Ballinrobe's Winter Wonderland

Photo:Ballinrobe - Currabee Mon 23rd Oct 2017 at 3.43pm, a small flood after Ex Hurricane Ophelia Mon 16th Oct and  Storm Brian Sat 21st Oct. Flood water drains away quickly since the Bulkaun River was drained.

Ballinrobe - Currabee Mon 23rd Oct 2017 at 3.43pm, a small flood after Ex Hurricane Ophelia Mon 16th Oct and Storm Brian Sat 21st Oct. Flood water drains away quickly since the Bulkaun River was drained.

Mary Hennelly Tiernan

Photo:An old pair of Iceskates

An old pair of Iceskates

Google Images

Photo:One of Bruegal's Dutch iceskating scenes with lots of activity on the ice.

One of Bruegal's Dutch iceskating scenes with lots of activity on the ice.

Google images

Turlough at Currabee - A Memory by Mary Hennelly Tiernan - Ballinrobe Writers' Group

The year was 1962, Christmas time and the Bulkaun River in Ballinrobe was not drained or deepened at that time and the Turlough also known as the Lough was flooded from October to April, and the village of Currabee that I lived in overlooked that and it was a winter wonderland.

March 1963

Jack Frost arrived and the big freeze began on Christmas night and it continued freezing day and night until early March 1963 with a small rise in temperature for a few days in late February. Ireland was shivering in an icy cold northeast breeze and we had no idea that the big freeze was going to last for about ten weeks. Before long, the flooded flood plain laid out in front of our warm cosy thatched house was covered in ice, and there was not much snow in the west other than dustings of white powdery flakes that lasted.

Coldest Winter of 20th Century

According to records, that winter was the coldest of the twentieth century with ponds, turloughs and lakes frozen over. I remember adults talking about cars and vans being driven out on local lakes. After a few weeks there was three quarter’s of an inch of ice all over it except just outside our driveway gate where there was a trickle of water coming out from a well on the edge of the ice.

My father was on alert and made an assessment that there could be active springs so we were forbidden to go out on it. By the end of December a lot of the water had drained away from beneath the ice to about two feet, the well was dry so we were allowed out on it on condition we did not go near Poll Padraic (according to reports passed down generations back, a man named Padraic R.I.P. drowned there).

Family, Neighbours and Friends

On freezing sunny afternoons the neighbouring O’Toole children, Edward Joseph, Anthony, Margaret, Catherine and Patrick who was too young, would come out with my brothers Thomas and John Bernard and we would go on dry land towards the town end of the ice fields as that had all flat land underneath the ice.

50 acres of Six Fields

It covered approximately fifty acres, comprising of six fields owned by Robert Kelly, Johnny O’Toole, who with his parents and siblings had recently emigrated to Chicago, Stephen Walsh, John Flannery – part of the ancestral farm of John King - US Navy Recipient of two Congressional Medals of Honour, Jimmy Hyland and Kathleen O’Toole.  We would all go out on Johnny Flannery’s field excitedly and cautious with our best sliding shoes on and slide off in different directions gazing downwards through the hard cold clear ice at the uneven vegetation and enjoying the amazing feeling of freedom and wonderment at it all. As children do, we would drift back near each other, then we would hear the squeaking of the ice cracking and see the crisscross of lines running along under our shoes going in all directions, we would all start screeching in terror and slide off in different directions to distribute our weight so we would not break through the ice and avoid being immersed in the freezing water.

200 People out on the Ice

By New Year, there was approximately eight inches of ice and all the water had drained away except for maybe two feet at Poll Padraic so word spread there was no threat of drowning. One freezing Sunday under a sunny cloudless blue sky there was about two hundred people out there on the ice, on weekdays forty maybe.  

Ice Skates & Skaters

A few men had ice skates that had been in their family for years I heard and I had never seen the likes before and could not believe how they could balance on a thin blade. One day I saw a girl on her ice skates pushing a chair in front of her so she would not fall over. Oh! how I wished that day I had a pair of skates, only to have it come true five years later when I was living in Chicago and skating on an ice rink.  

There were always spectators sitting on rocks looking out and afraid to chance it. Skaters would line up on the grass, take a thirty foot run at high speed jump on to the ice with speed in hobnailed boots, go down on their hunkers and fly out on the ice one hundred yards, all competing to see who could go the farthest, and then the big cheer and clapping would be echoing over the ice. They would come back in and go to the back of the queue and that went on for hours on Saturdays and Sundays.

Specialty Act

Back then Geraldine May (nee McDarby) and her late husband Des in their courtship years had their own specialty act perfected which all the spectators were in awe off. Geraldine would slide out maybe fifteen feet on the ice and wait motionless, Des would make a sprint, then jump onto the ice, and like a shooting star would slide out at high speed, fling his arms around her and in sync both would drop down on their hunkers and slide out the farthest generating the loudest clapping and cheering!  The slight heat generated by the friction of the hobnails sliding over the ice gave a slight thaw that instantly froze repairing any scrapes and gave an enhanced polished slippery effect to the surface to the advantage of the participants.

Local Bank Manager

One Sunday afternoon a local bank manager came out and decided he would chance a go on it like the young lads, his take-off and landing was perfect, but when he went down on his hunkers his unsuitable dress shoes could not compete with the hobnails, his feet went from under him and he slid out about a hundred feet dressed in his tweed coat with all fours sticking up in the air.  He was very good-humoured about it and had a great laugh with us all when he came in. A teenage boy ventured out cycling, it went well until he started to turn to come back in when he instantly parted company with his bicycle and he had to carry it back with its wheel bent but he did not seem to mind.

Icicles & Wild Birds

The weather conditions were just right for the formation of lines of opaque icicles that dripped from the lower edges of the roof our house and sheds and we inspected them as their pointed tips grew downward by the day reaching maybe a foot or more, a winter wonder! My parents Bridie and Bernard made sure there was food and water put out for the wild birds daily, the robins got brown breadcrumbs to keep them away from the door so they would not be tempted to come in because of the piseog about them. The ice in water barrels would be broken into wedges with a crow bar, thawed in a large aluminium pot over the hot cream coloured jubilee range for the domestic fowl, cattle and other needs outside.

Christmas Holidays from School

It was the best Christmas holidays ever, a magical time, I was in Inter Cert at the Convent of Mercy, we were in our element every day, the freezing cold did not bother us as all our garments back then were made of wool, mostly hand knitted by our mothers, although some evenings my half numb finger tips would be tingling with searing pain in my mittens as I walked the few hundred yards home gazing upwards at the odd shimmering star that had made its appearance.  

Hobnail Boots

Some nights my father would have his hammer and cast iron last sitting on the kitchen floor repairing the hobnailed boots with their iron heel plates, I got him to put a few kidney shaped iron segs on the soles of my shoes, that would be followed by my mother and himself browsing through Old Moore’s Almanac in the hope of reading a favourable prediction that might end their hardship caused by the relentless freezing day and night.  Some of the visitors to the village let us know how fortunate and convenient it was for us to have such an amazing spectacle outside our house, we enjoyed the revelry, comradery and interaction that developed over that winter.

Christmas Card Scene

Now looking back it reminds me of some Christmas Card scenes.  In those times people walked, few had bicycles, innocent fun and great exercise all free of charge, no one suing landowners, not much T.V. or phones, no computers, the local newspaper once a week, very happy contented children that interacted with one another, freshly baked brown bread and pots of free range organic chicken soup to warm us when we went home, healthy living at its best.

Major Ballinrobe Event

It was a major event around Ballinrobe, there have not been the likes since and I think that proves that climate change is real and it is already upon us.

This page was added by Averil Staunton on 24/11/2017.