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Snow is general over Ireland

Snow is general over Ireland.

Most people in this country know the famous last line of James Joyce’s celebrated short story "The Dead," written a century ago: “Snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves.”

We have come to regard such a thing as a feature of the distant past, especially in these days of global warming. But as I write, snow is indeed general over Ireland, and the country is struggling to cope.

Dublin is among the worst affected places as the snow is blowing from the east across the Irish Sea. This evening rush hour traffic on the M50 motorway around the city has come to a near standstill. Commuters are being advised to find accommodation in the city center rather then add to the chaos. I had to abandon my Prius in blizzard conditions a mile from my home in the Dublin hills.

The extreme weather has been produced by a rare meteorological occurrence — a low-pressure system south of Ireland feeding moisture into frigid air coming all the way from Siberia. Most of the time we just get warm air from the Atlantic. The last occasion we had a ‘big snow’ in Ireland was January 1982, when the government appointed a cabinet member to coordinate emergency services — he was mockingly referred to afterwards as the ‘Minister for Snow.’

The heavy fall is transforming the Irish countryside, making real the imaginary pictures we put on our Christmas cards:

It is beautiful but treacherous: for the first time in a quarter of a century farmers worry that their livestock will die of exposure or suffocate in snow drifts. Many schools have shut and teenagers who have never seen snow lie in the Dublin streets have out with improvised sleighs (mainly strips of plastic).

I once skied on Broadway during a New York blizzard just so I could say I did. So tomorrow I intend to unwrap the cross-country skis that have been lying in my garage since my New York days, and go skiing down the road — so I can boast about it to my grandkids another quarter of a century from now.

And the snow continues to fall, as Joyce put it “on the living and the dead."