Watching reports of the Winter Olympics being held in Seoul, Korea, on TV last week has reminded me of the fluctuating winter weather conditions in Dundalk over the past century. Many people seem to think that the past winter has been a pretty cold one. I write 'past' but perhaps the severe weather is not over yet even though the mornings and evenings are getting brighter! Personally I do not think that the weather since last autumn has been all that bad and does not compare at all with some of the cold conditions I have experienced during my lifetime. Perhaps, older Dundalk people have been more upset by sicknesses of colds and 'flu that have been prevalent in recent months than by the bad weather; or is it that some people are more susceptible to the cold than people in the past?
Looking up the records compiled by Met Éireann I was surprised to read that the winter of 1962/63 is regarded as 'the coldest winter of the 20th century' and the winter of 2010 ( November – December) was 'the coldest since 1962'63. Back in 1962 heavy snow had fallen over the entire country on December 30 and drifts of up to 15 inches were recorded in many areas, including Louth! Intermittent snow and sleet had continued to fall until early February and it was not until middle of March that conditions began to get warmer. Apparently, however, it was the cold dry easterly winds, coming for the continent, that had made had made conditions most miserable for such a long period!
While I do remember the cold winters of the early 1960s, what surprised me most about those reports was that I had thought that it was nothing like as bad as it had been in early 1947 and I am sure that many of my contemporariness living in the Dundalk area will agree with me in that belief! Was it that weather records were not as good back in 1947 or was it that by 1962 there were a lot of televisions in the Dundalk homes and we did not have to go outside to see what the weather was like? What was different about the great snow fall of 1947 was that it did not arrive until early February and the snow on the ground remained until early May!
Another thing that was different about the winter of 1947 was that both food and fuel were scarce. Rationing was still in force and there had been a bad harvest in 1946; so bad, in fact, that soldiers were enlisted to help the farmers and even school children were called out to help in the fields! Ask anybody of over 75 years of age what was the worst winter they had experienced? I am willing to bet that they will reply 'the winter of '47'!
Apart from the heavy snowfall in February and March of 1947, I recall that it had been very cold in in January of that year and that people had come out to skate on the ice that had formed on the 'Rotten Water' at the Navvy Bank. Ice skates were on offer for hire in the local hardware stores. I do not know where the shopowners got the the skates but I suppose there must have been more ice on lakes and ponds in the early part of the 20th century and local people were used to ice skating on them in winter time. Which is all part, I guess, of the effects of Global Warming over the past century!
Not that I did any ice skating until I was much older but I do recall that it used to be a regular practice in winter time to have ice slides in the local schools yards and even on some streets in town. Of course, road traffic was much lighter in those day. Cathal Cassidy of local radio fame often reminisces that there used to be a famous slide down Vincent Avenue in cold weather. He says that the women used to come out of their houses when darkness was falling and throw buckets of water down the street so that the children could use the slide on the following morning! I am not sure of girls were welcome on that slide but it is likely that a few harder females did take part. He also recalls that, even though the Garda Station overlooked the streets, the local Gardai would seldom try to stop it happening!
How is that for 'health and safety' concerns in those far off days? I recall that in my own school yard, the older boys used to throw water down a slope and slide down it it when it froze. The teachers never interfered and even some of the younger ones would slide on the slippery surfaces themselves. This was all despite the fact that, when I was quite young, an older pupil had fallen badly and broken his leg. He was carried off on a school blackboard and, as a result, had a limp for the rest of his life. Nothing was done about the incident and, as far as I am aware, no recriminations. I doubt if the same could happen at the present day without there being a great outcry in the media and calls for resignations or even prosecutions! Of course, there were less insurance claims for injuries to children in those times!