IN RECOGNITION of the monumental effort they made in fighting back following last February’s devastating floods, the people of St Mary’s parish in the city have been honoured with the Limerick Person of the Month award.
On February 1 last, images of homes and cars being submerged in several feet of water, and footage of Ger Hogan and his horse Peg carting families through rising floodwater made headline news as hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes across the city after the “unprecedented” disaster.
Large parts of the parish were left under water after the River Shannon burst its banks in several areas. The worst affected locations included Kings Island (St Mary’s Park/Island Road and the Lee Estate), and Athlunkard Street.
Despite the onslaught by Mother Nature, the local community rallied in their hundreds to rescue people from their homes, and ensure that as much of their belongings could be salvaged from the rising water.
Three months on, the work is ongoing. “We are delighted to be recognised with this award. We are probably going to put it up in St Mary’s Youth and Community Centre so everyone can see it,” said Denis Ryan, chairperson of Star Rovers FC.
Denis was joined at this week’s award presentation by Ger Hogan of St Ita’s Street and by Susan Duhig who is a Star Rovers committee member and is also on the St Mary’s Park Residents’ Committee.
The Star Rovers clubhouse on Island View Terrace became a beacon of hope for the scores of people left without food and shelter as a result of the raging floods.
Burker boilers were bubbling from 7am when locals would begin bagging food to take to stranded residents. The centre would remain open some nights until midnight to cater for the many workers who worked round the clock to restore some semblance of normality for the many residents. This routine went on for the bones of three weeks. “The neighbours could come in and out,” Susan explained.
“One neighbour said to me: ‘Susan, only for this place being opened, and the cup of tea and the laugh, you would end up crying in your home’.”
In his 45 years living in St Mary’s Park, Denis said he had never seen anything like the flood of February 1. “My sister [Mary Hogan] had to get her two kids out the top window into a boat,” he recalled of that day.
“To see some of the things that were thrown out - there were old photographs, and babys’ toys that they had for years and years.”
The one saving grace, Denis said, is that nobody lost their life. “If it was after 10 in the morning, there would have been kids on that field playing football,” he explained.
Denis, who lives on St Ita’s Street, described the spirit of the community as “unbelievable. We were all involved in the clean-up – the Civic Trust, St Mary’s Aid, and St Munchin’s Resource Centre. They all came in to give us a hand cleaning out the houses. Linda Ledger was magnificent. They brought hot meals to people. There is great community spirit out there. They all pulled together and helped each other.”
One man, Declan Duggan, who had left St Mary’s Park some 10 years ago “stuck his boat onto his trailer and came down to St Mary’s Park to get people out”.
Ger Hogan and his three horses – Peg, Freckles and Moll – rescued over 200 people stranded in their homes by the rising floods. Ger recalled getting up at 8.30am and seeing all the commotion outside his front door. “One person asked me for a lift through the flood and then I kept going,” he said. “I stopped for a few minutes for a cup of tea and I gave the horses a bit to eat – some oats. When I saw they were getting tired I would change them over,” he recalled.
When she knew the water wasn’t going to go down, Susan and another neighbour went around door-to-door knocking on elderly people’s doors so see if they needed bread or milk. “My own son Kyle, 13, was going around in the boat delivering the cleaning stuff, mops and buckets and giving out the food bags,” she recalled. “As the day went on, you were just helping people out, giving out meals and things like that.
“The community spirit was just unbelievable.”
And long may it last.
The Limerick Person of the Month award is sponsored by the Limerick Leader, media agency Southern and the Clarion Hotel.