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Dublin: 10°C Thursday 22 October 2020

Kinsale's lighthouse family: 'Monday was the scariest day of our lives'

On the morning of the storm we were all laughing and saying how the news had got it all wrong again. But my God were we wrong, writes Cathy Lennon.

Cathy Lennon Old Head Lighthouse, Kinsale

I’M CRYING NOW as I write this because I’m still in shock at what happened here at the lighthouse on Monday during Storm Ophelia.

Our home, the Old Head Lighthouse, is half a mile out to sea. A lot of people would be familiar with us – we are one of the last remaining families on this peninsula so I want to put pen to paper and let everyone know about our Ophelia experience.

A terrifying day

20171017_094224 Old Head Lighthouse, Kinsale. Source: Cathy Lennon

Monday was truly one of the scariest and most frightening days of my family’s life. It was certainly one for the history books.

On the morning of the storm we were all laughing and saying how the news had got it all wrong again. But my God were we wrong. It started off lightly but within an hour the sea was starting to rise. The spray from the waves was touching the front walls of the house. “Okay,” I said to the children, “It’s going to get bad”.

All of us went downstairs to the sitting room. “No,” my partner Alan said. “I don’t trust the window in the sitting room”.

“Okay,” I said. “Go to the kitchen instead girls please.” I ran back upstairs. I began packing up important things like meds for mum who was in her room, her dementia on pause and asleep. I began to pack small items and asked Alan if he thought we would be okay at high tide. He said that he didn’t know.

The sea was at the bottom of our stairs

There was a massive bang. My three girls came screaming up the stairs. One of them had the dog in her arms. The sitting room window had blown in. I ran towards them, hugged them and tried to wipe their tears away. I told them that I needed them to take it easy and stay on the landing.

There was a bang at the office window. The front pantry window had blown in. By now the sea was at the bottom of the stairs and all over the kitchen floor. We were all crying.

OPHELIA KINSALE  758A6823_90526674 The rocks of James Fort outside Kinsale. Source: Eamonn Farrell via RollingNews.ie

I quickly composed myself and promised the girls that I wouldn’t let anything bad happen to them. “What are we going to do?” I asked Alan. He was ringing Dublin, trying to get someone on the phone from Irish Lights. He reached Robert McCabe and I could hear him explaining how the downstairs windows had blown in. Robert asked him if we could make our way to another store area or room. “No,” my partner said. “There is debris flying everywhere. In all my years as a lighthouse keeper I’ve never seen the sea this bad”.

I grabbed blankets and pillows from the girls’ rooms and sat them all on the landing area, hoping the storm would pass. I heard my partner asking what we could do now. “I know there’s nothing you can do about it. But…”

Trying to reassure my girls

My girls continued crying. I tried my best to calm them down. I told them to trust me and that someone would come and help us out. Bang, smash, bang. The glass in our granddaughter’s front bedroom window smashed and splattered all over her room. The force was so bad that chunks of the glass dug into the walls. There were shards of broken glass everywhere.

“Alan, we are going to be killed,” I said. The tide had started to come in and there was nothing we could do but wait for the storm to pass over. The waves were monsters as they smashed against the roof of our home. I heard my partner scream down the phone that the upstairs of the house was breached now.

Hours went by. Things started to calm down enough for me to grab my phone and start recording the damage done inside our home. I opened the door to our granddaughter’s room. Everything was destroyed inside. We pulled out pictures, the TV and PlayStation in the hope that they would work again.

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We went downstairs to the sitting room. Everything was smashed to pieces. Our television and the plants were swimming in water. Alan went to close the window when another spray slammed against the window and soaked him. “Get out,” he shouted. Bang. Another window smashed. We went back upstairs and continued to wait it out.

I’m thankful to be alive

20171017_093030 Shattered window of the lighthouse. Source: Cathy Lennon

Finally around 1am the sea started to calm down, even though it was still throwing spray up onto the house. I couldn’t settle to sleep that night. All I could think about was the damage that had been done to our home. I dreaded waking up the next morning.

We’ve been without power for four days now. It’s freezing cold and the house stinks of the most horrible smells. The storm walls outside the lighthouse have been destroyed but I am so thankful to be alive and to be able to write our story. Deep down I know that we were very lucky.

Cathy Lennon’s partner, Alan, has served 26 years at the Old Head Lighthouse. 

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About the author:

Cathy Lennon  / Old Head Lighthouse, Kinsale

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