harsh winter of 1962/1963
Milking stools and old car bonnets
were used as makeshift toboggans.
Last week's cold spell and the one before Christmas
were a mere trifle compared to some winters of the past.
The winter of 1962/1963 was savage, the coldest for more
than 200 years outstripping even 'white 1947'
for bitter temperatures.
It began freezing on Christmas Day in 1962 and barely relented
until March. By early January 1963 much of Britain and the
eastern part of Ireland were blanketed in snow. The west
of Ireland was largely unaffected by snow until late January
and early February when there were a number of heavy falls.
Temperatures in Mayo remained stuck below freezing point
for all of January and much of February which meant that
most of the smaller lakes were completely frozen over.
Iced over ponds became a playground for the young and young
of heart. Forget skates. All one needed was a pair of hobnailed
boots to send one whizzing across the ice for a great distance.
As a nine year old growing up in east Mayo. I remember cloudless
days spent in an overcoat which usually ended with the sun
going down in a ball of fire in the southwest. Then the
stairs came out and twinkled magically as temperatures plunged
well below zero.
One of the chores every morning was to break the ice in
the barrel which took water from the roof of the house.
Some days one needed a crowbar' to smash the
Reports reached us that Urlaur Lake now the source for the
Kilmovee Group Water Scheme, had frozen over. Most exciting
of all was the news that somebody had driven a tractor across
the ice from one side of the lake to the other.
Although villages in the east of the country were cut off
by snowdrifts and food and medical supplies had to be airlifted
in, the west escaped the worst of the blizzards.
However, it did snow on a number of occasions and fine,
dusty, stuff it was too, small, powdery, flakes, great for
Youngsters used makeshift toboggans. Our's was a milking
stool turned upside down. Years later, in-laws in Castlebar
would tell me how they would borrow old car bonnets from
Josie Bourke's Garage and use them to slide down the
hill at Flannelly's field.
Not alone lakes but also rivers froze. Patches of seawater
in sheltered bays turned to ice.
Wildlife suffered badly as animals either froze or starved
to death. Songbirds such as robins would come into houses
searching for scraps of food.
Weather conditions in 1962/63 were similar to those which
produced last week's cold spell.
Then, as last week, a high pressure system which normally
sits over the subtropical Azores Islands, moved north over
Ireland and Britain.
Anti-cyclonic condition in Ireland during wintertime in
variable mean cold, frosty conditions with icy winds funnelling
in from Scandinavia and eastern Europe.
So, despite so called global warming, this winter has proven
that the treat of arctic winters hasn't gone away.
Indeed, some scientists are predicting that global warming
could bring long, cold winters to western Europe.
The theory is that the melting arctic ice pack would drift
into the Atlantic diverting the flow of the warming Gulf
This would mean long, cold winters with a much shorter growing
season in Ireland and Britain. This would have a huge social
impact with people needing to move out from the cities to
Anyway, back to the hard winter of 62/'63 for
a moment. Then, many rural folk lived in thatched houses
with no central heating and only one turf fire to keep them
But they got by, If a mini-ice Age, paradoxically as a result
of global warming, does occur we'll survive. The Celts
are a tough race genetically and well used to deprivations.
Courtesy of the Connacht Telegraph