The beige-brown fields of Beagh, near Gort, Co Galway, have stopped trying to absorb the blows of the past week. They flinch as your boot sinks into them. Invisible hands snatch at your ankles as if you are stepping in a wound. The sky seems to mock the land. The sun shining one minute, the rain pelting down the next.
"The muck will never come over the rim of your boot. Sure, it's solid underneath. Move slowly, that's the trick." Hugh O'Donnell is surprisingly upbeat for a man whose farm is under water. The suspicion is that he might still be in denial about what has happened to him.
He leads us over slippery, green stone walls and ditches for half an hour, throwing stories of drunken bishops and legendary postmen over his shoulder.
After half an hour we are looking down at a scene that epitomises the suffering the west is enduring: the abandoned O'Donnell farm is Atlantis, with broken turf stacks for fallen columns. Water is up to the windows, a car is submerged beside the kitchen door, a kettle in the window hints that family life and all its treasures are trapped inside.
"It's gone down a few feet," says O'Donnell. Moments later, he too is in the water, wading out to check on the house he was born in. He is deep in the freezing swirl. Up to his neck in it, as is his home town of Gort.
He's getting used to it, and so are his family. O'Donnell's 87-year-old mother Mary is currently recovering in a nursing home after being air-lifted from her flooded home by helicopter.
O'Donnell and four members of her family were winched 100ft into the air as unprecedented water levels swamped their home. "I'm feeling an awful lot better now, but I got an awful fright," she told the Sunday Tribune. "I went to bed and said my prayers. I said a rosary for my late husband. The next thing, Kathleen [Hugh's wife] came in at about 3am and said, 'Nana, you have to get up. The house is full of water.' It was a terrible shock to get. They tried to come in to the room, but it was too deep for the wheelchair. So I went out and up and into the helicopter. I had to lie down [in the stretcher]… well, the pains in my arms… The crew were very nice to me. They landed me on the hurling field and [local publican] Florry [McCarthy] and my son landed me here in the nursing home."
When asked if she ever planned to ride in a helicopter again, Mary O'Donnell joked: "I don't know if I'll live that long – but I certainly don't want to again."
Hugh recalled the moment the helicopter arrived. "The man in the helicopter was great. He sat down with my mother for a couple of minutes and relaxed her – told her everything that was going to happen. If she was living alone she was lost, there are no two ways about it." O'Donnell, together with his two children Oisin and Suzanne and his wife Kathleen, were also rescued by the air crew.
Up in Gort town square, John Counihan looks down Crowe Street, where a river runs past his front door. "We've pumped 120 million gallons of water in the last week. We're working around the clock." For all its efforts, Gort is merely sticking its finger in the dam. Manhole covers have been lifted by the force of the water and lie on Crowe Street like huge pennies in a filthy brown fountain.
Counihan lives halfway down. The torrent swept past his front door and ruined everything in its path – except his house. "We have a step," his wife, Mary, says at the 24-hour coffee station at her front door. She points across the street to the grey stain which is the high water mark of her neighbours' misery: the flood had reached up to their window sills.
A middle-aged man is wading disconsolately through the water. "That's Brian Honan," Mary says. "He's lost his antique furniture shop and his house was flooded too." Both are on either side of Crowe Street. Honan's face is grey and drawn. "I export antiques all over the world. Now I've lost 75% of my stock." Is he insured? "Sure what insurance would you get? You put in a claim 10 or 15 years ago and they won't cover you. I'm covered for the house, but not the shop." His neighbour Michael Finn's shop is destroyed too.
For families like the Honans, the floods have been merciless: destroying livelihoods and cutting off the last line of retreat: the family home. Even when the waters recede, they retain a presence in the air, in the stench of dampness and raw sewage.
"It's very difficult for people, very stressful," says Fr Tommy Marrinon.
This fear is everywhere across the submerged west. The fear that the rain will strike again. The fear that this is permanent. That nature is reconquering the land of Cromwell's refugees.
"To hell or the rock-pools of Connacht."
It starts to rain again and the drains throw up a fresh batch of sewage. Toilet paper is floating down Crowe Street. Along the pavements new cracks are showing.
New cracks are also showing in the walls of Ballinasloe. The river Suck is roaring through the chicane it has made between the public lavatories and the flooded, abandoned townhouses on their right.
Up on Main Street, Pierce Keller pulls back the plastic sheeting over the basement entrance to his family furniture business. The smell is eye-watering. "It came all the way up here," he says, pointing halfway up the walls. Files and carpets squelch underfoot. He walks past dozens of soiled couches, armchairs and beds.
The 50-year-old business has lost 81% of its stock. On top of that, Keller's brother Bill says they lost €31,500 of purchased goods that were due to be delivered last Saturday. The flood's timing couldn't have been worse.
Behind Kellers, Woodslip Quay is abandoned and still semi-submerged. Sacks of discarded food from nearby Costcutters are piled on a trolley. A Polish reg-plate car is up on blocks.
Pierce looks up at the spire of St Michael's Church, on the riverbank. "The church didn't flood but the priest said mass in the Church of Ireland chapel instead, just in case it did."
Derrymullan, on the edge of town, wasn't as fortunate as St Michael's. The football pitch off Station Road is still a lake. The goals look like discarded fishing nets. The six-foot wall beside it was no protection for the residents of Ashfield Drive.
"Water came cascading over the wall into daddy's garden," Michelle Devlin says. It went over the shed, under the house and up through the floors. She is visiting her father, Eamonn, who has has moved back to protect his property from looters. "They caught two of them the other day," Devlin says with disgust.
A sympathetic community spirit is evident all over the affected areas, with people frequently citing other stories that are worse than their own.
"It was more traumatic for the elderly and little children", says Devlin. "A family near me with two small children had to be evacuated by boat. The five-year-old was so upset he didn't speak for three days."
Her parents' house was insured. Inside, carpets are pulled back off warped floors and household items are propped up on blocks. "We were lucky with 'Santa', though," jokes Devlin. "'He was safe upstairs." In the front bedroom, she points to a new crack. "It goes all the way through to the outside wall."
Her words are echoed in Kathleen O'Donnell's as she pours tea for her husband Hugh, the underwater farmer from Beagh parish, Gort. There are cracks in their farmhouse too. It may have to be knocked. "It isn't easy, there are so many memories there," she says. "All our possessions are in the house." Possessions such as photographs of deceased relatives.
She leans forward a little. Her confession is quietly devastating. "I lie awake at night and wonder if I'll ever see a picture of my mother again."