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Temperatures of -15 degrees Celsius. Snow drifts as deep as 50 feet. Villages lost in the snow. People dying of cold and starvation.


25-09-2012 11:00

It might sound like a winter in deepest Siberia but these conditions actually existed here in Ireland in 1947. The winter of that year was the coldest and longest of the 20th century. From shortly after Christmas until almost Easter, Ireland was gripped by snow and ice. There were five major blizzards and snowdrifts of 12-20 feet, some topping 50 - literally burying cars, buses, cottages, the entire village of Moneystown in Co. Wicklow was said to be ‘lost’ in the snow. With roads blocked and telephone and electricity lines felled, towns and farmsteads were isolated, as food and fuel dwindled.

 

The Irish were thunderstruck when British coal exports were halted. Domestic turf was so sodden and deteriorated as to be nearly useless as a fuel. Amidst the worst fuel crisis in Ireland’s history people stripped wood from their homes, as nearly one-half of Dubliners were burning furniture to survive. Severe food shortages and a virulent influenza epidemic weakened people. By February, Dublin’s death rate had more than doubled as the poor and elderly succumbed to hunger, cold and illness. With the earth frozen, overtaxed undertakers had to stockpile coffined bodies or place them in “snow pits”. As people suffered, starved, froze perished in blizzards, and tens of thousands of sheep and cattle died, the Government “unbelievablely…..did nothing”, attested newspapers. As the death toll rose into the hundreds, the country faced what newspapers called a “national emergency as grave as any in its history ….this is a fight for survival.”

 

This is a graphic account of what was regarded as a near-biblical calamity of blizzards, freezing, hunger, floods and feared famine. So imperilling, wrote one newspaper that it seemed almost as if the “wrath of God was directed against Ireland.” A vivid tale of suffering and courage, death and survival. Human resilience and real heroism. Poignantly authenticated by oral history testimony of those who lived through the arctic siege 63 years ago.

 

Ireland’s Arctic Siege is published in paperback this week for €14.99 / £12.99.
For further information please contact Teresa Daly, Communications Manager, 01 500 9521, 086 838 3559, tdaly@gill.ie.



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