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  • The Flood of Strabane in 1909

The Flood of Strabane in 1909

Transcribed by Teena from the Strabane Weekly News 23 Jan. 1909.

Colorized version of the original black & white photograph PRONI Ref: D1422_A_4_15_100~A Creator: Herbert F. Cooper (Photographer)

Strabane Flooded – Town Partially Submerged – Pitiable Condition of the Poor – Philanthropic Action of Prominent Townsmen – Food Conveyed to the Besieged – Boating on the Streets!

Rude was the awakening experienced by a large number of the inhabitants of Strabane on Monday morning and intensely cold was the feeling, as those who were peaceably slumbering in blissful ignorance of the grave circumstances with which they were surrounded, became acquainted with the terror-inspiring fact that the floors of their houses, in fact, the very bed-supports above in which they were sleeping, were submerged with water to a depth decidedly alarming. The scene that followed baffles description and almost defies the imagination. People rushed, indeed in some cases, waded, in an almost nude condition, to the doors of their dwelling-houses, with a view to seek protection on a higher altitude than that on which their houses were situated, only to find an impassable barrier opposing their exit in the shape of a roaring, hissing torrent of water, which, in most cases, at the early hour of 4 a.m., reached to a height of a couple of feet above the thresholds of the doors. Almost panic-stricken, the people donned a few articles of clothing and with the greatest expedition at their command, proceeded to convey whatever portable furniture they possessed on the ground floors to the rooms upstairs. In a good many cases their efforts were unsuccessful and a large quantity of kitchen furniture, etc., was almost, if not completely, ruined. The deluge occasioned by the overflow of the rivers Mourne and Finn, as the result of the sudden melting of the snow, was continually becoming deeper and deeper, as the water poured into the streets incessantly in ever increasing volume. The principal thoroughfare in the town, the Railway Road, was submerged for a distance extending from the Coffee Stall to within a few yards of the railway station, in some places to a depth of approximately four feet. As no access could be gained to the station by the common practice of pedestrianism, through the main street being similarly conditioned to the Railway Road and aerial navigation not having yet reached its stage of full development in Strabane, passengers had to perforce to resort to the omnipresent jarvey, who ever and anon mingled his stentorian cry of “Car, sir?” with the continuous roar of the water as it beat against the walls, or pelted the doors of the houses within its reach.

The gentlemen representing this profession in Strabane certainly reaped a golden harvest, which is an irrefutable proof of the truism that “It is an ill wind indeed, that blows nobody good.” Their demands, it must be admitted, were under the circumstances, within the bounds of reason and however parsimoniously inclined one might be, the choice of paying a silver coin to the car-driver was by far preferable, to the only existing alternative of wading a distance of three or four hundred yards up to the armpits in water. A good many people, apprehensive of accidents on the journey, decided to postpone their engagements, and cling to safety while it remained. Indeed the journey by car, despite the assurances of the jarveys, was fraught with danger enough, as the horses occasionally shied as they plunged deeper and deeper into the water, rendering the lot of the occupants of the vehicle rather disquieting. Railway carts were also employed, these conveying sometimes a dozen passengers at one load. The experience was certainly novel and will be long remembered by those who were compelled to adopt this mode of transit. An incident, which fortunately did not terminate seriously, occurred in this connection. A car load of passengers was being conveyed in the direction of the station, when the horse taking fright at the splashing occasioned by the passing of another vehicle, commenced to plunge. The crowd of spectators anxiously anticipated a catastrophe, but by the skill displayed by the driver in the management of the animal, the horse was quickly pacified, and the passengers reached their destination in safety. Considering the depth of water in this street, had anyone had the misfortune to have fallen in, serious consequences might have been the issue.

The Main street also suffered considerably, being inundated from some yards below the Post Office to the railway gates, representing a distance of more than a quarter of a mile. The water here varied considerably in depth, the deepest part of it being about four feet. Rather less difficulty was encountered in driving on this street than was experienced on the Railway Road and cars often took this circuitous route for the railway station.

The condition of things in the above-mentioned streets, however, pales into insignificance compared with the miniature cataclysm to which Bridge-end street and Waterside were subjected. Here scarcely a single inhabitant escaped the irresistible fury of the deluge. The depth of water in this quarter of the town amounted in some places to almost six feet and in some cases only a few inches of the doors of the dwelling houses remained above water. In the morning it was found possible to traverse this area with vehicles drawn by horses and this method was continued for some time and people conveyed across, whilst the water rushed into the street from both sides with unabated violence. The waters of both rivers here commingled, the Finn from the west and the Mourne from the east and poured their overflowing contents through the houses causing distress on every hand. By noon the flood here had risen to its maximum height and vehicular traffic was found impossible. One venturesome individual attempted to make his way across with a horse and cart, but abandoned his project, as the result of having almost had the animal and vehicle lifted by the water. Boats were requisitioned and continued to ply from end to end of the street, a distance of upwards of 300 yards, until late at night. The first intimation many of the people residing in this street had of their danger was received through the medium of Mr. John TOORISH, who. on becoming aware of the seriousness of the occurrence, acted with great promptitude in informing the people of the gravity of the situation. But for his prompt action the condition of things, although distressing enough, would probably have had more alarming consequences and many articles of furniture, etc., were enabled to be preserved, which would otherwise not have been. Mr. Edward GALLAGHER J.P.. with the utmost expedition  arranged for provision of necessaries for those whose houses were flooded and under his direction loaves of bread and quantities of milk were handed to the people through the top windows and in some cases through the skylights. Mr. A. J. HARTE and Mr. Andrew GALLAGHER rendered creditable service in supplying the food, which was delivered by the unique method of forming a connection between supplier and supplied with a pitchfork. Mr. HARTE, with his usual consideration, procured a large quantity of pure water, which he delivered to those in distress by a similar method as was adopted for the delivery of food. This philanthropic action was continued throughout the day in the flooded areas of the town, bringing comfort in its wake. The situation was not without its humorous element and many amusing scenes were witnessed particularly in the navigable area, where at the  embarkation of the boat, passengers large and small, old and young, male and female, were carried pick-a-back, for no remuneration whatever, through the more shallow water into the boat. It is worthy of note that some of the inhabitants in Bridge-end street gave their first thought for the dumb creatures of the animal kingdom and the unusual and amusing spectacle of pigs and dogs greeting the vision from upper windows, speaks for the thoughtfulness of the people in preserving animal life. An enterprising grocer whose place of business had received the wrathful attention of the flood, endeavoured by means of a car to gain access with the minimum degree of moisture, but alas, for his strategy, when at his destination the horse no doubt impatient to render his services elsewhere, performed some antics which had the effect of dismounting the gentleman rather hurriedly, greatly to the detriment of his garments. Another Strabane merchant attempted to cycle to his business premises, but in some unaccountable way he dived into the flood and found himself swimming about in several feet of water. Many pathetic scenes were also witnessed and it was sad in some instances to see old men and women wading from their doors, doubtless under the impression that the flood would in the end completely submerge their dwellings, despite the assurances of their friends. In Bridge-end st. the ground floor of some of the houses being considerably lower than the street, the kitchens and lower rooms were almost filled to the ceiling and articles of furniture were floating about inside the houses and in some places through the street.

Many houses of business were compelled to suspend work for the day, with the result that had one not been acquainted with the true facts of the case, he would have been under the impression that Strabane was enjoying a general holiday. The Northern Steam Laundry was closed, being shut completely off by a depth of about three feet of water. The gasworks, being situated at a low altitude, fared badly and received the full, unchecked force of the flood. The water was close upon five feet deep in the subway and the manager, gas-fitter and complete staff of men were engaged during the entire night in having the water pumped out. The fires in the retort house were extinguished and a shortage of gas was experienced generally, throughout the town, the following two days. In fact, the inhabitants had to resort to the antiquated method of using oil and candles on Tuesday night.

On the railways traffic for a considerable time was almost at a standstill. From noon the Great Northern trains were unable to reach Strabane, as a consequence of the heavy rise in the flood since the morning. The Midland Railway was submerged, in many places between Stranorlar and Strabane, consequently no trains could be run in that direction. This railway, however, was clear from Londonderry, to the crossing convenient to Strabane workhouse, which was made to act as a temporary station. Passengers arriving by the Midland from Derry, on being deposited at the workhouse could, by braving the terrors and discomforts of journeying from the temporary station, through the water-laden streets of Strabane arrive at the Great Northern station, where a connection could thenceforward be made on that line, as it had comparatively suffered no damage from Strabane upwards. Needless to relate, this plan was unanimously acted upon whenever it suited. Passengers bound for Stranorlar, however, had perforce to return disconsolately or otherwise to the places whence they came.

In parts of the town the postal delivery was a thing impossible, even with the aid of a mail-van, consequently many people were obliged to wait until the flood had abated for the receipt of their letters.

On Tuesday the town had almost assumed its normal aspect. The water had fallen heavily during the night and although Bridge-end street and Railway street still contained a fairly large proportion of water, still it may be said that streets had practically emptied themselves. A glance around revealed the extent of the damage done and considering the circumstances, it is wonderful that this did not reach a higher total. The lower parts of the greater number of the houses in Bridge-end street suffered considerably it must be admitted, as well as did the inside of the Bridge-end National schools. In Railway street, Mr. WHITE’s furniture establishment suffered to some extent, but owing to the more valuable stock having been got out of harm’s way before being reached by the water, the damage done is not so considerable. The telephone exchange was also flooded, consequently telephonic communication was impossible.

Railway traffic was resumed on Tuesday, each of the three railway lines having been cleared in the meantime. In fact, the only part of the Strabane and Letterkenny line which was submerged extended merely from Strabane to Lifford, therefore it was found possible to run trains between Lifford and Letterkenny on Monday. On Tuesday a ballast train arrived in Strabane from Stranollar, containing the superintendent, the permanent way inspector, the traffic inspector, the locomotive foreman and a number of men for carrying out repairs to the line. Shortly afterwards the trains resumed running as usual.

Not within the memory of the oldest inhabitant of the town has there been a flood in Strabane of the same dimensions as that which occurred on Monday. It is true a similar occurrence took place thirty or forty years ago, but it is very questionable if on that occasion, the streets were so packed with water as on Monday. The Mourne had swollen to such an extent at one time during the day that grave fears were entertained for the safety of both railway bridges which spanned the river. Fortunately, however, they stood the test well, but had they not been strongly constructed, certain it is the consequences would have been serious.

A curious incident may be mentioned in connection with the flood, a man named Patrick SCOTT, Main street, caught a salmon, weighing nearly 5 pounds, in his garden, on Tuesday. While out surveying the effect of the flood on the premises adjoining his dwelling-house, he observed the fish floating in the water almost at his kitchen door and forthwith captured it. It is surmised the fish was driven out of the river at the end of Main Street, then driven up the street for a distance of 100 yards or more and eventually swept through a lane leading into his garden.

Viewed from an adjacent hill when the flood was at its height, Strabane presented the appearance of a town built on the banks of a large lake, as for a considerable distance on one side, the water lay in unbroken continuity. Even at a great distance the roar of the water could be plainly heard, the sound resembling a huge waterfall. The surrounding district of Strabane has suffered quite as much as the town itself. In the village of Clady, the water was estimated to have been seven feet deep. Ballindrait was also flooded and the roads leading to both these villages were in some places quite impassable.

With our thanks to Martin McAlinden for his Photograph & comments ” The River Finn, straight ahead, meets the River Mourne, coming in from the left after flowing through Strabane, to form the River Foyle. Taken from Lifford Bridge, with County Tyrone on the left side of the shot and County Donegal on the right. or