Pensioner Gavin Falk tells Jackie Keogh how, along with his wife, they attempted to fight backthe 3ft of filthy water that eventually engulfed their listed home, just days before Christmas
GAVIN Falk and his wife Kathleen live in an uninsured, listed building ‘Westbrook House’ in Innishannon – a community that he claims was ‘ignored and neglected’ during the floods of December 5th and 30th.
‘I listen to the radio and I read the newspapers,’ Gavin said, ‘and I know many people are worse off and that our situation does not compare to the hardship endured by families who spent their days and nights fighting back the flood waters along the Shannon, but here, in Innishannon, we had no help – there wasn’t one single sandbag delivered to the village.’
Gavin Falk (75) said his Georgian property wasn’t the only one that flooded in Innishannon, but tellingly his house – which dates from around 1720 – only ever flooded once before and that was in 2009.
For hundreds of years, its position – somewhat elevated and back from the Bandon River – left it untouched by heavy downpours and burst banks.
As a pensioner with a slight disability (he has a bad leg that means he is not as mobile as he’d like to be), Gavin described the difficulty they, as a couple, experienced in 2009 and again in December.
‘In 2009, our property, plus four more, and a commercial outlet in the village, was flooded, yet President Mary McAleese, the Taoiseach, the county manager and all his retinue, passed through our village to sympathise with Bandon traders.
‘No one stopped in Innishannon, or enquired if anyone was affected here on the banks of another part of the Bandon River. And in 2015, Fianna Fáil party leader, Mícheál Martin, and the Junior Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Simon Harris, travelled through Innishannon and did not stop. They, too, went on to sympathise with the people of Bandon and we were ignored.’
With an insurance payout, Westbrook House was, after the 2009 flood, professionally cleaned and the earthen basement floors were treated and covered with high quality tiling. But the entire experience was ‘a first’ and ‘a shock’ and ‘it left everything wrecked’.
With the insurance company looking to increase their annual premium by 100% in 2010, as well as quadruple the excess on the policy, Gavin and Kathleen decided against renewing their house insurance because they believed the 2009 flood was ‘a once in a five-hundred-year event.’
They were shocked then on December 5th when water came up through a shower tray and flooded the bathroom and the hall with ‘evil smelling water from the sewerage pipe.’
Gavin said: ‘My wife cleaned it up using elbow grease and bleach.’
December 30th was different. It started on Tuesday night with a small bit of water in the kitchen – the kitchen they thought was impervious because they had spent a considerable sum on the new floor.
They stayed up until 1.30am stacking furniture but spent a restless night waiting for high tide at 8.15am. ‘Once high tide had passed,’ Gavin said, ‘I thought the water would recede, but between 9am and 10am the whole garden flooded and the water rushed under the backdoor, leaving us flooded up to a depth of approximately 3ft, destroying all the things that couldn’t be lifted, shifted or moved.
Gavin said: ‘There are no flood relief measures for Innishannon despite the fact that the Valley Rovers pitch – which is next door to my house and the houses of others – is flooded on a regular basis.
‘Hundreds of sandbags were delivered throughout the county but not one was delivered in Innishannon and we never got a flood warning either. Surely, the authorities would have known that if there was a problem on the Bandon River, other communities would be affected too.’
Gavin maintained that the cost of the material damage to his home is nothing compared to the emotional and psychological cost but that, too, is ‘something you just have to get over.’
In telling their story, Gavin said he wanted to thank the 13 friends, family and neighbours who came to their assistance, as well as the fire brigade from Kinsale who helped pump the 2ft to 3ft pool of water out of their property until it measured a mere two to three inches, which was later vacuumed out of their listed building.
He was also adamant about one point: he is ‘not anti-Bandon traders.’ He told The Southern Star: ‘I realise they have had a truly terrible time over a number of years. My reason for contacting the newspaper was merely to highlight Innishannon’s situation and to call for adequate resources and proper consideration of our predicament.’