‘The state of the roads was without parallel in living memory’

WHILE Donegal shivered over the past week there may well have been a few people of a certain generation wondering what all the fuss was about.

That is because this week 85 years ago the county was in the grip of a similar, if not sharper, spell of weather.

According to the Donegal News edition of December 18, 1937 the roads were turned to glass by a piercing frost which paralysed transport to the point where sleigh was the only suitable mode of travel.


A colourful article told of the difficulties experienced in a time before gritters and heated windscreens.

“On Sunday when a bus went into field near Ramelton, nine horses were required to drag it out,” wrote the reporter.

“There not being so much traffic on the Donegal roads on Sunday there were no instances reported of great delays. But on Monday morning the roads were very dangerous.

“Overnight it had thawed and then frozen again and the state of the roads was without parallel in living memory.

“The Fanad, Gweedore, Letterkenny and Inishowen roads were like glass.

“Only a small attendance of members managed to be present at the monthly meeting of the Committee of Management of the Donegal Mental Hospital, including members from Inishowen and Milford. Members from Ballyshannon and Killybegs and other areas could not attend owing to the frost.”

With only a handful of cars in private ownership at the time, public transport was heavily relied on. Despite their best efforts though, bus drivers simply could not find a way through the frost and fog.


“The early morning bus from Derry to Letterkenny got as far as Newtowncunningham and had to turn back,” continued the dramatic piece.

“Two other buses left Derry at 9am but could get no further than Killea and the passengers were brought on to Letterkenny on the 10am train from Derry.

“The 11.15am bus made the journey to Letterkenny, the first bus of the day to get through.

“At Letterkenny on Monday morning incoming buses remained in the town and did not go any further. The Gweedore bus stayed in the town all day and did not leave until Tuesday morning. The Downings bus was also similarly stranded.”

A heavy casualty of the inclement spell was the Glenties market. Much to the delight of the local poultry population, so too was the Letterkenny turkey fair.

“Letterkenny turkey market on Wednesday was of poor dimensions, due mainly to the condition of the roads.

“Christmas shopping is being affected in some centres as people from the country find difficulty in travelling along the frozen roads.

“Justice LJ Walsh was delayed by the frost when travelling to Milford Court on Tuesday morning. Nearing Milford the car in which he was travelling skidded on the road.”

For many it was a time to stay home and wait for the thaw. Not so though for a group of industrious youngsters from east of the county.

“An unusual feature of the frost is the news from Killygordon that children on sleighs reaped a rich harvest conveying people to their destinations. The proverb ‘It’s an ill wind…’ was evidently borne in mind by these children.

“A 16-year-old boy named Robert James Gamble of Carrigans slipped in the frost and fractured his kneecap. He was admitted to Letterkenny hospital where he is progressing favourably.

“Squalls of wind and rain swept the centre north west area on Wednesday and there was some frost towards evening.

“Sleighs were popular in the Letterkenny district at the weekend.”

It was clearly tough going this week 85 years ago but by some small miracle, no one appears to have perished in the clawing cold.

James Burke of Lougheraherk did have a narrow escape when his bicycle skidded on the Meenacross Road and he hit a fence. The bike was mangled but he got out with only cuts and bruises.

Such was the deteriorating picture that eventually Mother Nature even caused sleigh operators to call it a day.

The frosty conditions in the Ballybofey-Stranorlar area were greatly intensified by the freezing of the rain that fell on Sunday night,” according to our journalist.

“The roads, which had already been very difficult for foot and vehicular traffic, became utterly impassable.

“People were able to travel only at the greatest risk. Very few motor owners ventured out with their cars. When they did so the hind wheels were heavily chained and speed was restricted to about seven miles per hour.

“One postman, who has an eight-mile route, had not succeeded in getting out of Stranorlar an hour after his usual time.

“School medical inspection, arranged for Glenties and Falcarragh areas, had to be cancelled.

“The Ballybofey Christmas turkey market was very sorely hit. Prime fowls fetched 9d per lb.

“Sleighing had to be abandoned as it was impossible to walk up the hill with the sleighs,” the article finished.

Suddenly the cold snap of the last week or so doesn’t seem so bad, does it?

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Donegal News is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. St. Anne's Court, Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland