has seen many changes on the Shannon. But its current owners don’t recall anything quite like the weather of recent years. In 2009, the floods cut “the Ferry”, as the area is known, from the town, and the Walker family were separated.

“Barry was in the bar, and I was in a house on the other side of the river with the kids, the youngest then just three,” Theresa recalls. “He went into Birr to buy a pair of waders so he could come and visit us. We were apart for about six days.”

Lock system

According to Timmy Walsh, the installation of one lock system on the Shannon could make all the difference to Portumna during extreme weather events.

“People think you can’t control the Shannon, but you can,” he says, pointing to an embankment, constructed years ago by the ESB, from Meelick to Lough Derg.

The vulnerable point is at the canal at Connacht harbour. Here a temporary lock installation could control levels and protect the bridge, Walsh says.

“There are 16 locks on the Shannon-Erne canal, each with two gates. One lock here wouldn’t cost too much, and could save so much . . . ”

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times