Heroic community fightback against flooding in Athleague

The community of Athleague and further afield have battled valiantly for several days in an attempt to lessen the damage caused by Storm Desmond.

  At the village, the Main Street is entirely flooded; water has entered some properties; the River Suck has burst its banks; thousands of acres are covered in water; car parks are in a similar state.

  Tommie Kelly Electrical is one of the businesses temporarily closed down. The devastated owners made their goods safe before closing up shop.

  The N63 (Roscommon-Galway road) was impassable, with diversions in place. 

  Only for a heroic relief effort, though, matters would be far worse. The devastation caused by the floods of 2009 acted as a warning, spurring the community into action as rainfall bucketed down last weekend.

  “I would say a lot more water has come into the village than in 2009, but they had great ways of getting rid of it this time,” said former councillor and mayor Martin Connaughton on Tuesday afternoon, making his way through the flood.

  “They did mighty work. Only for that, Athleague would be a disaster. Athleague would be flooded only for the way they did their business.”

  Hundreds of sandbags line the street of Athleague, while a pump system is effectively pumping water into the overflowed Suck.

  “Water-wise, it’s equally as bad as 2009,” agrees Bernard Keane, a local businessman, “only it hasn’t affected the village as much because we are better prepared. Five years ago, we weren’t expecting it.

  “This year, like every year since, we have been watching the river day and night. Last week, we just knew the river was high and that, with all the rain that was going to come, we were going to be in trouble.”

  The effects of Storm Desmond, which saw an almost unprecedented level of rainfall hit this area, were felt principally on Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning. By Sunday evening, the Suck waters had entered Main Street.

  Yet the community rallied together, with many working throughout the night.

  “On Saturday, we were out filling sandbags because we knew the river rises for three days here after the rain stops,” said Bernard.

  “We mobilised the troops and we filled 3,500 sandbags on Saturday. We boarded up every door. We got a whole load of pumps and we built a bilage system through the village. It’s working.”

  He said that Roscommon County Council staff joined in. “They copied it and improved upon it and got more tractors,” he said.

  People came from near and far to join the effort.

  “The word went out on Facebook and 50/60 people came here during the course of the day on Saturday,” said Bernard. “It was unbelievable.”

  On Tuesday afternoon one business continuing to trade was Harte’s Butchers.

  Water was flooded to the door on the premises, with copious sandbags and a makeshift barrier preventing it from entering the shop. Oliver Harte was working away inside, however, chopping meat.

  “I am staying open,” he said. “If some people come in, I am trying to be here for them, and I walk across the water and give it (the meat) to them across the road.”

  As intense as the effort has been over the past several days, there was a sense at Athleague that the powers-that-be had not done enough to protect the village from the effects of the storm.

  Bernard Keane said that progress had been “excruciatingly slow” since 2009.

  “There was a small amount of remedial work done, but not enough,” he said.