Claremorris Met Office in Co. Mayo
Claremorris Met Office is situated about one mile from the centre of the town on the main Galway road on a rising piece of ground 69 metres above sea level with unobstructed views in all directions. It is an ideal site for a Met Station from an climatological stand point.
It appears that when the newly founded Irish Meteorological Service (1937) decided that it needed stations sited inland, Claremorris was one of the places that was selected.
The reason for siting the station here seems to be that Claremorris was physically situated in the centre of Connaught, it had the main telephone exchange in the country and was also a major rail junction, with daily train and not to mention postal service to Dublin - or maybe because Claremorris is on longitude 09 deg west.
Sometime in 1942 officials from the Department of Industry and Commerce bought a plot of land from Mr Pat Joe Vahey who owned the field, known as the far field in the town land of Clare. The contract to build the New Met. Station was given to a builder from Castlebar named McCormack. The building was ready for occupation late in the summer of 1943.
It was, apparently the policy of the Department (IMS) at the time to employ staff locally, a policy which continued for some time in the IMS with regard to inland stations. Because of this the Vahey family were offered the contract to staff the station and they accepted.
Someone from the IMS (I could not find the name and the member of the Vahey family who gave me these details could not remember), came to the Station and trained three members of the Vahey family, Pat Joe (father) John and Paddy (sons) to carry out Observations and essential Instrumental maintenance. According to my source Robert Vahey (another son), this training lasted about three weeks following which the station opened for business on the 13th of November 1943.
Three Vahey staff members worked as a rotational 12hr shift 0400Z to 1600Z and 1600Z to 0400Z, with observations read every three hours 0400Z, 0700Z, 1000Z, which were transmitted by phone to Dublin after the hour. The charts and forms 7441 etc were posted to HQ every few days. This system was maintained for the next six years or thereabouts, other than that two other members of the Vahey family, Robert and Imelda, replaced their brothers John and Paddy when they emigrated to England at the end of the war. Was Imelda Vahey the first female observer in the IMS? Her signature can be found on numerous F7441 which remain in the office in Claremorris.
One amusing if chilling story was told to me by Robert Vahey and that was one night on his way to the station he met a local man known as Ned Clinton at 3.45am. He claims that as he saw him in the light of his torch that the hairs stood up on the back of his neck, but he carried on to work.
The following morning he told his mother at breakfast how he met Ned on the road going to work and she told him that Ned had died the previous day... so Robert claims he met a ghost. Maybe its well that we have moved!
Invasion of France
On the subject of the war, there are F7441's still in Claremorris for the period of the invasion of France which confirm that the weather on this side of the country was improving with an area of high pressure replacing an active low.
The details as elicited from the F7441 are, 4th June 1944. 1300Z.. wind 210 17mph gusting 42mph, continuous rain, pressure 999mbs...6th June 1944. 1300Z, (D Day) Blacksod Light House and I presume Claremorris was the reason that the launch of the invasion of France went ahead on the 6th June 1944. You all remember the metman in the film "The Longest Day" giving this information to General Eisenhower and the joint Chiefs of Staff. Is this cover by the Official Secrets Act.?
Sometime in 1949 the IMS decided that it needed observations on an hourly basis from inland stations like Claremorris.
It was decided to man the station with a full time permanent staff. The result of this was that Robert and Imelda Vahey lost their part-time jobs, while Pat Joe, the father, was kept on. Both Robert and Imelda eventually followed the brothers to England where they still reside.
From the old attendance books still in the office D O'Catáin seems to have been the first official Officer in charge, arriving to take up duty in Claremorris on the 1st August 1949. He was quickly followed by P J Cotter and Michael T Neilan who arrived on the 4th of the month.
It seemed to be the case that you had to report to the station that you were assigned to first, and then travel to Dublin to be trained. Three weeks later on the 28th August 1949 the station opened with a full time staff of D O'Catáin, P J Vahey, Michael T Neilan, P J Cotter. Mr Vahey was retired in 1952.
This level of staffing continued until a one (O C) plus four man operation was introduced in 1969. A few years later, in 1971, the fixed rotating roster came into vogue. These changes in rostering and working conditions were long overdure and were welcomed by staff as previous rostering practice left a lot to be desired ... need I say more.
Relocation to Ireland West Airport Knock
In the late eighties we began to hear rumours of the imminent closure of the station and a relocation to Ireland West Airport Knock.
This decision, which was a political one, was made during one of Mr Haughey's periods in power. Despite efforts by local politicians and the local Chamber of Commerce to have this decision recinted the gate was closed on the 31st March 1996 and we are left to wonder how and why a station in operation for over fifty years and all that entails in Meteorological terms, could be closed ... ach sin sceal eile.
During the early nineties a new computerised automatic weather system was installed with data downloaded into the main computer in HQ. This was run in conjunction with manual reporting for a number of years and that CAMOS is what is now operating in Claremorris Met Office.
’Highs & Lows'
In Claremorris the meteorological conditions most remembered were the snows of 1947, which Robert Vahey recalled having to dig through six foot drifts to get to the station; Hurricane Debbie 1961; other wild and windy days like the night of 27th January 1974 when a gust of 96kts was recorded which left the streets of the town littlered with slates.
We have had our days of rain with daily total of 90.6mm being highest recorded, our average rainfall is around forty five inches (1114mm). We recorded our lowest pressure reading 951.7 mbs on the 21st March 1953 while for the year 1983 we have the unenviable record of recording the lowest total sunshine hours for an unobstructed site in the country.
For the Record
From the attendance books still in the office I have compiled the names of those who spent time in Claremorris Met Station.
It seemed to be quite a common place to sign your name in Irish, some of the names will be of people who have died, some will still be working in th IMS, some will have retired. The order in which they appear starts in 1943 and ends with the last staff complement when the station closed:
P.J. Vahey, J Vahey, P Vahey, R Vahey, Imelda Vahey
D O'Catáin, N.D. MacGerailt, P.J. Cotter, M.T. Neilan
S Hickey, D O'Regan, T Reynolds, J Kelly, J Grant
T Moore, J Malone, D.S. O'Briain, J Kerins, W Ryan
O Kelly, J Horgan, R Leneghan, L Power, P Coen
C.P. O'hAoda, F O'Briain, D Newman, W Long (Claremorris)
M MacFeraith, T O'Loughlin, J Dempsey, N Walsh
S DeFaoite, T Nolan, F McCord, P Lacy
M Walsh, P Marrinan, D O'Bároid, J Donlon (Claremorris)
D O'Mahony, M Harte, C O'Keeffe, S Kearney
S.J. Hoye, M Treacy, A Nolan, S Hennigan
W.P. Bryne, B Horan, F Clabby
- D Middleton, L Newman, A Clohessy, S McGrenra, M Pierce, M Haverty
There was one other girl who worked at the station for a short period but I could not find her name. One of the above was sacked or was asked to resign and went on to become a highly paid executive with a well known tea company.
Compiled by Liam Newman (Oct. 2000)