Former TD highlights success of flood scheme 20 years ago

The flooding at Kiltiernan National School in 1990

Serious flooding between Kilcolgan and Ardrahan has been avoided for the last two decades after locals took the law into their own hands.

A simple solution back then of digging a trench for a distance of five miles to the sea has stood the test of time.

Retired TD Padraic McCormack recalls the floods of 1990 saw Kiltiernan National School submerged in three feet of water, forcing it to close for nine weeks and the children educated in Labane Hall. Ten houses on the Caheradoo Road were cut off for six weeks.

Padraic McCormack...memories.
Padraic McCormack…memories.

In early 1995 the deluge of water returned to South Galway following very heavy rainfall, leaving several houses as well as a church submerged in up to four feet of water, with 15 houses evacuated and farmland lying under 20 feet of a flood.

He was contacted by local farmer Mattie Hallinan who said that unless something was done in the Kiltiernan district, people would be drowned as they faced another painful stint marooned.

“Mattie was able to point out that the immediate flooding was caused by the overflow of the Kemsella winter turlough. He said if a channel was opened from the flooded area across the fields to the Tullanafrankagh turlough and a further channel from there to the Fingal turlough, there was a sufficient fall to relieve the flooding from the school and the road to the isolated houses,” he stated in his book.

Contractor Malachy Donnellan, who had carried out a minor drainage scheme in Turloughmore, estimated the work at £20,000 and said he was willing to wait for payment.

The then-Junior Minister for Public Expenditure and the OPW Phil Hogan gave the verbal go-ahead for the unofficial flood relief scheme, which Malachy Donnellan began the very next day.

After two weeks of work, with water entering the newly built channel and flowing towards the turlough, Caheradoo Road was opened up to accommodate a three foot diameter steel pipe.

“That evening Mattie had a visit from a number of concerned residents from Ballindereen who, in no uncertain terms, informed him that if we let down any more water, that they would take the law into their own hands and deal with him,” Padraic recalled.

Panic had set in as the water levels rose across the county and they feared all the flooded area of South Galway would come down through the channel.

Mattie now believed the only option was to cross the road at Ballindereen and cut a channel to the sea Killeenaran, which meant more money and different land – the contractor’s machine could not make headway in the solid limestone it encountered west of the main road near Ballindereen.

A second contractor who had the rock breaking machinery was contacted but he needed payment upfront.

After a quick meeting with a friendly Bank of Ireland bank manager in Gort, Padraic was handed a cheque of £40,000.

The channel was completed in the deep rock from Ballindereen Road until Turlough Caoil with a further channel opened up in the soft ground until the sea at Killeenaran.

The next obstacle was to open a channel across the main road near Ballindereen Village, which needed a road-opening licence from Galway County Council.

The Council would not sanction it as it was not approved by the OPW. At this stage an oyster farmer also voiced his opposition, complaining that all the fresh water would destroy his stock.

The OPW were preparing to take out an injunction to stop the work.

Padraic hired an engineer in Tobins who secured an expert report from UCG on the affect of fresh water on oysters.

The licence was reluctantly granted by the County Manager Donal O’Donoghue with conditions attached about the depth of the crossing and work began in the middle of the night and the job completed four hours later.

“The water was now flowing from the flooded area south of the road into our channel and rushing on towards the sea at Killeenaran. I was there for this special moment and I never heard such a joyous sound,” he wrote.

By this stage, Kiltiernan National School was flooded to a depth of twelve inches, with sand bags now preventing the water from entering the school. The main road was passable but cars were stalling in the flood.

“The next morning Malachy rang me to say that the flood water had gone from the main road at the school.  It was gone from the entrance to the school, and the Caheradoo Road was passable with only about eight or ten inches of water at the low point.

“Even though I had to go to the Dáil, I first went to Kiltiernan to see this miracle in action. When I got there the school, which had been surrounded, was completely clear and I could drive in the Caheradoo Road with only five or six inches of water on the lowest part of the road. This was an unbelievable feeling.

“Of all the work I did in my 24 years in the Oireachtas or my 15 years before that on councils, this was the job which gave me the most satisfaction,” he recalls.