Community spirit tackling flood crisis nationwide

Community spirit tackling flood crisis nationwide
Recent severe flooding has mobilised communities to come to the aid of their neighbours, writes Mags Gargan

Parishes and dioceses across the country which have suffered the terrible devastation of a month of flooding, are reporting that an incredible community spirit has seen locals springing into action to help their neighbours.

With water levels peaking across large parts of the country, at the time of going to print more than 260 Irish homes have been flooded, with another 230 more under threat, and some 130 families have been marooned in their homes by flood waters.

Fr Declan Shannon, administrator in St Mary’s Cathedral in Athlone – where the River Shannon divides the town into two parishes and two dioceses – says the “predominant emotion” he sees in the town is a sense of solidarity since the river burst its banks and flooded the town.

“The one positive result is the community rallying together and people really looking out for each other and mucking in,” he says. “The community spirit is fantastic and many agencies are working together with 86 volunteers who have a rota set up among themselves to form a barrier made up of sandbags and plastic. The council is working very closely with them supplying pumps and the civil defence and army are a great source of support.”


Tractors are acting as a taxi service around Athlone ferrying stranded people from their homes to get supplies, and neighbours are helping each other through the night to protect homes against the flood waters.

Fr Shannon says many people who are fighting to protect their property from the floods are “getting exhausted at this stage” and can only sleep at night “when they can hear the pump outside”. “Those whose houses are flooded and whose houses are marooned are afraid to leave their homes. The water is coming up through the ground and it’s not just the river bursting its banks, they are contending with sewage as well. People are struggling with the sheer devastation and trying to dry the house afterwards and they are wondering is this now a regular feature of Irish winters.  But the resilence of people is incredible.”

Bishop Francis Duffy of Ardagh & Clonmacnois, who visited the floods in Athlone on Tuesday, says he wanted to offer his “support, solidarity and prayer” to those affected. “I have been talking to people who found it all very distressing and are annoyed at what happened. A lot of people are helping out and manning pumps and there is a lot of goodwill out there,” he told The Irish Catholic.

“We have prayed for those affected that relief and assistance will be available to all concerned and we also pray for those in the emergency services and voluntary bodies that their work will bring relief and reassurance to all. Let us hope that co-ordinated and effective measures can be taken to prevent such disastrous results from reoccurring.”

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin, which covers the other side of Athlone, said “emergencies tend to bring out the best in us” and “between the army and the volunteers in Athlone, the sand-bags have been filled and put in place and the pumps are working away”.

Bishop John Buckley of Cork & Ross recently visited Bandon and Clonakilty, which have both suffered extensive flood damage, and he has called on the Government to take action to protect the towns. “This is the second time they have been hit and I think it should have been addressed. In 2009 they were promised remedial measures would be taken but they were never implemented. Insurance companies should also give a speedy response but these things take months if not years. Sadly I have been told that for people in low lying areas that insurance companies won’t cover them. That’s a very serious development.

“Neighbours and friends are very upset and apparently it is not over yet as rain is forecast for the weekend. I know the State is responding but it should have responded sooner. We got a warning in 2009 and that was the time to act,” he told The Irish Catholic. 

“In West Cork some people are housebound because the roads are closed by flooding. People being are being supportive and helpful and are watching out for elderly neighbours, which is marvellous to see. Good neighbourliness so important,” he said.

In Enniscorthy, where President Michael D. Higgins visited flood victims on Monday, most damage has occurred on Shannon and Abbey quays, Templeshannon Street, Island Road and the Promenade. A total of 100 properties – both homes and businsses – were evacuated, according to Wexford County Council.


Fr Billy Swan, curate in St Aidan’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy said the flooding on New Year’s Eve was the worse he has ever seen. “I feel most sorry for homeowners, but it is tough on business too,” he says. “There is a great spirit of solidarity among people experiencing genuine hardships. There are plans to put up flood defences and for those affected that can’t come quick enough. On Saturday I was talking to a couple on Island Road and lucky for them the water came in the front room but not up to the kitchen, which is two steps up. People are helping neighbours and being attentive to those who are most vulnerable. One guy I spoke to it was his job on the street to constantly monitor the water levels, even during the night and phone his neighbours when it was time to evacuate.”

Bishop Denis Brennan, who lived in Enniscorthy for 27 years, said the “thoughts and prayers of many here in Ferns diocese are with those whose homes and businesses have been affected by the recent severe flooding”. “Many are endeavouring to help, emergency measures have been introduced and long term solutions are on the table… but the pain, anxiety and grief of the locals is evident in what has been a recurrence of a problem and one that needs to be solved once and for all,” Bishop Brennan said.


“Special mention needs to be made of the friends and neighbours of people whose houses have been flooded and of the emergency agencies and local authority who have been very busy in seeking to alleviate the stress caused.”

Reacting to the community spirit seen in flooded areas Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry said “it seems that solidarity is best seen when people are afflicted by problems at their own doorstep”. “The recent floods in these islands have generated huge amounts of generosity and self-sacrifice. As was always the case, those who have least tend to share most,” he said.

Bishop Martin Drennan of the Diocese of Galway told The Irish Catholic he was “anxious and concerned about the very severe impact of flooding on the people of south Galway and north Clare”. He said “farmers and householders who have been inundated” are foremost in his thoughts and prayers “as are any older or vulnerable people whose welfare and well-being had been compromised”.

Bishop Drennan praised the “tremendous work undertaken by neighbours, volunteers and public service personnel in recent days”. “In the face of adversity the local community has been outstanding. In this diocese the traditional, deep-rooted response to difficult situations has always been one of meitheal, of co-operation and fellowship. Such a response has to be admired and nurtured,” he said.

The bishop said he continues to pray for an improvement in the weather and, together with Pope Francis, he “advocates a renewed appreciation and understanding of our natural world and the forces that impact on it”.