Around 200 people affected by August’s flooding in Eglinton gathered in Faughanvale Presbyterian Church Hall on Monday evening for a communal ‘get together’ organised by the three main local Christian churches. It was arranged, they said, to let the flood victims know that they hadn’t been forgotten in the three months that had passed since the downpour.
Volunteers from the Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland churches prepared a meal for scores of families – many of whom are still displaced as a result of August’s deluge. There was a huge range of ages represented in the hall, from babes in arms right up to a lady of 99 who has had to provide temporary accommodation for her son and daughter-in-law.
Entertainment was laid on for all age groups; the children each received a selection box and afterwards each family was presented with a food hamper. Among those performing on-stage were Faughanvale Deacon, Rev Stuart Reid, and local man, Peter McKeever, whose brother is among those rendered temporarily homeless. Peter has produced a CD of music which is now on sale throughout the village; all proceeds are going to the Eglinton Flood Appeal.
The Rector of Faughanvale, Rev Paul Hoey, said there was a great deal of help available to the local community in the immediate aftermath of the flooding. Since then, however, they had experienced “a difficult period”, during which things “tailed off” as people waited for their houses to dry out.
“We wanted to let people know that they haven’t been forgotten,” the Rector said. “We wanted them to know that we are here to try and support them. People are dispersed to all parts of the county and beyond, in temporary accommodation, and therefore are not seeing their next-door neighbours or other people in similar situations. So, we just thought, get everybody together, share their stories, [let them] see maybe that things are not as bad as they had imagined – there are other people in similar situations or even worse – and let them know that we are here for them.”
Welcoming the community to his Church Hall, the Minister of Faughanvale Presbyterian Church, Rev Lindsay Blair, told them: “After all that you have been through in recent weeks – the trauma and the struggling – we felt it would be good to have an opportunity to bring you all together here. On behalf of the local churches we want you to enjoy this evening.” Rev Blair then led those present in a prayer of thanksgiving.
The Parish Priest of Faughanvale, Fr Noel McDermott, thanked those who prepared and served the “incredible” food that was dished up, and thanked Rev Blair for making his hall available.
“One of the tragedies of the flood,” Fr McDermott said, “was that many in the community were dispersed. But, out of this tragedy has also come – not a new sense of community, because there’s always been a sense of community between the churches in this district – but I think it has been renewed by this tragedy and it has reminded us of the importance of community, and of keeping together and working together and helping each other – especially in times of difficulty. So, we thank God for that lovely, renewed sense of community”.
Monday evening’s event allowed long-time neighbours to renew acquaintances, among them Sylvia Thompson and Gillian Lamrock. Sylvia was out of her home for a week and a half; Gillian, her husband and young son are still out of theirs. They hope to move back in early December. “Our whole ground floor was flooded,” she said. “It just came in. There was nothing we could do. We had no sandbags that night. We got the silicon gun out – battens off the fence – tried our best, but once it started to come in there was no stopping it. We just moved as much stuff upstairs as we could. The X-box went up first, I think, my granny’s Singer Sewing Machine went up after that. We’ve been out of the house since the next day.
“It still ‘hasn’t happened’. It’s not real,” Gillian said. “It is still very surreal. But the kitchen’s going in today. We’ve a kitchen, we’ve a bathroom. If we can get a cooker delivered and a fridge delivered we can work around that.” Both Gillian and Sylvia were full of praise for the churches for organising Monday’s get-together. “I wouldn’t know a whole lot of people in here,” Gillian said, “but to think that we’ve all got this in common…I spoke to a girl I’ve never met before who was sitting beside me, we shared stories and exchanged information and hints and tips to try and keep each other right, and provided a wee bit of comfort for each other.”
Pearl and Clifford Parkhill were at the get-together with Clifford’s mother, Matti, who is 99 years old. Pearl and Clifford were forced out of their home by the flooding and have been staying with Matti ever since. “I lost a lot of stuff,” Clifford said, “stuff I can never replace. It’s terrible. I’m pushing and pushing to get back into our house but there are so many people affected.” “As long as there was nobody injured,” Pearl interjected. “It’s only a house. There’s little in it now – nothing in it – but there are people worse off.”
St Canice’s Church was the place of worship worst-affected by the August flood. Repair work is still being carried out and Rev Hoey does not expect to be back in the church until after Easter. The Parish Hall, which was also severely damaged, will take even longer to put right. In addition, the Rector estimates that up to 20% of his congregation have been badly affected by the flooding. “We could sit here and look at ourselves and say, ‘Oh we need to raise money for our church’, but to give our congregation credit, they’ve recognised that supporting others in the community is our primary calling. That’s been our focus. Everything else is following on after that. We still obviously have things to think about but we’re pleased that people are responding well to what we’re offering as a Church.”
People are responding to the Church, obviously, but they are finding other ways, too, to cope with the enormity of what has happened to them. Gillian Lamrock wrote a poem to describe how she was coming to terms with the Eglinton flood. Gillian has kindly given us permission to reproduce her poem here.
In fear of the rain
From the sky it fell, a single drop of rain.
Many more followed, and the rivers took the strain.
But soon the banks burst and the rivers overflowed.
Into our cosy homes, the water couldn’t be slowed.
We lifted and shifted as much stuff as we could.
People helping others, all over the neighbourhood.
But in the morning, the damage could be seen.
How could Mother Nature, have been so mean?
Floods of tears, in the days that followed.
With many believing their whole lives had been swallowed.
Like the river, we become overwhelmed - but with emotion.
As the recovery phase started in motion.
Dehumidifiers hummed, sucking out the waters.
We packed our bags, and feeling like paupers,
We moved out of our homes, to other places.
With heavy hearts and saddened faces.
In the morning, trade vans queued into the village.
Stripping out our homes, banging and drilling.
Our ‘stuff’ was dumped in skips in the streets.
Our beds, our tables, our living room suites.
We channelled our energy into rebuilding our homes.
The community spirit was second to none.
Strangers helping strangers, and becoming friends.
Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad in the end?
Many of us are at different stages.
Some homes repaired quickly, others taking ages.
Exhausted, frustrated and very weary.
From time to time we still get teary.
All we talk about is how the house is coming along.
And sometimes we don’t even know how to respond.
This flood is a test of human endurance.
And sometimes we just need a little reassurance.
But what if it happens again, next month, next year?
Even the thought of it, is too much to bear.
We check the forecast again and again.
For now we live in fear of the rain.