[Paddys cross, betimes - A blog from the Bog] Winter 1962/63 v's 2009/2010
A schoolmate of mine reminded me of the wonderland that was Loughrea when the lake froze over in 1963, him having heard a cautionary interview about walking on thin ice on lakes on Galway Bay FM on Friday last.
Though just a kid I remember being part of a group walking across the lake from Long Point to Cooreen, via Island McHugo and the Bishop's. I was just talking to my sister about it yesterday, recounting Norman Morgan's attempt to prove that Volkswagen Beetles were capable of floating...well of Ice-Roadin' at least, before the car went through the ice at the Grove at the County Home. She told me about the parties the teenagers had on the smaller Islands beyond the barracks and the few Tynagh Mine-brats' who actually had real Ice-Skates. One couple had brought real snow Skis from Canada with them! What were they thinking when they emigrated to the west of Ireland?
Dad built us a sled, a toboggan, but it was a bit of a pig really, a heavy wooden jobbie on which he dragged a bunch of us across the frozen lake pulling the rope with one hand, while holding four rather bemused looking greyhounds on leashes with the other. I remember being simultaneously terrified of drowning in an icy hole in the middle of the lake, while wishing this magical dream would never end!
My memories are those of a child, no doubt exaggerated and inaccurate, but I remember what seemed like the whole town being out on the ice that time. I still have memories of skimming stones at Flaggy Meadow, the stones bouncing and skidding for hundreds of yards across the frozen lake waters. The bigger boys competing, 'can you make the island with the next stone' and 'mine went a half-a-mile, way past yours'. The eerie echo of the ice cracking and the stones zing-ing, ricocheting and thunking across the unexpected artic plain, and the silence only punctuated by the nervous excited cries of children with their mouths agog at the impossibility of walking on water.
Later on I remember the ice thawing and our parents being more cautious about letting us wander near the lake. Nonetheless I remember an older boy crashing through the ice at Flaggy Meadow, and watching in horror as he struggled, knowing for sure, he was going to drown, watching helplessly as a child does, recording his demise, only to see him rise like a phoenix as he successively clambered up on, and broke through plate after plate of ice, until he reached a shallow enough point to finally get back up on the ice. Funny thing I remember going through the ice myself at the back of the Temperance hall, sliding along the frozen slides and suddenly being neck deep in very cold water. The thing is, I don't remember going home to change, we just continued playing on our new winter playground. No wonder I had asthma as a kid!
But no-one died, nor even had a bad fall it seemed, only great gobs of innocent fun! No X-Box back then!
I recall visiting the islands in our boat years later and seeing the remains of the bonfires the older teenagers lit to enjoy their illicit beers and late-night sing-songs and surreptitious snogs on a heretofore inaccessible part of their town. The scandal of what went on at those parties seems to have been more the talk of the town than the absolute lifetime event of being able to Jesus-walk across the lake to see the Bishops Palace!
Yes indeed, looking back now, we really did have an impoverished and dull childhood in Loughrea in the sixties. Nothing exciting ever happened back then! Duh! And so, yesterday, I walked and kicked a soccer ball from Long Point to Fair Green, with my 10-year old son David, his buddy Breffni, and my friends, Brian and Paddy on the frozen lake. First time since 1963 that the whole lake froze so completely over, though it did freeze pretty hard too in 1982 as the younger Paddy and Brian reminded me, the old man.
Dull, sleeting and very cold...but the lake was magical. Frozen completely, up to 4 inches thick where we checked one ice-hole off Long Point where someone tried ice-fishing in...though not all of the lake is walkable especially near Island McHugo, where a fiercely audible ice-crack sent us scampering like frightened lemmings back towards the relative safety of the Point.
Hundreds of people were wandering on the ice all day (all week apparently)...we saw 2 teenage girls with ice skates that were capably navigating the biggest ice-rink in Ireland, one guy with snow skis, (he's from Tynagh, brought them back from San Francisco 3 years ago...what was he thinking?) and an old geezer on a push-bike, buzzed us twice, meandering happily all over the lake, beaming in his hi-viz jacket!
Poles, Brazillians and Latvians mixed with equally bemused locals....it's become quite the tourist attraction...even the guardai were chilling...not interfering. No sign of anyone taking a car out on the ice yet, though I suspect it would bear it. Baffle were preparing for a hot-wine and poetry reading sessiun on the little crannog island behind the Barracks at 4.30pm.....I wish we could've waited!
Perhaps little David will catch it next time round, with his son! There are some things money just can't buy.