When you’re 19 a man of 47 looks too old to shovel snow

Daniel O'Reilly, Seamus Cusack, Freddie McCallion and Saoirse Doherty at Cashel trout fishery.
Daniel O'Reilly, Seamus Cusack, Freddie McCallion and Saoirse Doherty at Cashel trout fishery.

Where has all the good weather gone that the forecasters promised from June onwards?

Week after week we were told that hot, dry weather was just around the corner. But we are still waiting for it.

I heard or read a nice story about Met Office forecasts. An expert explained to listeners that they got forecasts right 45 per cent of the time and wrong 55 per cent of the time, prompting a wag in the audience to ask why they didn’t just reverse the forecasts before broadcasting them thus making them right 55 per cent of the time and wrong only 45 per cent.

Without the help of the Met Office I can say I have never experienced a non summer like the one happily gone. My family has been cutting peats just above Loughareema for more than 70 years. To get the peats to the main road with horse and cart we had go between the big lough and the Black lough. It was just our bad luck if we missed the tide.

One year long ago we did not get the peats to the road until October because Loughareema had risen so high that it joined the Black lough covering the mountain road to a depth of several feet.

I think it would be around the mid ‘Thirties. The only clue I have about the date is that I was wearing short trousers at the time.

When I got home one night either on top of a cart of peats or on a lorry bringing the peats home I was so cold that old Jamie Kane, a neighbour, who was ceilidhing in our house, went very close to pushing me up the chimney to warm my bare legs.

Anyway, I have never seen or heard of so much rain as has fallen since June. I have some dry peats from last year, which were stacked on the mountain and Loughareema goes down very quickly since work was done some decades ago, to stop it flooding the Cushendun-Ballycastle road.

Perhaps in an attempt to ensure that they get their forecasts right side up, ‘experts’ on both sides of the Atlantic are predicting the worst weather since 1950 in these islands in the coming winter. They say that if El Nino strikes as they expect, we had better watch out.

I cannot recall just how bad the 1950 winter was in the Glens of Antrim as I was working in Belfast at that time, but I can say with authority that the winter of 1947 was atrocious.

The first snowfall that winter came on the night before the first Friday in February and it was something to behold. All the roads round us were hedge high with snow and my brother Archie and I had to dig our way out to attend to the sheep, cattle and horses.

It froze hard every night and when two other great falls followed about 10 days apart the fresh snow lay on top of the hard packed first fall.

The first few days weren’t too bad for we had all we needed on the farm to sustain humans and animals. But eventually a decision had to be made to clear the two and three quarter miles of blocked road to get food supplies from Cushendall.

When two neighbours Dan and John McKay, roughly the same age as Archie and myself, walked across the fields to ask for our help they got a speedy and positive answer.

The two lads, both great workers, lived further away from Cushendall than us and had already started work on clearing the road between us.

To cut a long story short we had to clear the road after each new snowfall just wide enough to get a horse and cart through to Cushendall.

On our way to the village we passed the homes of one of the strongest men in the country and the homes of two other able bodied men but we never thought of asking them for help as we cleared the road past their homes.

I am quite sure we would have got help if we had asked for it. But we didn’t ask. Why? Because we thought the strong man was too old to be clearing snow. I looked at his headstone recently which showed that he was born in 1900 leaving him 47 in the year of the big snow.

The snow lay all around until St Patrick’s Day and when the thaw came, condensation left the walls in the dwelling house and the outhouses, dripping with water.

Times were tough alright for we hadn’t the sort of clothing or footwear that outdoor aficionadas have now. Nobody seemed to be wearing wellingtons then and as far as I can remember our feet were never dry until we came in at night. But, of course I wish I could go back to those days in Layde.

In his report for 2014, Glens of Antrim Club Secretary, Hugo McCormick says 2014 saw some of longest dry spells for many years. An exception was the biggest flood for almost 50 years in the first week-end of August 2014.

Hugo says: “Club members found trout and salmon par washed out of the Glendun river on to the fields in most cases dead. Some were rescued and returned to the river but many others were not

“When salmon were seen splashing in Cushendun Bay during late August and September there was virtually no water in the river for them to come in.

“Bottle nosed dolphins had regular raiding parties and we could see salmon jumping out of the water to avoid certain death. The number of salmon returning to the Glendun river in 2014 was just 49. Not great but an improvement on the bad old days between 2003 and 2010.

“Cushendall river fished better with a good improvement on rod catches from previous years. This past winter our hatcheries on the Dun river produced about 8,000 youngsters from Dun brood stock and 15,000 from Cushendall brood stock. All these will be transported to Bushmills Salmon Research station for feeding through to fingerling stage, fin clipped and returned to their river of origin later in the year. The purpose of fin clipping is to establish the survival rate of returning salmon.

“When an angler catches a salmon he or she should examine it carefully to establish if it is a hatchery-produced fish with the adipose fin missing or a wild one with the fin complete. This way we can establish whether hatchery salmon or wild ones survive better to return to their mother river.”

The Munster Blackwater had two of the highest floods within two days of each other this month but the water was beginning to fine off this week which bodes well for the last days of the season which closes on September 30,

Blackwater Lodge proprietor Ian Powell said water was at a good height for spinning on Thursday. He said the floods should bring in the bigger autumn salmon making prospects for the week-end excellent.

Myles Kelly of Angling Ireland reports that Lough Currane saw a score or more sea trout to 5lb landed.

On the Drowes, a party of French anglers had 26 salmon during the week and thoroughly enjoyed their time on the river. On Lough Corrib, late hatches of olives and sedges provided anglers with good sport and although many were fishing wets some great bags of trout to over 4lb were had on dry fly.

At Cashel trout fishery ideal conditions should help anglers land a few rainbows this weekend ahead of Cashel’s annual competition due to be held at the end of October.

Daniel O’Reilly, Maghera, bagged two trout for home for 4lb 7oz and released seven more Damien Donnelly, Draperstown, bagged one and lost six. Saoirse Doherty, Derry, Freddie McCallion, Danny McDonagh and Seamus Cusack released 11 between them.

Brian and Ciaran Kelly, Derry, bagged two for home for 8lb 5oz. Ken Foster, Limavady, released eight and lost five more. Eddie Manthorpe, Coleraine, and Peter Clarke, Portstewart, released six. Shaun O’Doherty, Donegal, released two while Declan Bradley, Magera and Eunan McAleese each bagged three for home for 9lb 9oz.