Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Story of Doon Shore


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The Story of Doon Shore
A happy hunting ground it could be described for a generation that grew up in the 1950s. The Doon Shore (once upon a time Leyland’s Shore) became the power point on the Lough Key shoreline that zigzags along for miles. The name has its origins in a rocky plateau stretching above it aptly named the Rock of Doon. Finding one’s way to this little haven under the hill required a mixture of stamina and youthful exuberance.
It started with a three-mile walk from the heart of Boyle town to the heart of Doon country, climb a gate, walk four fields and a narrow lane laden with blackthorn bushes ‘forever in bloom’. The camaraderie on the way was an important part of the expedition and could be likened to the foreword of a book. The only hint of civilisation having ever touched it was a rickety old stone pier protruding into the lakeand a fairytale cottage hidden behind a hedgerow of trees which was the summer retreat of the local doctor. Dr. Leyland was one of nature’s gentlemen, rotund, wellspoken with a rich crop of grey wavy hair. His trip to the Doon Shore would never entail a journey of three miles on foot, climb a gate, walk four fields of meadow and navigate a laneway that was overgrown almost with blackthorn; on the contrary the good Doctor had his own transport by ferry from the Wooden Bridge and a ferryman to bring him safely to his retreat, his own Paradise on earth. In the early 1960s the area took a dramatic change for the better.
A new road was built all the way to the shore that included a car park for fifty or more cars. A spread of sand to give the place a sense or feel of the sea was put down, lacking of course the sound of the ebb and flow of a tide or the pungent smell of seaweed. New toilets were built as were three new piers for boats, and a diving board in the shape of a platform that stood five feet high on beams embedded in the lake floor.
This was Boyle town’s new water world. Families flocked to it during the summer to bathe and to picnic and many a young mother spent hours stretched on technology’s newest creation, the sun bed,
longing for that envious tan beloved of all young women. The angler pulled in to show off his catch of perch and pike while the occasional cabin cruiser (with continental crew) stopped by for a break and to indulge in a barbeque on deck. The ‘Hoi Polloi’ of the day sat up and looked on inquisitively as the pungent smell of roast chicken doused with oriental spices permeated the nostrils.
Windsurfing had just become the new sport on the bloc, particularly for an age group in their twenties and thirties. Many of this jet set spent their Sundays and summer evenings riding the surf,

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‘Blown to the winds ’ on occasions and suffering the odd topple only to climb back up again and continue on doggedly. The surfboard on the roof of the car in a hurry to Doon Shore was a common sight, a symbol of youth, a reflection of the good life, La Dolce Vita. The lake also turned into a playground for speed boats and jet-skis which abounded and tended to monopolise and ‘exceed their mandate’. A day of reckoning however crept upon them unexpectedly like a terminal illness. The noise and the never-ending cycle of mini-tsunamis they created all round was an unmitigated disaster for other water sports. The quiet inoffensive angler trolling along seeking the elusive trout was demoralised as the fish fled in terror from their traditional feeding grounds; there was no safe haven, no resting place. Other water lovers longing for a spell of peace and quiet saw this new flamboyant sport as overpowering, loud and brazen.
Signs appeared on lake shores roundabout screaming ‘Speedboats not welcome’; the writing was on the wall for the speed hogs and no excess of tears were shed. The sight of one today on Lough Key is about as rare as a Red Indian on the shores of Manhattan.
The swimming gala was another event to come on the scene in the 1970s; its forerunner was held at one time on the Boyle River at Assylinn. To relive that historic event one would have to go back to the 1940s to recall the enjoyment it created for so many families on a memorable Sunday in August every year.
A brief digression might be worthwhile? The event in those times didn’t involve competing against teams from other swimming clubs. This was pure untouched fun, a variety of races across the river and back for the different age groups, swim the width of the river underwater at its widest point, the length of time one could remain submerged under water, walk the greasy pole (without falling off) and finally a diving competition. The closing event was ‘the spectacular’, a one-off where a well-known character performed a high dive from the handlebars of a bicycle secured on a wooden scaffold fifteen feet above river. As part of this final act, the same character delivered an ‘Oscar-winning’ display of how to save a drowning person who had just suffered severe stomach cramp; the sound effects rising from the drowning victim in the throes of death was chilling as “The Mighty Mouse” brought him safely to shore. The crowd rose to their feet in a spontaneous gesture to give them both a standing ovation. The day and the event overall would be talked about for months afterwards. Over a generation later the revived gala being held at Doon Shore attracted swimming clubs from Galway, Tuam and Sligo, and smaller ones from Carrick-on-Shannon, Castlerea and Roscommon. Among the many events there was 3 the mile swim to Church Island which attracted top swimmers from around the province and which was the highlight of the afternoon. Trophies and medals were presented at the conclusion and teas, sandwiches and soft drinks were served free gratis. One of the most colourful events to burst on the scene around that time was the Shannon Boat Rally which culminated on Lough Key. Cruisers were dotted around the lake from Tinnerinagh to Rockingham to Doon Shore making the weekend one of camaraderie and music that ran into the daylight hours. Cocktail sausages, an innovation at the time, were passed around at a bonfire near the old harbour in Rockingham and the revellers washed them down with the newest ale on the market, aptly named ‘Time’. What a name for a bottle of ale! The connotations attached to it gave a new meaning and interpretation to that most precious of gifts, Time, and how we use it. Lough Key was about to come of age and was doing it in royal style. As an aside, this writer clearly remembers the first colour picture postcards of Lough Key to come on the market simply read ‘Co. Roscommon’, no mention of Boyle. A poor sales bet it would seem to suggest. Today Boyle is known the world over and The Celt is still to be found on its shores.


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Who remembers the Boatman of Lough Key?

The story of Doon Shore would be incomplete without mention of the boatman of Lough Key. Jim Flynn became as much a part of the Lough Key story as the sum of the islands that makes it up. A rickety old pier standing today was the man’s original halting site, a bus stop then without a customer. Like the old man of the sea Jimmy was weather-beaten, wore a Commodore’s cap complete with anchor badge and the corn cob pipe firmly held between his teeth; the man was the living image of Popeye the Sailor. Jimmy’s natural home was Flynn’s thatched cottage on Ballindoon Shore, a name synonymous with everything pertaining to mayfly fishing on Lough Arrow and indeed Irish traditional music. Flynn’s cottage was a kind of gateway to Lough Arrow and was known to seasoned anglers from all over, including a gentleman by the name of Jackie Charlton. Early on, Jim’s entrepreneurial eye saw the potential for boat trips on Lough Key which was just down the road from his own home. He decided to set up his stall at Doon and began by giving trips at sixpence a time which was reckoned good value, particularly when he dropped his young customers off on one of the islands and collected them later on a return journey. It gave the new kids on the block the opportunity to explore the island like a latter day Robinson Crusoe, light a fire perhaps and sit around like a band of boy scouts. People on holidays who had emigrated years before made their way to the Doon Shore for a jaunt down memory lane with Jimmy the ferryman. Castle and Church Island were popular stops on his itinerary and Rockingham itself was no longer the ‘Hi-Brasil’ to be viewed from a distance. The Shannon boat rally then arrived on the scene and put Lough Key permanently on the map. Rockingham was attracting holidaymakers in their hundreds and the focus began to switch gradually from the Doon Shore to Rockingham or the ‘Forest Park’. There was a top class restaurant and shop, a swimming area for kids, underground tunnels leading all the way to the grounds of the old mansion and a scout den with acres of open ground, all-in-all an adventure playground. Jimmy’s days as the ferryman were slowly grinding to a halt. His own little Celtic Tiger suffered a slow demise while a new monster was rising on the other side of the bay. He departed the stage quietly and unsung but he still remains a part of the history and folklore of Doon Shore. The annual swimming gala also died a painless death, swallowed up in the bigger scheme of things. The Forest Park had become the new jewel in the crown, known today nationally and internationally.

A trip to the Doon Shore in the 1950s

There was transport, and there were modes of transport to get to the Haven under the hill in the 1950s. Nature’s way was on foot or Shank’s mare. There was the bicycle, but how many young folk owned a bicycle back then? Then there was the donkey cart and driver together winding their way to town on a Friday, the pension day, and Saturday, the market day. Finally there was the car or van, in short supply on the Doon highway in those days. The shuttle service to the Forest Park today would be a concept for the future back then, although McKenna’s Volkswagen minibus was just beginning its long arduous journey across The Milky Way. The trip via donkey and cart was a revelation; a bag of hay in one corner, the week’s groceries in the other and the helmsman in the middle puffing on a bulldog pipe and sending smoke signals skywards that read like Bendigo Coil tobacco. The view of the world from this humble little cockpit was quite a thrill for a townie and was eagerly sought after; the small farmers from the townlands of Doon, Tintagh, Corrigeenroe or Corrnacartha were in heavy demand those days as we courted their favour. If we met Pat Joe Casey, the sweet merchant, driving cautiously along in his small van we dared stand in the middle of the road like a Garda on duty to hail him down. Pat ran a wholesale business of his own and was on the road six days a week calling to small shops in and around the area. A man of considerable height and girth he didn’t have a great deal of space to offer in the van or indeed of himself, but whatever he had he shared it out the best way he could like the Good Samaritan.
If our journey was on foot we called to Mrs Casey’s (Pat’s mother) small country shop at Tawnytaskin for lemonade and biscuits; a shilling went a long way then. Her brother Peter Gray was part of the landscape as he sat outside on his cushioned armchair (weather permitting) smoking a Peterson’s pipe with the bent shank. In the advertising world of the time, obsessed with the pleasures of smoking, Peter would have won an Oscar for his depiction of ‘The Thinking Man smokes a Peterson’s Pipe’. Miss Keenaghan, or Tess as she was known to all her neighbours, lived in a fairytale cottage just a stone’s throw from Mrs Casey’s shop. Sitting at the front gate of her cosy cottage in the shelter of two little trees interlocked above her head, she was the epitome of happiness notwithstanding her deteriorating eyesight. As always she was anxious to hear the latest news from town which she relished and took in very carefully; bush telegraph afforded her the undiluted facts without any embellishments.
Our one remaining hope for a lift rested with a coal merchant from the village of Ballyfarnon. Johnny Keaveney drove his small two-ton truck to Boyle twice a day loaded up with bags of coal for his customers. The man never failed to pull up irrespective of the gang he saw lined up ahead; another man might have been intimidated but not Johnny. He looked at us and paused for about thirty seconds; Dr. Einstein was doing his homework. How many angels could he fit on the head of a pin? As he dropped us at the foot of Doon Hill we were already looking ahead; will you be around again tomorrow Johnny?


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