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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars

on 23 January 2013
My family are from Wicklow and I was brought up hearing stories of food being air dropped into communities up in the mountains when the snow was bad. I was highly entertained by this book. The emphasis is on Dublin and the suffering of the tenement poor. The book relies heavily on newspaper accounts, which is fine, but just goes to compound the Dublin-centric emphasis. Nonetheless, it is vivid and compelling in its account of a nation left to survive as best it could in appalling conditions with little or no fuel and diminishing food stocks, whilst a complacent and inept government left it to its fate.

It could have done with some judicious editing - as others have mentioned, the prologue is unnecessarily long and there is a lot of repetition. Students of Irish history should enjoy it though as an insight into a little-known interlude and as a testament to the resilience of a long-suffering nation.
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on 22 January 2012
Kevin Kearns has done it again.

His contribution to the recording of recent Irish social history has been enormous. His principal method of working to date has been to contact those people still alive who represent trades and modes of living which have gone and the memory of which is fast fading. Usually these have concerned trades or places we are at least aware of, such as coopers and tenements.

But I must say, I had never heard of the arctic winter of 1947, the more surprising as the story he unfolds is absolutely mindblowing. Admittedly I was only three years of age at the time, but, nevertheless, I would have expected to have retained vivid memories of stories from my parents. But zilch.

All the more valuable then, that Kearns has undertaken the mammoth task of assembling the facts and weaving them into a fascinating, and almost unbelievable, story. His sources in this case are almost entirely written - newspaper reports, biographies and articles.

The twelve months, between the Summers of 1946 and 1947 were astounding. First the rains of 1946 which set the scene by limiting the harvest and ruining the native fuel (turf). Then the Big Freeze and the blizzards, in early 1947, which covered the country in snow for six weeks leading to isolation, starvation and a doubling/trebling of the death rate. And finally, to be followed by the drastic floods, caused by rain downpours and fast thawing snow, which threatened the 1947 tillage and possible famine.

You'd have to read it to believe it and appreciate the massive scale of what was going on.

A few snippets to be going on with:

Whole villages and towns were isolated for nearly two months. Snowdrifts were so high that in places rescuers had to communicate down the chimney. At one stage the temperature was some degrees below that of Antarctica itself. "For six consecutive weeks the night temperature had fallen below freezing and most daytimes the mercury had remained below 32 degrees (0ºC)." The dead were buried temporarily in shallow snowpits as the ground could not be broken for proper burial. Some of the coffins were subsequently carried away by the floods during the thaw.Flood waters in some places rose higher than a man's head.

There are some interesting examples of the stance of the Roman Catholic Church at the time. The Archbishop of Dublin relaxed lenten fasting regulations during the freeze, no great help to those without enough food to be able to break the fast. That said, the Church did operate some food kitchens while the Government for some obscure reason did not. The RC Church also granted farmers and farm labourers a dispensation to work on Sundays when all the stops were out to belatedly get the crops sown.

There is also reference to what became known as Blizzard Babies, the result of isolation and a lack of entertainment outside the house! No doubt the Church would have been pleased at the extra souls but they might not have been unqualified good news for the families concerned.

A fascinating book on a forgotten national crisis, with many parallels today for us to reflect on.

As a purely personal aside, I am intrigued by the lack of high quality scenery photos in the book. It is clear from the text that a large stock of dramatic high quality photos existed, not least in the newspaper archives. I assume the author would have included some of these had they been available. So, where have they gone? A story for another day, perhaps?
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on 20 November 2011
I received this book as a gift and have just finished reading it. The subject itself is a narrow one and the Author does his best with it. The basic story is that It snowed heavily that year, the ordinary people suffered terribly while the rich, the Clerics and the Politicians did not. The Government of the day was useless in dealing with this catastrophe. Fast forward to 2009 and 2010 when the similar harsh winters hit our shores and the present Government proved equally useless in dealing with the problem

The Book recounts several stories of extreme hardship during this winter from around the country and off its shores. From what i could gather from the book the infamous Archbishop McQuaid's only input was to issue a dictat about fasting whilst being driven around in his big heated car whilst Politicians sat in their oil heated offices in Leinster House looking out at the snow without a collective clue what to do about it. The rich were oblivious to the suffering of tenement dwellers.

All in all a good story that a dwindling number of our population will remember first hand and a lesson that things have not really changed in Ireland where Government incompetence and clerical apathy is concerned.
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on 23 January 2013
As someone who lived through the Big Snow, was snowed in as far as transport was concerned for a fortnight, whose father with others visited two areas (which the book says were totally isolated for weeks) to check on the wellbeing of the residents, (as did several others whom I know personally), and as I have written a number of published articles on the subject which are quoted in the book, I was disappointed by what I read.

Kevin Kearns went through newspaper reports from the local and national press and other publications, gleaned reports and then wove stories around them which gives the impression that they were eye witness and descriptive accounts of actual personal experiences. Newspapers tend to sensationalise the extraordinary and not report or comment on less dramatic day to day living and so portray a biased view of the situation overall. Yes, it was a big freeze but we had coping skills and a community spirit which we have since lost.

People's lives and way of living were very different in 1947 and trying to reconstruct situations for the purposes of narrative through the eyes and experience of a researcher in 2010 can give a false impression of what people felt at the time. For instance, in 1947 during the snow, I snared, skinned and gutted rabbits which we cooked and ate. If that had been in the book it would give the impression that we were starving but that was the norm for me and my neighbours throughout the year at the time.

The narrative in the book jumps backward and forward from incident to incident. I would have preferred each situation to be covered fully rather than a number of situations with no connection being intertwined in the one chapter.

In short, I consider this book to be more of a historical novel based on fact rather than a work of genuine, on the ground research to produce a record for posterity.
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on 21 February 2012
I bought this book as a Christmas present for my Mam - she would have been a very young child during winter 1947 and didn't really remember how severe the weather was. She loved the book, thought that it was very well written and very interesting and gave a real insight into how life in Ireland was in the late 1940's.
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on 5 February 2015
Faint memories of it. Well worth a read. My father made a snow plough and pulled it behind a horse to help clear roads. This was in County Fermanagh. Two other books worth reading........Arctic Ireland, The extraordinary story of the great frost and forgotten famine of 1740 - 41. by David Dixon. There was 21 months of winter. Lough Neagh was frozen over, and people walked from County Tyrone to County Antrim. The Thames in London was also frozen over. Another book well worth reading is The night of the big wind, by Peter Carr. Thousands of trees were blown down and buildings destroyed.
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on 2 February 2014
A Time that happened in Ireland that I never knew anything about, never heard anyone talking about it which was quite unusual considering I had heard stories about other past events that happened in Ireland and this being just 15 years before I was born really amazed me, a truly wonderful and fascinating read, I highly recommend it
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on 8 January 2012
Surely this price is a misprint, this book should only cost around 24. My father got this book for Christmas and it cost 24, a great read.
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on 20 April 2012
The book is a wonderful read, with a great historical record of a winter never experienced by most of us with not too many around who remember such Siberian conditions . I would skip the prologue as it is a synopsis of the full book telling you too much too quickly.
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on 30 July 2013
It is a great book to read and I am glad I purchased it. Would recommend to a friend. Great book.
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