The Big Snow 1947

Ena McWilliams, nee Davis (1923-2013), my mother, worked in SJ Gillmor’s shop in Dromahair during The Big Snow of 1947, when she was twenty-four. The Gillmor’s were cousins on her mother’s side. Her memories of that time form the basis of this story.

Ena Davis and ? McTiernan in yard at Gillmor’s Shop circa 1947.

“Cassie! Cassie! Come into my bed I’m freezing I can’t sleep. Bring your blankets!” Ena called across the dark room.

It wasn’t the first time I slept in Ena’s bed that winter. Our attic room above the shop, under the slates, the water jug frozen in the basin, the little roof window covered by Jack Frost, and outside the moon lit village deep under snow. And the next day we were going to Ena’s place, if we could make it through.

Ena and I worked in Gillmor’s in Dromahair, in the shop and yard.  Sometimes she looks after the Gillmor childer, she’s well used to it with plenty at home. I come from Fermanagh and had been there for about a year.

Last December, before Christmas the wind came hard from the East and soon everything was frozen and white, day and night.  I thought the turn of the year might bring a change but devil the bit of it! We wore our heavy coats all the time, often two pairs of stockings, warm tea in the kitchen was always bliss.

Then in the middle of February the snow came. There was a blizzard for a full two days. Everything stopped. The shop stayed closed. The roads and railway were blocked. No one ventured out at all, you couldn’t. The day after it stopped a few hungry souls started to move about, dug their way out probably, came in for what supplies we had. It was another 2 weeks before we got deliveries again, the train was the first to bring bread from Coyle’s bakery in Manorhamilton a few miles away.

I went out after the blizzard, but I couldn’t get far.  There was a wind that would cut you to the bone and I didn’t recognise the village in the dazzling light, deep snow everywhere. Drifts were 10 foot high, up to the eaves of the bigger houses.  Some cottages were completely smothered, a chimney’s wispy smoke rising above the snow.

Mr. Gillmor kept us busy clearing snow to keep the front and back doors open, in case anyone came, each night a good deal of it would be blown back again. In the yard, the snow was up to our waists, that took a couple of days to clear but the work kept us warm, and we had fun in it when the old man was out of the way. We were lucky having the electric light, it came from Jeiter’s mill on the river, it rarely went out. In the evening we stayed in the kitchen listening to the radio for as long as we could, and then went off to our cold beds.

A scene from 1947 The Big Snow – Donegal Weather Channel.

After a good breakfast eaten in the warm kitchen, we put on plenty of clothes and set out to Ena’s on the snowy roads.  Ena filled her pockets with sweets for children and neighbours met along the way, a regular Wednesday routine when she would cycle home on the shop’s half day. I had met some of her brothers in Dromahair, big handsome fellas they were. We sent a message on the bus that we would be there for the 1 O’Clock dinner on Saturday and we’d stay the night. I was excited but fretting about the six mile walk through the snow. Ena told me not to worry, she’d cycled home many’s a time in the pitch dark. Still, it wasn’t like this, I thought at the time.

The day was bright, no snow had fallen for a few days, the sharp wind had dropped. We left the village, passed the castle and crossed the bridge over the Bonet River, thrilled to be away from the shop and the village where we’d been cooped up for so long. A few wee boys threw snowballs at us from behind the walls of the bridge, but we ran past them not wanting to delay.

Two long weeks it had been, waiting for the roads to open, with the men’s constant work clearing the drifts, many to appear again by the next morning. We met few cars that day, those we did zig zagging around the drifts trying to keep on the hard road. Near the railway station we helped push out of a drift. Warm work it was but some sweets helped us recover.

We thought about going a longer way past Carrigeencor lake. It had long frozen over and there were usually a crowd of young people playing there. Some of the boys were now walking all the way across it. But we decided to stick to the main road.

Along Sox Line the drifts were deeper, and we pushed each other down into the soft snow, shouting and laughing. The few houses along the road heard us coming and came out to greet us and exchange news, Ena knew them all. The offers of hot tea were sadly refused, we were taking longer than we’d expected. Our supply of sweets running low, the first signs of tiredness set in as our feet dragged in the deeper snow.

“The Bonet runs deep and dangerous just over the hedge there.” Ena said as we walked on. 

“A few have drowned in there.”

“I can see nothing, hear nothing. Don’t be scaring me.” I replied, the silence now eerie, on such a beautiful day.

Another mile or so on we stopped to rest at Ena’s old school at Mullaghduff and sucked the last of the sweets. The black summit of O’Donnell’s Rock stood stark against the white landscape, the snow blown to drift on the lower slopes.

“Only another mile now.” Said Ena as we saw a group of five children playing on the road ahead.

“It’ll be the Giblins and Kellys – trouble.”

“Here comes Ena with the sweets!” they shouted when they saw us.

“No! No! I have none today!” she called as we got closer.

“Ye are not getting through if we don’t get sweets!” they chanted over and over.

We stopped a short distance off. Snowballs are thrown at us. Half-heartedly we threw a few back, but we’re very tired now, so in the end we made a dash through them, taking a good few hits as we did.

They heard the ructions up at the Larkfield farmhouse, they told us later.

“Ye better have sweets on the way back or yo’ll get the same!”  They shouted after us.

“We’ll be waiting!”

“Póg mo Thóin!” Ena shouted back at them.

We stopped briefly, taking off our coats to shake out the snow, then trudged on, the house now in sight.

Ena at her home spring 1947

Turning off the road onto the lane, it comes to us, stopped us in our snowy tracks, a waft of wonderful cooking smells drifting over the snowy field, from the house above on the hill.

We are laughing, giggling, with relief mostly, two silly girls, when Ena pushed me over in the into the deep snow at the side of the lane. I gasped as snow’s rubbed in my face and I hear her laughing.

“Come on! The dinners ready! Don’t forget to wash your face first.”

And she is running up the lane towards the house, towards the best dinner of my life.



The first picture is taken from the Donegal Weather Channel facebook site. For more see

2 thoughts on “The Big Snow 1947”

  1. Well written Stan and I see NO MENTION of Climate Change in those days !! We do not enjoy the fun and games of those bygone days alas ! I can remember the 1950’s snow at School in Drogheda , CBS, where a Christian Brother poured water in the School Yard and if you had no hobnailed Boots on, you could go down it , you hit the railings to stop at the end, one way only ! No health and safety in those days either.


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