Are the people of Dundalk still interested in swimming?
Answers in this week's Question Time about Dundalk's two public swimming pools made me wonder 'Can Dundalk people still swim?' You see, after World War 11 the No. 1 social activity around the Town was swimming at various beaches around the shores of County during the summer and early autumn months.
Back then nearly every person in Dundalk could swim one way or another, from a 'dog-paddle' to well perfected 'over-arm', with many variations in between!
While many never entered the water above waist level, there were quite a few who were very good swimmers and it was quite a boast that a person could swim from Gyles Quay Pier out to the Pile Lighthouse in the Bay and back.
Most, however, were happy enough to 'paddle' along the shore line but they would still claim at work that they had been 'for a swim' on the previous evening.
In a way it was all part of a social revolution that was taking place in Dundalk in the second part of the twentieth century when the sexes started to mingle more freely. Up to that time there used to be 'Ladies Bays' at various beaches around the country where men were not permitted to venture and, conversely, there were places where 'men only' were allowed to swim.
I think that the first place where this convention was broken here was when somebody erected a diving board along the Navvy Bank near the Towers.
Tom McDevitt, who wrote in the Democrat for many years as 'Roamer', once told me that his wife was a good swimmer who bathed at this spot but was annoyed when the crew of passing small tramp steamers used to sound their fog horns when they would spot a woman in bathing suit along the Bank.
That must have been sometime between the World Wars but, by the early fifties, men and women were mingling freely on the beaches, much to the annoyance of clergymen of all denominations and some of them condemned the practices from the pulpits on Sundays.
I recall that, when a swimming club was formed in Dundalk, some wags who were members wrote a bogus letter, pro-porting to come from the Parochial House, demanding that they 'disband forthwith'!
There was an uproar at the annual meeting when the Secretary read out the letter, which she was not expected to do, and the women members were particularly incensed.
The Secretary then disclosed that she had already a letter to the 'Head' clergyman and demanding that he receive a delegation of women to explain his attitude.
At this point the pranksters were forced to admit that the letter was a hoax and Chairperson, a woman of some substance in the Town, ordered them forthwith to go around to the Parochial House to confess to their guilt!
The 'guilty party' were kept waiting in the parlour for sometime, contemplating their fate, before a young curate, who, fortunately, had a sense of humour, appeared.
He listened to their story in silence for a time before bursting into laughter.
He informed them that the senior clergyman to whom the letter was addressed had been handed the letter while he was having a meal but, when he saw where it came from, just rolled it into a ball and threw it into a waste paper basket!
That was the end of the affair and the club went ahead with building a raft which was moored off the Gyles Quay Pier for several seasons.
Club galas were held there and there were youth 'hops', as dance parties were known in those far off days, in the nearby Mountain Bay Saloon; and, during one particularly fine summer, beach barbecues, were held in the evenings.
The local Swimming Club also held regattas annually at Carlingford Harbour for a number of years until the idea seemed to go out of fashion as the 'dance band' era took hold!
The idea of having an indoor heated swimming pool in Dundalk, however, continued to be demanded, even after the advent of television in most homes in Town, and even became a serious issue at local election times.
At one Council meeting in the Town Hall, one of the members stood up and complained to the Chairman that, when he called to local doors before a forthcoming election, people only had asked him about the progress toward the building of a pool. It seemed, he claimed, that most were not really interested in other important issues!
Most of the other members agreed that they had the same experience and that subject came up, time and time again, at monthly meetings, until the County Manager John Quilivan, came up with the solution that eventually led to the building to the Pool and Leisure Centre at St. Alphonsus Road!
Lines of children, accompanied by their teachers, can still be seen making their way to the Pool during morning times but I have to wonder – Do they still keep swimming when they become teenagers? Or has computer games and social media messaging put an end to swimming by most middle-aged Dundalk folk?