SPECIAL REPORT: Flooding aftermath in Rossbeigh

Reporter Donal Hickey talks to Cllr Michael Cahill, Fr Michael O'Doherty, Michael Griffin, Paddy Sugrue and Patrick O'Sullivan on Rossbeigh beach, after the worst storm damage in living memory. Pic: Valerie O'Sullivan

EVEN on a relatively windless day, the breakers that ceaselessly pound the fragile shoreline at Rossbeigh, on the Ring of Kerry, can look menacing.

Easy, therefore, to imagine what it’s like when the waves are driven by hurricane winds and high tides.

Local people use terms such as “tsunami-like” and “like an earthquake” to describe what they have witnessed, especially on January 6.

In his 70 years, Paddy O’Sullivan has never seen anything like these storms and the damage inflicted by the forces of nature.

“With changes in tides and currents, the beach area here is being hit twice was hard as before,” he said.

Mr O’Sullivan is one of 10 householders living on the high road overlooking the blue-flag beach at Rossbeigh. He and his neighbours are now worried they will soon be cut off by a road collapse.

Four collapses have occurred within memory and each time, space has had to be found for a new section of road under the steep, elevated ground which supports another road higher up.

The sea has come closer to the road in recent storms and, unless rock armour is placed at the eroded location, another part of the road will fall into the sea, warned Mr O’Sullivan.

“I remember seeing cocks of hay in a field on the seaward side of this road. Those fields are now gone.”

He believes a new sandbank, which is being formed by sand washed from the beach and dunes, will have further devastating consequences and will result in higher waves battering the shoreline.

“At this stage, mass concrete seems to be the only way to protect the shoreline,” he said.

The Rossbeigh situation has worsened in recent times, starting with a breach of the sand dunes by the sea in December 2008.

The gap in the dunes has now widened to about 1km, dividing the Rossbeigh Spit, a narrow finger into Dingle Bay, in two.

Then, in 2011, an old navigation tower at the tip of the spit fell victim to the sea — a portent of the damage which was to be inflicted in the past two months.

And the dunes, it seems, are being left to the mercy of nature.

The road leading to the beach has, for the second time this year, been strewn with rocks and debris washed from the beach.

Local councillor Michael Cahill, who has been engaged in a frustrating, 20-year campaign for action to combat erosion, maintains rock armour is needed to protect the beach area and the road.

“It’s sad to see what has been happening,” he said.

“While something can be done to protect the beach area, no money is being made available to deal with the rapid erosion of the dunes and the face of Rossbeigh is being changed forever.”

He claimed people were concerned that beaches would not be ready for this summer, because so much damage has been done.

“Another source of concern is the lack of co-ordination between the various statutory agencies involved and mixed messages are coming out as well.”

Local man Micheál Griffin has seen the gradual destruction of Rossbeigh and says the sand dunes are now dangerous and should not be treated as play areas.

He believes the beach level has dropped by at least a metre due to recent storms.

“People who come here later this year will notice a changed Rossbeigh. We’re now hoping that the county council will treat this an emergency and do the necessary defence work to protect what’s left of the place,” he said.

Kerry County Council has applied for more than €21m in government funding, including €6.7m for the Rossbeigh/Cromane/Dooks area.

Just over €2m is needed for the Rossbeigh beach area and €1m to protect the high road.

Engineers have stressed that coastal erosion is a natural process that’s evolving all the time. For instance, records show the Rossbeigh spit was not in existence when the area was mapped in the early 1600s.

“The 400-odd years taken to develop the Rossbeigh spit is miniscule in a geological timeframe. This also shows the changing force of nature,” said Ger MacNamara, the council’s acting director of road services.

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