People forced back to the bush telegraph after storm Ophelia

Ciara McDonnell has been living without services since Storm Ophelia battered the country last week.

The Bush Telegraph is up in force since the hurricane on Monday. Rumours swirl around Kinsale and Ballinspittle about where the best area to nab phone coverage might be (one of my neighbours managed

to call her family while up in the furthest point of her attic the day after the storm), and cars are parked in a line outside the shop at Barrels Cross where a teensy patch of coverage can be found. We’ve been without electricity, water and phone coverage since Monday morning, and latest estimates say that we might (just might) get it back late on Friday night. Schools are closed, shops are sending out batteries, water and dry supplies on tick — we’ve literally gone back to the dark ages.

We’re used to storms in Kinsale. Two years ago it rained every single day from the end of October until the end of January. Our house was surrounded by a moat of water for two months as the ground surrounding it became swollen with surplus water. We emptied our septic tank twice in two months that winter, and ended up putting in a barracks of extra drainage and soak-aways around the house to future-proof against floods.

My husband, two boys and I live at Old Head, one of the windiest areas of the locality. We love the wildness of our home; the way the trees grow to the side, because of the constant year-round breeze and the near guaranteed great drying every day. During the colder months, wind batters our house, and we hunker down with a roaring fire and extra water just in case the electricity goes and we find ourselves without services.

People forced back to the bush telegraph after storm Ophelia

When news of impending Ex-Hurricane Ophelia started to roll in, then, my family and I were relatively nonplussed. Well used to stocking up for storms, on Sunday we bought batteries, extra water and candles and went to sleep without a worry. Howling, keening wind woke us at 5am on Monday, flexing our windowpanes and shaking our doors. At 11am roof slates started to fly across the garden and by 1pm our shed had overturned and shattered, exposing its innards (and my secret shame of cardboard box hoarding). We lost power early in the afternoon, and with it all phone coverage. The wind howled all night, and it seemed darker than usual; likely from the lack of twinkling lights from houses on the headland.

Community spirit has kicked into gear all around the area. A local roofer was with us at 7.30am the morning after the storm and our local co-op supplied the replacement slates and ridge tiles on a promise that we’d pay as soon as power and bank machines were back up and running. Amazonas hair salon is offering complimentary hair washes to those of us without water and Martin Shanahan and the staff of Fishy Fishy cooked all of their food that survived the storm and gave it away to the locality for a donation towards charity. Local builders are working double-time to restore a feeling of safety to the older people in the area, and anyone who has a gas cooker is opening up their kitchens to facilitate family meals to continue. In the worst of times, come some of the best of times.

Of course, we are dirty and smelly and cross. My kids are five and six and haven’t survived such a long period without screens. They are constantly roaring about how BORED they are, and we’ve all suffered injuries from rogue Lego pieces that lie unseen in our darkened house. Last night, my husband and I were reading our books in the Edwardian candlelight, staying up until 10pm to see if the promised restoration time of electricity would come about, and chatted excitedly about putting a wash on and flicking the dishwasher to its hottest setting. It truly has come to this.

I’m writing from my “remote office” in Actons Hotel, where I’m sharing a table with a group of ladies who have been playing bridge together for 23 and have met up today to get a hot coffee and a scone and discuss the perils of Ophelia.

The storm terrified these dignified women, who are fragrant and powdered and dressed immaculately despite assuring me that they haven’t been able to shower for days. Noelle is in her ninth decade and says she’s survived worse than this. I tell her how I bravely washed my hair with cold bottled water this morning over my bathroom sink and she roars “sure what did you think we did when I was a child, girl? Everything was outside!”

And so, the world keeps turning, and these women keep organising. The most important item on the agenda of their coffee meeting is the distribution of food from their chest freezers to the ones in the area that are serviced by generators. One of the ladies has already cooked for a party that’s happening next week, and there is no way she is losing that food — not if these women have anything to do with it.


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