08 January 2008

The Big Snow of '82

Or, The Best Christmas Holidays Ever
I was on the phone the other day, as is my wont, chatting to a beautiful and charming young lady, as is also my wont. She being English, we were discussing the weather.
'We never get proper snow anymore,' she said. 'It's been years since we've had real snow.'
'I dunno,' I grinned, 'you do better than us. It's been years since we've been more than dusted with the stuff in Dublin. In fact, we'd about thirty seconds worth of it the other day.'
'Ireland doesn't get much snow?'
'Not really. Certainly not round Dublin, anyway. We get a couple of inches at most, and to be honest, it's rare we get even that. There does be more in the midlands, of course, and on what we comedically call mountains, but hardly any round here. Even then it does only be for a couple of days.'
There was a pause, and then I added 'Except once. The big snow of 1982 was different.'
I was only small at the time, of course, and we'd been on holidays for a fortnight over the Christmas, and had gone back to school on the seventh of January, the day after the Epiphany, the same as usual. And then the next day the snow started to fall, and it just kept falling.

By the following day it lay two feet deep in our garden. I think it was a day or two afterwards that Dad took this shot:

Yes, that's me in the centre, looking rather dashing in snorkel jacket and wellies. You can see Sister the Younger in the background. The picture was taken hardly more than a minute's walk from my house, not much more than a hundred yards or so from where myself and my cronies were to dam a stream with rock and lard two or three years later. The lane'd been cleared of snow, but it'd not been heaped up at the side. If the snow was lying two feet deep on the ground, it had piled in drifts double and triple that depth. Needless to say, the country shut down.

It was brilliant. Well, it was brilliant for a child who got an extra fortnight's holidays that year. It was probably rather less brilliant for my Dad. It's interesting reading about it online -- and there's less about it than you'd expect, considering that it was by far the heaviest snow we've had in more than half a century. Brother the Elder, sadly, says far less about it than he surely could.

Eddie Graham's remarkable Clonskeagh-based 'Dublin Weather Diary' gives what is by far the most useful description of 'The Big Snow' that I've been able to find:
We rarely experienced heavy snowfalls in Dublin and "Snow on high ground" was the best we could hope for. Often during previous winters, I would peer out my bedroom window and look up to the distant snowcapped Wicklow hills and wish myself to sleep with the thought that maybe one morning, we might wake up to a dazzling white spectacle, a whiteout, the wonder of being snowed in.

And so came January 8th 1982. Dublin and eastern Ireland had never seen anything like it. A easterly gale had developed during the morning and with heavy snow continuing to fall at a temperature of about -1C, so a full scale blizzard raged for the next 36 hours. I had never seen a snowdrift in my life before, and now we had six-footers climbing over the wall in the back garden. In addition, there were some exceptional low temperatures in the days which followed, with a new record of -13C set at Dublin's Phoenix Park, with -20C on the ground.

However, being only 10 years old, I have no memory of feeling cold or uncomfortable, and the snow was all that occupied my mind. Initially, my friends and I were delighted with the prospect of one full week off school, but slowly the inconveniences became apparent, even to us. There was no fresh milk or groceries to be had as the blocked roads made normal life impossible. Then with pipes freezing, water supplies began to be affected.

But by the 16th, the thaw had come. I was almost glad that morning, having looked out the window not to see the familiar whiteout of the previous week. Instead it was dull and grey, with the rain falling steadily on the slushy, dirty, melting drifts.
He links to a few photographs too, but none of them is quite so dramatic as this shot of buses stranded between Skerries and Loughshinney. For all the drama of that photo, though, it lacks the strange eerie quality of this short clip, filmed on 8mm film, and showing Walkinstown cross and the road just next to Our Lady's Hospital, with the footage in the car apparently being shot whilst a woman in labour was being driven from Lucan to the Coombe hospital to give birth. Dramatic times.

It was twenty-six years ago today that the snow started to fall. As my friend gasped in envy at the story, I pointed out that there'd been nothing quite like it for decades beforehand, and certainly nothing remotely approaching it since.

1 comment:

Kevin II said...

Nice post.

I was 11 that amazing year.

Apparently, I walked past a fiver, or was it just a one pound note, while on the way into town, my mind full of thoughts of The Empire Strikes Back.

Howth, Hoth. Close enough.