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14 Aug 2022

Trip Through Time: Memories of summers in Dundalk

Looking back at Dundalk's past, with former Democrat editor Peter Kavanagh

Memories of summers in Dundalk

My memories of Dundalk during the month of July are mostly happy ones, mainly because all the schools in the town were closed during that month and children were free to be out and about to play during the long summer evenings.

The days I recall seem to have been warm and sunny but people tend to remember the fine days and forget about the wet miserable periods - and there must have been plenty of wet days in the July of my youth.

Perhaps my happiest memories of the month, however, were the times after I had left school and had started to work. I do recall that in 1956 there was a particularly wet month of June but it cleared up about July First and we experienced a magnificent summer for about three months – or so it seemed to me.

What I do recall best in those times was finishing work early in the afternoons and cycling out to Gyles Quay where the pier was crowded with girls in their swimming costumes and young men diving from the wall to show-off their prowess.

The better swimmers were venturing out to a raft procured by the local Swimming Club, moored about 100 yards out from the pier.

I was not a great swimmer but I could just about manage to reach the raft. Coming back was a bit more difficult and, one day when there a was a swell at high tide and I thought that I was not going to reach the steps on the pier until I was pulled along the last few yards by Mary Kerley from Dowdallshill who was a great swimmer.

She later emigrated to California and became the mother of a son who was later an Olympic cyclist - representing the U.S.A.

Some of my friends were good swimmers and a least one of them was strong enough to swim all the way out to the Pile Lighthouse which must have been over a mile out in the Bay.

Sadly I hear that he is now in a home in Dublin but hope that he still has happy memories of Gyles Quay in the summer time!

There were many excellent women swimmers in the Dundalk Swimming Club at the time and there was great excitement when the club held an annual contest at Carlingford but, needless to say, I did not feel good enough to compete!

Many Dundalk people of the period were good swimmers and I vaguely remember that the better ones used to swim off the Navvy Bank were, at one time, there two diving boards, one for men and the other for women.

Others would swim in even more risky spots like abandoned quarries and there was one particularly popular quarry near Major's Hollow at Lower Faughart where, I believe, there were drownings.

There was also a tragedy at Gyles Quay about the middle fifties when a young lad from our road was drowned at high tide on a hot July Sunday afternoon. This incident led to a great surge in public opinion in the town in favour of the building a properly supervised swimming pool in the area.

Most Dundalk families of the period after the World War II Emergency would go out to Blackrock during fine weather to 'paddle; in the shallows on the Strand but there were tragedies there too when people ventured too far out and got caught by the incoming tide.

All that changed in 1962 when the open air seawater Swimming Pool was opened on the rocky prominence between the Ladies' Bay (now referred to as the Priest's Beach) and the strand in front of Main Street.

There had been many plans to build a swimming pool in Dundalk after World War Two and, indeed, money had been gathered by the Urban Council to provide one but it never seemed to be enough.

At the time many young people from the town would travel by car to the fine swimming pools erected by U.K. Government finance in places like Lurgan and Portadown.

These places, however, were beyond the reach of many Dundalk working people and those who were out of work.

Then Louth County Council came up with the idea of building an outdoor pool at Blackrock but they too were short of cash until Owen B. McGahon, a journalist who worked for the Dundalk Democrat and was on both Councils came up with the idea of 'pooling' (if you can forgive the pun) the resources of the two councils.

This idea, with the support of other councillors proved successful.

The Blackrock Pool was a great success in the sixties and produced many excellent swimmers but the season was very short because the water was always freezing for all but the most hardy; and there was the added difficulty of a chilly easterly breeze blowing in from the Bay, even on the sunniest of days.

The councillors debated the idea of heating and even covering the pool but, again, there was the problem of finance and most Dundalk people went back to the idea of building their own indoor pool. A committee was formed to support such a project and it was even one of the most hotly debated topics on the doorsteps at local elections. But there was never going to be enough money to build one without Government grants which were difficult to get.

At the time the Blackrock Pool was first opened, it was the only 50 meter pool in the country but the story goes that, when the tiles were added at the ends, it failed to reach the length to hold official competitions and did not get the much needed support of the national organisation.

Just how true that was I never did find out but the popularity of the Blackrock Pool had waned in the seventies and it was closed by the early eighties. The structure was demolished in 1995 and replaced by the flats complex which overlooks the sea.
There have been, and still are, plenty of other recreational facilities in Blackrock - but, somehow they never seem to have the same attraction and excitement we experienced just sixty years ago at this time of year - in July 1962!

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