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Landslide event

Unveiling Mayo Cathaoirleach Gerry Coyle, with Minister Eamon Ó Cuív and Gerard McDonnell, chairman of the landslide committee at the unveiling of a plaque to mark the completion of work on Pullathomas graveyard. Pic: John O'Grady

Landslide repair work marked by celebrations

Community spirit praised as Pullathomas marks restoration of 2003 landslide area

Anton McNulty

THE SCARS on Dooncarton mountain are still evident three-and-a-half years on, a reminder of the day when 200,000 cubic metres of debris swept down the mountainside leaving locals homeless, killings hundreds of livestock, destroying the local graveyard and sweeping five human remains out to sea.
On September 19, 2003, the sudden downpour of rain washed away bridges, roads and left a scene of destruction in its wake. Fortunately, no lives were lost, and though the scars remain, the community of Pullathomas came together last Friday to put the horrible chapter behind them and celebrate the completion of restoration works.
In what was described as the best example of communities and local government working together, the Dooncarton Landslide Committee made up of local residents led by Gerald McDonnell worked with Mayo County Council, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Department of the Environment and the OPW in completing the enormous restoration project. The work included the restoration of the local cemetery, drainage improvements in the fields and on the mountains and the repair or replacement of up to 20 bridges, along with roads being repaired.
One of the most impressive and unusual aspects of the restoration project was the erection of steel kinetic fencing behind the graveyard and the houses to ensure the best protection possible. The fences are unique to Ireland and were imported from Austria, where they are used to capture snow during avalanches.
In a ceremony held in the Church of Christ the King, Aughoose, Fr Sean Noone, the curate of Cornboy/Carratigue, read a section from his diary from the night of the landslide and described the horrifying sound of the rain as it fell for over three hours. After venturing out and driving through several inches of water, he went into a local pub where the people were unaware of what was happening outside. He said it was not until the following morning that people realised the full extent of the damage, out of which emerged a new community spirit.
“Out of the calamity and devastation came a new vibrant community that came out to repair the damage caused. They were working for the common good of all and for the enhancement of the area. All the people involved were a joy and an inspiration to all,” said Fr Noone.
Minister Eamon Ó Cuív - who earlier in the afternoon presented a laptop computer to Pullathomas National School - praised the work done by all the organisations involved in the clean-up and said the celebration was a recognition of the solidarity of the community. He explained that on first seeing the damage he made up his mind to give his full commitment to seeing the restoration brought to a conclusion, a process which was made easy by the co-operation of the different groups. He also paid tribute to the late Fr Declan Caulfield for his willingness to make the church available and for the role he played in the community.
In addressing the community, Minister Ó Cuív said what had been achieved in the restoration process showed what can be done when communities came together.
“I hope this community sees what can happen when the people are working together. I hope the people of Erris can see the power of the community and what can happen if they work together to build an even brighter future. The progress was made here when all the people came good and put their best foot forward,” he said.
Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Cllr Gerry Coyle said the sounds of that night will never leave his ears and he praised the community spirit and all involved in the clean-up and restoration project. Mr Des Mahon, Mayo County Manager, thanked all who worked together on the project. He said that Mayo County Council delivered for the community and they could trust them to deliver their promises.
A plaque was unveiled at the graveyard by Minister Ó Cuív to commemorate the completion of the restoration works and the graveyard was blessed jointly by Fr Sean Killeen and Reverend Neal O’Raw. Among the dignitaries who attended were Beverley Flynn, TD, General Election candidates Cllr Frank Chambers and Mr Dara Calleary, Chief Superintendent Tony McNamara, along with county councillors and Council officials.