The Big Snow of 1947

by James Reddiough

The snow was as high as the fences that year, and people did not know whether they were walking on the road or on the walls or in the fields as they made their way to the nearby village. The harsh conditions and the scarcity of fuel and food made life difficult for both man and beast.

The arctic wind began blowing at the end of February and there was talk of snow among the people, and then it arrived on the 24th February 1947 and continued well through the month of March. There was also snow on the ground in May as it lingered at its height, the snow drifts were 15 feet high and covered cottages and shop fronts in the nearby towns and villages.

An arctic wind brought blizzard conditions as the snow fell, leaving road and rail services paralyzed and the snow drifts left rural areas inaccessible to postmen and other vital services. In the towns, the baker and the milkman were forced to use horse and sleigh and donkey and cart, as well as on foot, to deliver much needed supplies of milk and bread. They managed to get through, but still it is said that some 600 persons died during the 40-day blizzard.

As the countryside disappeared under a blanket of snow, schools were closed as children found themselves up to their waists in snow on the walk, and they were told by teachers to go home to where they would be safe. The postman in the Boyle area was lost overnight but managed to survive the harsh conditions to reach the town the next day, having been found by a sheep farmer and nursed back to health. The Big Snow kept people to their homes, as few were willing to venture out, having to dig out the snow and ice away from their homes. People from the emergency services did their best to keep the people in touch and catered for during what was a difficult time.

The emergency had just ended the previous year and there had been a poor harvest during 1946, so the people were no strangers to shortages from rationing. They were a self-sufficient people who depended on their own resources for food and the spring of 1947 made life very hard indeed, even if they did have food in the house in rural areas, where people had their own supplies.

Such was the Big Snow or Blizzard of 1947, when the country was gripped by arctic conditions. However, there had been a similar blizzard in Ireland in February 1917, 30 years previously during the Great War. And later in the century, there would be other snow and ice condition,s especially during the winter of 1962 – 1963, and also 35 years ago in the winter of 1981 to early 1982; and of course, who could forget the arctic conditions of 2009 and 2010?