On this day, March 7th, 1962, Belvelly Bridge was flooded as a result of a Spring tide. This bridge is the only link between Fota Island and Great Island. At least 400 workers coming from Cobh were stranded on Great Island for the night. A dramatic incident took place at around 9.30 pm at the gates of Fota House when three C.I.E Busses, carrying stranded train passengers, were caught in the deep waters at Belvelly Bridge.
The driver of the first bus described the incident: “A wall of water about 5 feet was thrown up by the momentum of the bus. It blotted out the windscreen and swirled into the cab and into the back of the bus and for a horrible moment I felt the force of the tidal flood float the bus along. Then the water inside anchored the bus…We were lucky. About 10 feet along the road the water was 6 feet deep and there could have been a tragedy…” As the water in the bus rose to the height of the seats, the frightened passengers began to pray, recite the Rosary and sing hymns. Some of them broke windows and climbed onto the top of the bus.
A young local man, John Wyse, managed to jump from the top of the bus onto an embankment near the entrance to Fota House. When he raised the alarm at the house, Dorothy Bell got a canoe which she kept for her visiting grandchildren, loaded it into her van and drove to the gate, as close to the water as she possible. Passengers then climbed from the bus into the boat and then into Mrs Bell’s van. According to newspaper reports “Backwards and forwards, all night long, Mrs Bell drove the shocked and sodden people to her house. She must have made over a dozen journeys for she rescued in all 96 people from the busses and some stranded cars…” With the help of her housekeeper, Peggy Butler, the butler Mr Russell and Major Bell, she gave them dry clothes, tea, coffee, bread, biscuits and cake, leading one of the rescued passengers to comment that after the fear, the cold and the hunger they had experienced, Fota House represented Heaven with its warmth and its welcome.
The Bells were subsequently honoured with a presentation scroll, commissioned by Veronica Hartland of Cobh Urban District Council.
This photograph, from the Irish Press newspaper, shows one of the busses stranded in the deep water.