Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Great Snow of 1947 in Ballyshannon

Ballyshannon in the snow 2010. (Andrew Fenton)

The Great Snow of 1947 in Ballyshannon

                                                                             Anthony Begley “Ballyshannon Genealogy and History”
The current snow blizzards gripping the country are well reported in the media and local people look back to previous spells of Arctic weather to compare how people coped with the situation in the Ballyshannon area. Folk memory of the big snow which fell all over Ireland in February 1947 and which resulted in 20-30 days of snowfall between February and March is readily recalled by those who lived through this phenomenon. The snow which fell was of a dry powdery type and driven by an east wind it rapidly covered the landscape and enveloped ditches and electricity poles. Farmers had the added difficulty of foddering cattle and sheep and transport ground to a halt which resulted in continued shortages which followed on from the World War. The cold spell continued into March with Arctic conditions  and snowdrifts causing chaos to people’s lives. The snow was still visible on the mountains near Ballyshannon in the month of May.

The Year of the Big Snow in Ballyshannon 1947- A Lost Car
 Local people can still recall the Big Snow of 1947 when there were immense drifts of snow obliterating pathways, roads and significant landmarks.  In Ballyshannon heavy snow fell for 24 hours commencing on Tuesday 25th of February 1947.On Tuesday transport was able to run  during the day but by nightfall an easterly gale piled the snow into drifts and filled roads and lanes  to hedge-top level. The last bus from Ennniskillen to Ballyshannon was snowbound on Tuesday. The G.N.R. train due in the town at 9 p.m. did not arrive as the line was blocked at Irvinestown. Mr. William Carson, the station master, and his crew, brewed tea for the 20 passengers who were bound for Kesh, Pettigo, Ballyshannon and Bundoran. A coach was specially heated and  the passengers were made comfortable for the night. On Wednesday they got meals in an hotel in Irvinestown and the train then ploughed its way through the drifts reaching Ballyshannon at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. By Wednesday the streets of Ballyshannon were deep in snow and all movement of vehicular traffic ceased.  The only bus to reach Ballyshannon  was the workers bus fromTullaghan driven by Jack McAllister which took four hours and twenty minutes for the short journey. All other traffic into the town from the Sligo direction was hampered when a G.N.R. lorry got stuck in a snow drift near Castegal Post Office. This road remained closed until Friday of that week. Evidence of how deep the snow drifts were revealed in an incident on the Sligo road where a motorist got stuck and went for assistance. On his return he was unable to find the car as it was buried in a snowdrift.
Power failure and a novel way to deliver milk
Bread vans were unable to travel but townspeople were fortunate as The Ballyshannon Bakery supplied their needs. Rural milk sellers braved the elements to deliver milk in the town and Mr. Ward of Higginstown had a novel delivery method as he delivered milk with a horse-drawn sleigh. Secondary roads were completely impassible and those who worked in the town  had to pick tracks through the fields. Ballyshannon ground to a halt with the G.N.R. station closed and all work on the Erne Hydro-Electric Scheme ceased. Curiously enough “The Wee Train” as the C.D.R train was called, only lost one hour off its full schedule and was the only lifeline with the outside world. An electrical breakdown at Shannon blacked out the Erne and Abbey Cinema, the Convent and the Sheil Hospital. The old Blackstone generator of the Myles Electrical Works provided the rest of the town with electricity until the E.S.B. resumed service on Thursday. News from the papers and letter communication were hampered by the snow drifts.
Town Shutdown
One bright spot was that schools were closed and the young and not so young had great fun with snowball fights and sleighing on the peaceful streets of the town. A funeral in the town on Wednesday required six men to carry the coffin with hand slings as it was impossible for the hearse to travel. A local turf lorry had an adventurous journey from Gweedore on Wednesday afternoon as it set out for Ballyshannon at 3 p.m. They dug their way through snow drifts at Doochary and Glenties and eventually made it as far as Ballintra in the early hours of Thursday morning. They encountered their deepest drifts there but eventually made it to Ballyshannon, sleepless,foodless and exhausted at 11 a.m. on Thursday. Train services resumed on Thursday with outstanding mail arriving in town but only the Belfast and Derry newspapers arrived. No bus had arrived from Sligo by Friday. It was hoped to use an Erne bulldozer to clear the streets and gangs of council men were employed to clear the station and the Beleek, Bundoran and Donegal approaches into the town.

 The Winter of 1947 is frequently cited as a landmark event by those who lived through the arctic conditions and hardships of the time.

500 pages of local history plus lots of  photos available in Novel Idea, Ballyshannon Museum, Local Hands and Four Masters Bookshop Donegal Town. For postal queries contact

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