From Castlebar - County Mayo -

Local Papers Commentary
Western People - 24 Sep 2003
By The Jaundiced Eye
27, Sep 2003 - 23:00

Pullthomas Disaster

TESTS are being carried out today (Tuesday) as fears grow of further landslides in the already-devastated Pullathomas area following one of the worst natural disasters in the region in living memory. Freak weather conditions wreaked havoc on the Erris community on last Friday night and geologists are currently trying to ascertain if there are ongoing problems in the area. " We have brought in expert advice to survey the area and give us a professional opinion on the situation," County Secretary, John Condon said yesterday. "Depending on what they say we will then decide if action needs to be taken to stabilise the area or take further precautions." The County Council have also set up a local ‘Rainwatch’ service to monitor any severe changes in the area’s weather conditions similar to Friday’s downpour. Torrential rain fell on the villages of Pullathomas, Glengad , Barnacullew and Cornhill for a two-hour period on Friday evening. This resulted in sections of the Dooncarton Mountain ‘opening at the crown’ as local parish priest An t-athair Deaglan Mac Conghamhnaa put it, and crashing towards the sea. In the process it caused untold damage along a three-mile stretch of coastline.

The possibility that you may have to leave your house indefinitely due to the chance of the mountain behind your house coming crashing down on top of you is something that only happens in Third World disaster-prone countries. There was one similar situation in recent times although nowhere near as disastrous as this case – the Gort houses that were built on ‘liable to flood’ areas and which were flooded dramatically one very wet winter. There were suggestions that silage plastic caught in the underground Gort river aggravated the flooding but record rainfall had fallen. These people were re-housed and the flood-prone houses demolished so that they would not continue in use. Perhaps it will prove possible to stabilise the damaged Dooncarton slopes and allow people to move back. But they may have to be re-housed elsewhere. For those that grew up in the area this will be a major psychological blow. For those who have recently purchased holiday homes or commuter homes it will be primarily a financial question. For those who farmed the land that is now gone, I cannot even begin to contemplate what they must be feeling this week such is the scale of the disaster that has befallen them. 

Five bodies swept out to sea

Belmullet based Councillor Tim Quinn has called for an immediate survey of the Pullathomas area in the wake of last weekend’s terrifying landslide in which a number of bodies from the local cemetery were swept out to sea. Cllr Quinn said it was essential that a suitably qualified technical expert come and assess the hills in the Pullathomas area. He said it was apparent that the local people’s greatest concern was that there would be a recurrence of Friday night’s disaster. "There have been at least five or six landslides in the Erris area in the last nine or ten years," he said. Cllr Quinn said the most frightening thing about Friday night’s landslide was that it had not been confined to just one area. For him the most poignant sight in Pullathomas yesterday (Monday) was the headstone, marking the spot where the grave of a family of five once was in the old cemetery. All five of the bodies that had been in the grave, which included that of a child, were swept out to sea during the terrifying land movements on Friday night. "That to me was the most poignant sight. Most of the rest of the damage can be removed and replaced but not that," he said.

The idea that the peat being washed down off the mountain top has ripped away a number of graves is surely the most horrific image of the whole affair. Thank God that no one was hurt. The idea of floral wreaths, coffins and even human bones ending up on the rocks below the road – a drop of 40 feet or more – and being washed out into the bay is poignant indeed. The call for a survey to assess the possibility of ongoing problems is most urgent indeed. It does appear from the papers and news coverage later in the week that a substantial amount of work was being undertaken to this end. My tuppence worth, for what it is worth, is the urgent need to carry out a survey of sheep densities all over the county. Not just raw numbers but particularly how the numbers related to the steepness of the slopes on which they are grazing. A good healthy root mass is needed to hold the steep peaty mountain soils in place. Heather, which has largely disappeared in Mayo, may not now be as dispensable as we would like to think. Annoying environmentalists complaining about lack of heather may now be joined company by health and safety specialists. Pollathomas has been identified a number of times in the past 10 years as being badly overgrazed by reputable bodies such as the Heritage Council. The landslides suggest to me that the plant cover – heather and other upland moorland plants growing there were simply no longer able to hold the soil together when the final heavy downpour occurred last week. Others say it was just a dry summer followed by heavy rain. Whatever the cause after thousands of years much of the accumulated peat from the top of the mountain has ended up in the sea. A similar sized flood exactly 18 years ago (before overgrazing) managed to sweep away a bridge but no landslides occurred.

But how many other areas around Mayo and indeed Galway are at risk from a similar catastrophe? Holding 10,000 sheep on a similar acreage near Ballinrobe where there is good grass and the land is flat may not cause the slightest environmental problem. But put them up on heather with a slope of 10 to 20 degrees or greater and you have a different situation altogether.


Ribbon dwelling is hazardous?

Three separate items from the Western this week:

1.Ballina residents see ‘red’ over yellow line

For years they have been asking for a footpath. Now they have been told that they can have a yellow line. Residents of Quignalecka on the Sligo Road in Ballina are unhappy with the local authorities’ response to their concerns for pedestrians’ safety in that area. At a meeting of Ballina Electoral Area Committee on Tuesday last, Cllr Annie Mai Reape was told that work on pavement improvement in that area was scheduled to begin yesterday, Monday, September 22. Cllr Reape is one of a number of public representatives who have been representing the concerns of the residents of the area for some time. She had tabled a motion on the issue at the meeting last week. It is now proposed to put a yellow line in place to highlight the hard shoulder on the road where pedestrians will walk.

2. Bellacorick accident warning

A fatal accident is waiting to happen unless urgent action is taken to curb speed through Bellacorick village according to Cllr. Frank Leneghan.Speaking at a meeting of the Belmullet electoral area Committee he said that speed limit signs which had been approved more than a year ago still were not in place. "A serious accident occurred in the village recently and if action isn’t taken immediately there will be more. There are countless vehicles entering and leaving Bellacorick power station daily and it is vitally important that these speed limit signs are put in place on the main road," he said.

3. Farmer dies in road accident

A Mayo farmer died on Thursday when the bicycle he was riding was in collision with a van at Lisnolan, Manulla. Sean Cannon, Logaphuill, Errew, Belcarra, was a single man in his 60s. The accident occurred around 6.30 a.m. on the main Balla to Castlebar road, about a half mile from Balla Mart.

It would appear that speed limits, footpaths and cycle paths are strongly on the local agenda. Some 20,000 houses per annum - approximately half of all houses according to the Department of the Environment - are now being built in the countryside. So such matters are likely to be a strongly growing concern as the residents of these new houses come to grips with their surrounds and start to build local communities.  


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