by jdurney on March 11, 2011

A white Christmas on the plains of Kildare?

The odds on a white Christmas for 2010 have shortened with the recent wintry blast which took many by surprise coming as it did in the last days of November. While professional meteorologists hesitate to predict such a storybook ending to the year what is definite is that 2010 will register with weather historians for having two distinct winter emergencies in the same calendar year –  the first three weeks in January 2010 and, at time of writing, the last days of November and into December. The prolonged cold spell last Winter which began on Christmas day 2009 and extended well into January was a severe one by any standards. There was ground frost on almost each day of January; the lowest temperature being recorded at Casement Aerdrome on the 8th when a minus 12.8 was recorded. It is hard to believe that even this blood chilling temperature was still well higher than the lowest temperature recorded in Ireland in the 20th century … a minus 18.8 at Lullymore in west Kildare in January 1979. Scientific comparisons aside, the folk memory of such weather events tells its own stories about people’s perception of how conditions affected their daily routines. Those with long memories compared the New Year 2010 severity to the snowbound winters of 1962/63 and 1947. It even overtook recollections of the blizzard of 1982 which blocked the Naas dual carriageway for days. For hard winters in the pre-television age we have to rely on reminiscences and the occasional photograph to get a picture of the impact of the snow and ice on daily life. Recollections of skating on the canals in Naas and Kilcock, and snaps of buses stuck in Dunlavin, are among some of the sources for recalling how normal routines can be transformed overnight by a drop in temperature. Historians in the future looking back at how people coped with the weather in 2010 will have a much greater assortment of sources to draw upon. The blizzards of 2009/10 was recorded on all sorts of media – traditional and modern – with pictures of snow conditions being posted liberally on Facebook and Youtube websites. The Leinster Leader played its part in creating the record of winter of 2010. Reports on meals-on-wheels volunteers being transported by Army vehicles to people living in the Clongorey area and accounts of how children (of all ages) transformed the Curragh plains around Donnelly’s Hollow into Kildare’s version of the winter Olympics make permanent the otherwise transient impact of weather on local routine.   The January 2010 snow and ice was so severe that it is easy to forget that on February 25th and, as late as March 30th, there were more falls of snow which brought their own disruptions. Kildare has had its share of weather emergencies in modern times – the flooding and resultant evacuation of people from homes in the Sallins area in late November 2009 was a major news item only overtaken by the snow and ice of the following two months. Whether such meteorological episodes can be considered part of a general destabilisation in our weather patterns as a result of climate change time will tell. A scientific review of winter 2009/10 published by the Royal Irish Academy and to which Dr. Rown Fealy of the climate research unit at NUI Maynooth was a contributor highlights the dilemmas involved in interpreting complex weather patterns. The study concludes that both the November 2009 downpours and the December/January big chill were ‘likely to be part of natural variability’ but supplemented by human-driven climate change. Whether Christmas of 2010 will bring a white festive season to the plains of Kildare will be answered in a fortnight’s time but even at this stage the year has imprinted itself in the weather folk memory for a long time to come.
Falklands memories: military historian Michael Rowley who recently presented a talk on military graves to the Curragh Local History Group is keen to learn of Irish men who took part in the Falklands war of 1982 when Britain sent a fleet to the South Atlantic to recover the islands which had been invaded by Argentina. He can be contacted at rowleymj@tcd.ie or 087 7534986. All assistance will be appreciated and acknowledged where appropriate.

In his weekly column ‘Nothing new under the sun’ from the Leinster Leader of 9 December 2010 Liam Kenny ponders on a white Christmas in Kildare

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