Updated: 04/03/18 : 10:18:20
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Snow of ‘82, beauty as seen from ‘the beast’

By Eugene McGloin

CASEMENT AERODROME, give or take a few miles, was close to where I lived when the last really Big Snow fell.

That was also how I got the messy end of the stick, when the original Sunday Tribune wanted someone travellin’ with the Aer Corps for that week.

Everything you see planned now in 2018 in dealing with the snow crisis was not planned by the State then, in January 1982.

Snow Minister

Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald was sunning himself in Portugal as the snow started falling and falling and falling.

He left Tanaiste the late Michael O’Leary in charge; that he will always be remembered as ‘the minister for snow’ tells it chapter and verse in four words.

The country shuddered to a halt, our employers cancelled an edition of The Sunday Tribune and put us all up in a city centre hotel in the lap of luxury.

The week that followed was no luxury; compacted snow and drifts just lay in ditches all along the east coast, greater Leinster and the midlands.

To be sure of being aboard with the Aer Corp meant an early start heading for ‘Casement.’

Safest, Surest

Early, as being on the road no later than five o’clock in the morning.

On the road meant what it said, walking along the side of the Dublin-Cork main dual carriageway from Newlands Cross.

It was the safest and surest way of getting to the destination, on time anyway.

As luck would have it, the senior officers at ‘Casement’ included Sligoman Francis Reidy; a friendly face is always good in a strange place.

‘Casement’ is named in to our of a 1916 leader hanged in England, in Pentonville, often a ‘holding prison,’ one through which my grandfather passed four years later.

                                    The Irish Aer Corp Aluette helicopter
in 1982

The fiasco that was national planning in our 1982 Big Snow emergency was not the fault of the Aer Corps, under resourced then by this State as they often were.

The craft we got to go on were Alouette; no equipment aboard for night flying but yet still expected, and necessary, when an ‘emergency’ arose. 

On one occasion we got back to Dublin in the dark; where the Red Cow Junction, the Citywest complex and N50 are now was mostly blackness in the night back then.

What I mostly remember from that week of being ferried around by the Aer Corps was the BEAUTY of Ireland, as far as the eye could see. 

Yes, even in January, snowdrifts everywhere, but Wicklow and Carlow were/are preserved as the picture postcards of a Lifetime.

It was like sitting upfront in a slow-motion drone as the pilot picked out a local GAA pitch covered in snow and guided in where the local Garda had lit a bonfire shortly after 8am.

Then and now I kept thinking of our childhood poem: ‘The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold.....” as our ‘beast’ came down from the air and landed amidst their beauty. Ireland and proud of it.

In small Irish villages back then, just as we headed into a series of ferocious recessions, the arrival of mercy missions dropping in from the air was THE story. 

Innocent and Innocence maybe but this was Ireland and we were all proud of it.

Choppers are different from planes; you fly much lower and there is lots of glass to see around are there is so much to see in our beautiful country, even in snow.

Times Change

Sitting on the apron at Baldonnel back then was the pride of the fleet, the Puma, a glorified troop carrier leased from the French company Aerospatiele. 

Thankfully, times change in terms of resources. Powerful Sikorsky dominate the Irish airways.

But the rescue and mercy missions are also all privatized now to a major multi national.

In some respects, times don’t change at all: All three of our national newspapers failed to make it across Ireland in the snow of 2018. Some cancelled editions, just as in 1982.

Nicest touch this weekend came from The Irish Times, which let us read full facsimile editions for free and assisted us to do so.