The Great Snow

By Frankie Kelly

For me many things happened in 1947. It was the centenary of the Great Famine. It was the year our cemetery at Rosses Point was opened. It was the year I started working in McMullan's Oil County Sligo Branch. It was also the year of the Great Snow.

The snow fell in February, on a Tuesday. For days prior to the snowfall it was bitterly cold and suddenly on that Tuesday the snow started to fall in the early afternoon. At first it did not appear to be any different from a fall of snow of other years, but as the evening wore on because of the heavy Northern wind the snow began to drift. The four o'clock bus made it out to Rosses Point and that was the last for almost a week. Business people and workers in Sligo who used the bus, and there were many in those years, had no evening bus. Some people stayed in Sligo with relations or friends and those who made it home had to do so by the shore... the drifts were so deep. Kevin Murray of Hanleys, Sligo, succeeded in getting through the night with a four-wheel drive American Army type truck he had at the time.

The following morning it was a picture, snow everywhere. The sun shinning and the sea like a mirror. Now at that time of year you must remember there were few boats around the village and it so happened that a man named John McGonigle had a motor boat for fishing. He lived in the Upper Rosses in the annex beside Francis Gillen at the chapel. He at once put the boat at the disposal of the Rosses Point people and did three or four runs up and down to Sligo a day. He went up around 9.00am and most people who worked or did business in Sligo went up with him. One morning while approaching the upper jetties in Sligo the boat hit an iceberg and broke a plank. There were no casualties. I remember travelling one afternoon up to Sligo to get some stores for my mother. The local shops had very little. Boyers was the largest store, then you had Smiths, now The Moorings, Cissie Gillens, the Erin Bar and McLoughlins.

There were two bakeries in Sligo at that time; McArthurs and Tighes. They made daily deliveries to Rosses Point by van and all during the war years by horse van when there was no petrol. As a matter of fact, come to think of it, the petrol vans were not yet back on the road in February 1947. However bread was delivered by McGonigle's boat and I remember Charlie Anderson of McArthurs, an ex-army captain, supervising the bread delivery on the foreshore at Redmond John's.

The village continued to be isolated all that week and on Sunday morning Father John McManus issued a statement at the 8.30 am Mass and also at the 11.00 am Mass that all able bodied men where to turn out and try to dig their way on the main road to Sligo. There was brilliant sunshine all that week but it did not have much effect on the snow which was frozen solid. There was a severe frost each night. Young and old turned out at the request of Father McManus. Archies' Hill in Ballyweelin was a troublesome spot but using pickaxes and spades they eventually cleared this, so also was the hill at Frizzel's Gate, now Tansey's. This was hard packed snow and a lot of it was caused on the Tuesday night by Kevin Murray's big four-wheel drive truck pounding it into the ground. The greatest depth of snow was at Miss Hunter's Washington House. Here the drifts were eight to ten feet high. I traveled to Sligo by bus some days later and the drifts at that point were higher than the bus. By nightfall the two gangs met at Ballincar so the road was cleared for at least one way traffic.

As the war had just ended, the only fuel available in Rosses Point was turf or logs. There were two fuel depots in the Point at the time; Johnny and Willie Gillen's and Harry Ewing's Yard at the Royal Hotel which was run by Mrs. Gillen. Supplies of turf came by lorry to these depots mainly from Wogan and Burke in Sligo. We were fortunate enough to have supplies delivered before the snow. I used to help out as a 17-year-old with Tommy and Willie. They had a horse cart and a grey mare, but during the snow we were unable to take out the cart, so I got a sheet of galvanized steel put on a rope and made a sleigh. We then hitched the grey mare to this, and while we could only take about six bags of turf, Willie and I did the deliveries.

Aubrey Ewing, Harry's father, lived at the Royal Hotel and he was a keen photographer. He took our picture making the delivery by sleigh, but unfortunately I never succeeded in getting a copy. It was somewhat of a coincidence that when I went to start my first job in August 1947, Aubrey Ewing was the boss in McMullan's Oil Company.

I mentioned earlier that the Rosses Point cemetery opened in 1947. The first person buried there was Thomas John Devaney of the Upper Rosses. He died during the snowstorm and because of the depth of the snowdrifts his burial was delayed for several days.