“I’ll blow and I’ll blow, and I’ll blow your house down”- said the wolf to the three little pigs in the fairy tale. And two of the pigs did indeed have their residences demolished, but they were the ones who had built with unsuitable materials. The piglet who had built with brick suffered no such disaster. Those who constructed the old rectory which I am lucky enough to live in, built largely with stone although they did adorn some of the openings in the stable block with brick. But they did build strongly, so while the wind did indeed blow powerfully I lost only one slate- although there was one moment when I thought that the sash window behind which I write might be blown in.
Others though were less fortunate than I. There were the three lamented fatalities across the country- one of a nurse hurrying about her duties- and while my immediate neighbours suffered little damage, I did certainly see an ESB repair crew heading westwards, followed, I thought, by an ambulance, and later by a motorized cauldron of ready mixed concrete driving in the same direction; all of which suggested, that serious damage was done here too, even at so great a distance from the centre of the storm. Windy Monday will go down in Irish history.
In general I obeyed the governments instructions to stay inside. But I did go out twice. The wind was wild. But not the wildest I can remember. One of the most extraordinary memories of my childhood is that of being caught up in the hurricane Debbie which hit the West of Ireland in September 1961. The slates flashing like razor blades as they poured off the roofs of Clifden ( Co Galway ), the terrified faces of the men, themselves barely able to stand, who desperately urged us not to drive past a sea weed factory as they were frightened that its roof was about to be blown off into our path, and perhaps above all the utter devastation of Eyre Square in Galway itself a few days later, are all, even now, imprinted on my mind.
The difference though between September 1961 and October 2017 was that while the weather may have been similar, there were far fewer casualties earlier this week than there had been in 1961 when eleven people died ( the fears of the men at the sea weed factory were all too justified). And why was this? Because, Monday’s storm was well heralded by the forecasters unlike that of 1961, because of the warnings given by the government, and because of the greatly improved infrastructure, communications, and social media that we now enjoy. And none of this would have been possible without the economic growth that as taken place in the last fifty odd years. We have acted like the wise piglet and built of brick not straw, but do we understand any more than he, how and why we have done so?
NOTE. I see to my great regret that two farmers, one in Cork, and another in Wicklow have been killed while repairing damage done by last week’s two storms. But even so, the combined total of deaths caused by Ophelia and Brian is less than half that caused by Debbie in 1961.