“The daddy of them all” – The ’47 Snow

Well I remember the snowfall of ‘47 because I’ll tell you what, I was over in Cushendall. Now I was attending people in Cushendall and when I came out, well the snowflakes were coming down but they disappeared when they landed on the ground, you know, they melted. When I came as far as the big bridge there was snow lying and then I went up and right round to just above the Corkscrew. The car was abandoned and I was for home, but I didn’t expect to get home. What I thought was, if I could get down to the top of Carey, I could go into any of the houses because they all knew me. I could rest for the night and then go home in the morning.
We walked and it was snowing away and, well, we put a handkerchief round our nose and ploughed on. The next thing I heard was, “Jimmy, Jimmy wait for me,” from the man I was with and then every now and again, “Oh Jimmy, Jimmy you’re going to kill me.” You know everything was white and your view was limited and then you’d hear the water rippling down below. You didn’t know whether it was that side the road was on or the other side. I got to the edge of it and kicked, and then found out it was this side. There were two or three of those ridges. So we came on down into Ballyvoy and John said, “Come on in,” he says, “and we’ll have a cup of tea.” I said, “John I’m as bad as I can be. I’m going to plough on.” I can remember my mother was sitting round the fire and she looks up and she says, “You’re late the night.” Says I, “It’s snowing.” That was the first of the big snow. The train, the little narrow gauge as they called it, was lost between Ballycastle and Armoy, snowed up, and they had to go to the farmhouses along the way. The buses were all snowed up here and there … there wasn’t a bus in Ballycastle. ( James Clarke)
“The snow is blowing powerful”

There was lovely weather in the month of January after, I don’t know what date in January that fall of snow was, but oh, it hardly covered the fields, only like a wee coating, and there was very nice weather at the end of January and I went ’til plough. There was a ploughing match with the horses on the 22nd January 1947, just up out of the town. There was a wee bit of wind coming out of the east, but very little, and whenever the sun riz and that, it was like a summer day, the sun came out. There was a bit of frost at night but I don’t know what date it started in February for I went into the Dalriada Hospital, to go through an operation in February, and it was bravely on in the month. I know I wasn’t sleeping and I think I had gone in on Sunday and I went through it on Monday and it was very near the end of the month now and the nurse came round and she was shutting the windows and she says, “It has been a wild night,” she says, “and the snow is blowing powerful.” The next morning we knew all about it. Whatever was wrong there, the pipes froze all over. The frost was severe and they had to get the plumbers from Ballycastle, the O’Connors, and they had to come plumb some water up to the bathrooms and the toilet, and the drinking water had to be carried from a wee well out of Ballycastle there.
Although I was back home again on the 7th March again, there was another fall and there was another one after that, and on St Patrick’s Day, whenever the neighbours up here were going to chapel, they were walking on top of the hedges in places. There was a wee burn down the road there, and there was a wee bridge down that took you into Ballycastle, and the burn was frozen up. (John Todd)

“The height of the telegraph poles”

The snow of ’47! We were shovelling snow from January until the 17th March, which is when it ended, but every time you shovelled it away it just come back. Oh there was a good six or seven surface men shovelling the snow, from eight o’clock to six and it was up to the height of the telegraph poles. Every day you just had to restart. The one that we were working for, he had lorries and we shovelled it into them and they dumped some of it on the beach. It was heavy going. It was a good idea because the salt water thawed it. Then they got ploughs, from the contractor, William Graham. (Charlie McAlister)

I remember the snow well in ’47. Coming home from Larne the snow started on the Coast Road. It was snowing finely until we came round the length of Garron Point, and we had to abandon the car, it came that quick. The car was there the next day alright, but not to be seen. The snow must have been three and a half to four feet in places. (Chris McMullan)

“It changed the atmosphere”

That snowfall would have been the only one that I know would stand out in my memory. Oh very bad. Oh aye, oh it went from February into the end of March. We wouldn’t have had the same amount of stock. There was nobody had the same amount of stock in them days as what you have now. If it had have happened in this particular period there would have been a terrible lot of losses because it struck very sudden. Just struck overnight. It did indeed. We’d our sheep up in the hill and it was an east gale that it came in with. It would have bared a certain area of land but then it would have built it up someplace else, you know, in a mound, in a ditch or a valley. Drifts, it just changed the whole atmosphere, the whole atmosphere. I remember going into Ballycastle on the 17th of March on a bike and I carried her across them fields there until I went out on to the main road. Fifteen foot of snow was still on it, aye easily, because in them days them hedges weren’t cut down there and it just filled it as high as a hedge would have held, and then it would have built over the top of that, I guess. That was the 17th of March and they were cutting that Cushendall line just straight up above here. Now that was maybe the third or fourth time that road was cut because every time it was done with spades and shovels, unfortunately the wind blew a light, powdery snow that filled the road another time. (John Duncan)
A place to hang your coat!

Oh, I remember ‘47. It blew frosty, cold wind for roughly about six weeks and the ground was so hard that the snow, when it fell on it, kept freezing and freezing. Then up at Parkmore, at the top of Glenariffe Glen, seemingly, the men at that time cut the snow with shovels and they could hang their coats on the telephone wires. Aye, I heard them saying that. Oh ‘47 was the daddy of them all. There was a lot of sheep smothered up in the hill, you know, and they died from the want of water. Men had to dig them out of wreathes. They had a job trying to find them. It was starting to thaw on St. Patrick’s Day of that year, but then there was snow lying away in mountain hills and sheltered places, away into the month of June. Aye, that’s right. You know sheltered places where the sun doesn’t hit and then, the ground was so hard, the hard frost just kept it. Them was hard times for farmers. (Hugh McCormick)

Livestock losses

That’s a thing that will never be forgotten. The whole houses in the Glen was buried, chimneys and all, and the whole of the livestock died. Aye, sheep, cattle and everything else. There was nothing to feed them. It came on to snow on the second day of February and it snowed non-stop until the 17th of March, St. Patrick’s Day and it got higher and higher. It covered the telegraph poles even. We dug ourselves out right enough and we got a whole lot of the sheep dug out, that was buried. We had the sheep gathered before the snow and down off the hills. They were down next the house but they were buried there too. We dug them out, and we carried the hay. That’s until the hay run done. When the hay run done, they died of the hunger. The people didn’t keep as many sheep at that time. I had about 300 at that time. That’s instead of 1,000 now. The farmer was in a very bad way because he hadn’t the money to restock, you see. They applied to the Government there for help, but the Government would give no help. The farmer had bills to pay to the shopkeepers. The shopkeeper had to do without it. They had different meetings. The thing went on for twelve months. There was one meeting followed another, and sometimes they would meet in Cushendall; the next time they would meet in Glenravel; the next time in Ballymena and the next in Carnlough, you know, but they got the Government convinced that they couldn’t do without the farmer because it was him that grew the food. So the Government decided to give them half-compensation for the stock they lost, providing you hadn’t your farm sold. Them that had their farm sold, they got no compensation. The shopkeeper started what they called a disaster fund, and all the business men contributed to it too, and it amounted to very near as much as the Government fund, so that left us that we could restock again and we weren’t so badly off at all at the very finish. There was one morning that we got up, and there was a big hare, there was a big hare sitting on the very top of the chimney with her paws up. A great big mountain hare, that would have been some photograph! (James McHenry)

How much milk today?

In 1947 we were up Glenariffe. I always can remember it was all dark this morning, there was no light anywhere. It was right up to the roof, whatever height that was. My husband had to start digging out to the gate, but it was solid you know, and then the men had to dig way to Waterfoot, through the snow. Lizzie McKillop, she was a milk lady that came round with the milk in a van. As soon as a track was cut, she would come up to the wall of snow at our gate. The snow was that high, she would just lean out and she would stick the bottles in the snow. Maybe I got four bottles and then half time I would go out, and it had snowed, and I couldn’t get them and then, when it would thaw, there would be about six bottles. As she went along, she stuck them into the snow. The night or two before we were cut out, our neighbour would have come down for a ceilidh. However he was above the ground floor. When he come to our door, he kicked the top of the door, and when I opened the door he jumped down off the snow and come in. (Nellie Kinney)