Well there is really only one topic in Athlone at the moment, and that is the floods.
Yes, I know there have been floods in Crossmolina in Mayo, there have been floods in Limerick and in many other places, but the flooding in Athlone is serious stuff.
For all of October and November the Shannon river was at an unnaturally low level and everyone thought we had escaped any danger of floods. But, of course, nature in the guise of the Shannon does not work like that. Torrential rain over three or four days quickly brought up the levels and since then those areas of Athlone such as The Strand, Wolfe Tone Terrace, and the Leinster side of the Shannon got the brunt of the river rising.
On the Connaught side it was Deerpark, The Park, and the bottom end of Parnell Square. And then of course there is Golden Island (not the shopping centre ), Carrickobrien, Clonbonny; all those areas are part urban part, rural. As I write, nobody has yet been forced to leave their homes in the urban area of Athlone.
This is almost a miracle, but not when you add up all the work that has gone into it. There are so many to commend that if I was to nominate them all it would be injurious to anybody I might leave out. But let me say, the councillors, both urban and rural, the members of the Defence Forces, the Irish Red Cross, the Civil Defence, and the Westmeath County Council staff, at all levels, have been heroes.
I will pick out the name of Pat Nally, the district engineer, who has really given leadership to the whole fight against the floods. The Army has been truly exemplary making the sandbags, banking them up, and forcing the Shannon to seemingly retreat. Can you imagine how it must be for the people living in those urban areas I have mentioned above? The pumps are going day and night.
The sandbags are being re-made, reloaded, repositioned constantly and they go to bed (if they ever get to bed or even to sleep ) hearing in their minds the constant thump of the pumps, which are doing a magnificent job. The pumps and everyone mentioned above have kept the Shannon at bay, but for how long?
There is one most powerful ingredient in this whole mix of emotions, hard labour, blood, sweat, and tears that I haven’t mentioned; that is the will of the people who are determined that on this occasion they will triumph. In a way it reminds me of Sergeant Custume on the Bridge of Athlone in 1691 keeping the British at bay. A similar battle has now been fought for the last 10 days, day and night, down around those areas in Athlone.
The people are tired and weary, but above all they are determined. By the time you read this, we will know whether the Shannon has been tamed or whether it has been triumphant. All our thoughts and prayers are with the people who live in these areas and all those who are working for them.
Another saga of the last few weeks has been RTÉ's Prime Time Investigates with its tale of local councillors, one in Monaghan, one in Donegal, and one in Sligo. They were a total disgrace and there is no other way to describe them. What I hated about the whole episode was that it undermined completely the hundreds of really good councillors of all parties who work tirelessly for the people in their area and who feel sullied now by the antics of these three.
It would be a great shame if these blots on the local authority landscape allowed cynicism and ill will to develop in people’s minds about the role of the politicians in their midst. My experience over all the years of being in politics is that the majority of elected people, at local or national level, do their work with the highest ideas of public service in mind. As I said before, do not fall into the trap of labelling the ills of the few onto the majority.
On a last note, I would like to let everyone know that Athlone Town and all its shops, big and small, its cafés, its restaurants and pubs are all open for trade and business. The floods are down at what was, ironically enough, the old Main Street of Athlone, which is entirely a localised area. Equally, it is the same way over the Leinster side. So come along to Athlone to do your shopping. We are eagerly awaiting you all.
Goodbye for now and go safe.
Slán go fóill,