by Rebecca Glavin
In September 2009 I packed my bags and jetted off to sunny Malta. As a third year Irish and New Media student in the University of Limerick I was required to spend one semester on an Erasmus programme in a European University. Whilst one should ideally choose their place of study based on academic criteria I must admit I was greatly influenced by the prospect of average temperatures exceeding 20 ̊ C and the absence of the West of Ireland precipitation levels. Both the Maltese and Irish climates exceeded my expectations, one providing more sunshine than even I had hoped for and the other providing the highest rainfall levels in living memory. I found it surreal that while I was soaking up the u.v. rays (in between lectures of course!) that the people of Claregalway where I attended Primary school were being submerged by flood waters.
Having seen video clips and photographs on the internet from the national and local newspapers I thought I had some understanding of the inconvenience caused by the flooding. However it was only when I returned for my Christmas holidays that I became aware that thirteen families in the parish of Claregalway had to evacuate their homes in late November. The full extent of the devastation was brought home to me when I visited one of the evacuated families (a family I had previously babysat for) in their rented accommodation and accompanied them to their gutted home.
For the families involved their daily lives and former routines had changed completely. As well as trying to prepare for Christmas they had to undertake and complete many flood related tasks. Having vacated their homes with just hours notice and with minimal possessions they had to try to salvage irreplaceable possessions. Along with the practical aspects of trying to find alternative accommodation, they had to strip down their homes to concrete level, deal with insurance companies and local and national authorities. All of these tasks had to be carried out while still having the unanswered questions in their minds as to why and how this happened and could it happen again? For the parents these tasks were achieved whilst simultaneously balancing work pressures and pre-Christmas home and school activities such as attending school plays, visiting Santa and trying to achieve the Christmas spirit in their substitute homes.
One thing that Claregalway has always had is a great community spirit and I was heartened to find that despite the undisputable trauma and roller-coaster of emotions, there is sincere gratitude for the phenomenal support received by those affected both from people previously known to them and from those whom they had not previously met or had only the briefest of interactions with. Such support was shown in a multitude of ways: from the people who spent their time on the web searching for alternative accommodation, families who offered accommodation in their homes, mothers who offered to take care of the children while the parents could tend to the various tasks, children that offered toys and made cards for all those affected, the men that spent numerous hours clearing the flooded homes and moving family possessions to the alternative accommodation and the people that kept in constant contact by phone or in person.
For many people in Ireland, 2009 will be remembered as the year of the long awaited Rugby Grand Slam, Thierry Henri’s hand of shame, NAMA, two budgets, job losses, the swine flu epidemic or even Jedward. However, for thirteen families in Claregalway it will be remembered as the year of the flood. More importantly, for the children and adults alike in those homes, it will be the year that they learned, “Friendship is the hand that reaches out when others disappear from sight on a rainy day”.
For those students contemplating spending time in Ireland on an Erasmus programme, we cannot entice them with the promise of sunshine but we can certainly guarantee them warm hospitality, community spirit, friendship and rainfall but hopefully not to the extent of the 2009 levels.