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My only outing this past weekend reminded me of three things...
Ireland is incapable of dealing with snowfall.
Driving into the eye of the storm is never a good idea.
People can and will find the funny side of things.
It started on Friday as Ireland braced itself for the harsh winter conditions promised for the weekend. Local authorities filled the airwaves adamant that unlike last year, they had enough salt to keep the countries roads gritted, as they attempting to assure the public they were fully prepared for the upcoming cold snap.
Snow in Ireland is a dangerous concept. Luckily we don’t experience extreme bouts of snowfall. However we do experience extreme freezing conditions, so a bit of sporadic snow mixed with below zero temperatures makes for a treacherous cocktail which in turn, grounds almost everything to a halt.
I awoke on Saturday morning to a tranquil sight. There are few things like witnessing the transformation of the green patchwork of Ireland’s countryside into a snow covered winter wonderland.
It was the weekend and I was itching to get out of the house but my plans were curtailed by the weather conditions. I compromised with a day trip to Sligo. While the sun was still shining I took off in my parents car for the journey of almost 40 miles through the route the Saw Doctors made famous, the N17.
For the duration the roads were holding up well. The county council had kept their promise it seemed I as I cruised into Sligo at four pm. After a spot of Christmas shopping and coffee with an old friend I was sailing out of Sligo shortly after six.
Plans for the evening included watching the X Factor with my girlfriends, in front of the fire with wine and chocolate. Without doubt the highlight of my week, this was proving to be yet another exciting Saturday night in the life of the recently turned hermit, Molly Muldoon.
The snow began to fall about twenty minutes into the return leg of the journey. I was doing less than 20 miles an hour, ploughing throw the snow, when my friend called and asked for my food requests for the night's festivities.
“I just went through Ballinacarrow,” I shouted at her through my Blue-Tooth. “Will you pick me up a nice bottle of red and some chocolate?”
And it was then, through the frantic thrashing of my window wipers I saw about 30 tail lights lined up a head of me.
“Seems to be a tailback here” I told Rosemary. “I’m not sure what is going on, just pick me up from mine at eight, my phone is about to die so I better head,” and with that she was gone.
Of course, my not so smart, 'smart phone' was on it's last bar of battery. Ideal situation.
So I sat and I waited as conditions worsened. The clock was ticking, the snow was falling and my mothers words were ringing in my ears; “Now do you really think Sligo is a good idea in these conditions?”
As a text message arrived, my phone made a sorry sound before going dead.
I figured I had few options. Some cars were turning around and taking the back roads, defiant not to sit and wait. Normally my reckless self would have followed suit, but with a dead phone, the darkness and freezing conditions I decided to sit it out.
As a few cars, on the opposite side of the road trickled through I asked one guy in a van, what was happening.
“There's a huge tail back love, it goes on for a few miles, accident or something,” and before I could grill him further, he drove on into the darkness.
The famous Saw Doctor's lyrics ran through my head “And I wish I was on the N17. Stone walls and the grass is green. Travelling with just my thoughts and dreams.”
Let me point out the lack of transport infrastructure in the West of Ireland! This was not a highway, or a dual carriageway. There was no slip road, no verge. This was one road with a ditch on either side.
I tuned into the local radio station, certain I would get an update. After all I was traveling on one of the biggest routes through the north-west of Ireland.
The seven o'clock news came. The eight o'clock news came and all the while I moved about 200 yards.
The newscaster was oblivious to my desperate need for information. While she detailed the plummeting temperatures from the comfort of her news studio, there was no mention of a tail back on the N17.
In between the assault on my ears, that was the country and western music being broadcast, the DJ read out queries from listeners about the effects of the weather conditions that had befallen them
“Mark wants to know if Bingo in Ardagh is canceled?”
“The Irish dancing competition will go ahead in Sligo tomorrow,” he announced.
And then the beacon of hope: “Am, a lot of listeners contacted us about a delay outside Tubercurry in Sligo on the N17...am not sure what is going on there folks. But I think it could be something got to do with the weather conditions!”
Genius in the making.
All the while, there were no sign of police, no sign of emergency services, the bleakness of the country road was marked only by the occasional salting of the roads by the council, too little too late it appeared.
After sticking my head out of the window like a rubber-necker a few times, there seemed to be no hope. The snow was falling more softly as I left the comfort of the car and ventured outside.
Following suit, the chap in the jeep behind jumped out and the guy with the Northern registered car also joined us, as did a few more people from other cars up ahead.
“What the hell is going on?” I said.
“The one time, I leave the house without my phone,” the driver of the jeep said.
The Northerner had learnt that a lorry had jackknifed somewhere further ahead and that a JCB was digging it out.
This guy was a joker, I could tell by the look of him. He glanced at my car, kicked the snow off the reg plates and said: “There's money in this country yet!”.
I guess he was curious as to why a petite woman, who looks barely old enough to drive, wearing a peach duffel coat and high heeled boots was driving such a powerful diesel car.
I told him I won it on the Late Late Show.
And so a group of us stood there, cursing the council, the snow and everything around us for ruining our Saturday night plans.
“Shopping in Sligo was not a good idea after all,” I admitted.
“Well if you have a bit of food in the back, share it around, we have been here for a while!” he joked
“You’re out of luck, it's all Christmas presents I'm afraid,” I responded.
“Ah no harm done, by the looks of things we could be here until Christmas!” he said.
We all laughed at the image of a group of complete strangers exchanging gifts on the side of a snow laden N17.
The man who was driving the Hiace van decided to take a walk up the road to try and find some answers.
Strangers in the night, they rest of us stood in the cold, laughing at our shared misfortune.
Some time later the Hiace man came trotting down the hill with the news that traffic was beginning to move. We hadn't noticed, but it had stopped snowing and only the hum of our running engines filled the dark night air.
As traffic up ahead began moving we all gave each other a quick farewell and exchanged “safe home” niceties. After a two-and-half-hour wait, traffic was moving and we were on our way.
As I continued on my journey, one by one the cars behind and in front of me turned off towards their destinations. Like a scene out of “The Shining” soon I was the only car on the snow covered road in the dark winter night. I found a pair of Rosary beads in the glove compartment and wrapped them around the gear stick as I drove.
As I tuned back into the local radio station it seemed, two hours too late, someone had updated the newscaster about the tail back on the N17.
Four hours after I left Sligo town, for what normally is a 40minute journey, I crawled up the lane-way to our farmhouse.
The X Factor was over and my Saturday night plans were shelved as I curled up in bed to watch a terrible teen movie, that should never have been made.
I thought of the strangers I had met earlier and hoped they had all made to their destinations safe. Some how we had turned a bleak situation into a comical occasion.
The Saw Doctors had made the road famous, but tonight a group of strangers had made it a meeting place.
For the rest of the weekend, any time I had the desire to leave the warmth of the house, I did so on foot.SEE PHOTOS - Arctic weather hits IrelandRead more: Ireland is hit with record cold blast