The Ice Fever – 1895

Mid-Ulster Mail – Saturday 23 February 1895

The Ice Fever

Skating on Lough Neagh

Among the diseases which afflict humanity must be classed the ice fever, which as become epidemic this year. It attacks without distinction of age or sex and, unlike the measles, it is particularly malignant in the case of elderly skaters with at least a quarter of a century’s experience. It is noticed that some year it never makes its appearance (and last year was such a season) but this year it is fearfully prevalent.

It is apparently a long time since skating began this year, but there are no signs that its devotees are satiated and doubtless, if the thaw came not till Midsummer, the sharp clank of the steel would still be heard over the land.

In Cookstown skaters have been particularly fortunate in having a practising ground (or surface rather) at Mrs Stanton’s, where they may grow proficient. The consequence is seen in the particularly graceful manner in which the Cookstown people skate, distancing all others. If this statement should be questioned, the unbeliever has only to ask any of the Cookstown skaters and he will learn its truthfulness.

Last week we tried to describe the formation of the new skating rink, but the proposed plan did not hold water. However, in attempting to flood the field it was found the committee had set their affections on the wrong side of the burn and that nature intended that field to be dry while the neighbour was submerged. Ice after a sort has formed on the other field and youthful skaters have enjoyed themselves, varying the monotony with an occasional dip below.

But what care the skaters for flooded fields or ponds when the largest stretch of ice in the British Isles is available? Men who a few short days ago would have been content with what ice would cover the grazing of a goat, whereon they might pirouette to the satisfying of their soul, now are content with nothing less than solid leagues of a straight run.

The lough is frozen all over, except at the entrances and exits of the rivers, with perfectly smooth black ice. At Antrim the Belfast people deport themselves and have a refreshment tent on the ice, while round the Armagh coast thousands of skaters enjoy themselves. Cookstown, not to be behind, has been daily represented at Toome, where the B & NCR express stops daily, and has been largely patronised, while others, with more time to spare, travel by earlier trains returning at 7.30pm. All the other towns and villages are well-represented and the ice has presented a gay appearance.

The natives, fishermen frozen out of work, congregate in strength and vary the proceedings with very flat races – peculiar, like the pollan and petrification, to Lough Neagh. Standing in their boots, which are of course well-covered with nails, they propel themselves forward by means of pointed sticks in somewhat the same way and with as much skill as Venetian gondoliers. Quite a large field, including grey-headed grandfathers with patriarchal beards, will enter for a two-shilling prize subscribed by the visitors.

On Wednesday there was probably the largest attendance of the season. A casual visitor might have imagined there was a Presbyterian ordination in the neighbourhood from the number of ministers at one spot, while at another there were all the ingredients for a coroner’s inquest, not excluding the ever-necessary doctors.

What the crowd would have been like on Thursday it is impossible to say, had not the thaw set in. The railway company arranged to give extra facilities by running a special late train from Toome at half past nine, and it was known that the ice would be illuminated. Doubtless, one of the largest excursions would have been the result but that the muddy streets, the spongy paths and, still more, the bursting water pipes, eloquently urged caution. True, a telegram from Mr Grant, the enterprising proprietor of the O’Neill Arms Hotel, announced the ice was in good order, but it had a circumscribed publication. The numbers who went down, however, was equal to the average, and they found that the thaw had little effect on the black ice.

Round the coast at Toome there was, for about 200 yards, a tract of the old ice covered with snow, which was in a very decided state of thaw and covered with water. Beyond this were to be seen broken sheets of the same white ice, which looked a little dangerous until one ascertained that, instead of floating in the water, they were firmly joined together with the black ice. Beyond this were miles of the smoothest ice, extending all along the coast and far out, though in the distance could be seen the waves on the water feeding the Bann. At the near side hockey was vigorously engaged in by large teams, and proved the only dangerous thing about the ice.

Figure skating was almost entirely eschewed, nothing outside hockey being aimed at but the covering of as long a distance as possible. Some skaters went round as far as Antrim, or nearly, which of course is the same thing. Others found a difficulty in getting past a certain well-noticed house (which was isolated from the land, so to speak) where poteen, free from adulteration or duty, or any such thing could be found. Judging from the large number of skaters, both ladies and gentlemen, who were prepared to vouch for this fact, a new “run” will be necessary if the frost does not soon leave.

Getting back to the base of operations, it is found that the lamps have been lit and the illuminations are going on. The lamps, which bore the inscription “TOOME” in front, were placed on airy-looking wooden structures built for the occasion. On the shore a bonfire, fed by paraffin, was lit, and the natives, evidently thinking that their bodies would act as lenses in diffusing the light, collected round it to keep warm or something.

Just about the time of nightfall a desire to satisfy the inner man, or woman as the case was, fell on those assembled, and an adjournment was made to the hotel. A few early birds got the 7.30pm train; some who could would not; and others who would, could not. After tea, the only persons who retraced their steps along the muddy banks of the Bann (at the risk of breaking their necks in the dark by tripping over the iron hawser, which secured the gallant steamship-dredger Primrose with her attendant flotilla to a thorn bush) found that the illuminations were over. The lighthouses had been gathered together and dismantled previous to being carried to shore. This operation was stopped, good naturedly enough, but, there being no chairs to allow of the skated being easily put on, and the ice being wet at the place, the attempt to renew the skating was abandoned.

Meantime “there was the sound of revelry by night” at the hotel, where fair women and brave men were treading the dreamy waltz, the lively polka, and the mixed quadrille, under the management of quite a number of masters of ceremonies. This, varied by the vocal rendering of some classic music including Ju Jah, Killaloe, Knock ‘em in the Old Kent Road, and The Alabama Coon, passed the time till half past nine, when the quick passenger train carried out its freight, amidst the cheers of the citizens of Toome, and reached Cookstown a few minutes after ten o’clock.

Mid-Ulster Mail – Saturday 23 February 1895

Skating Party on Lough Neagh

A fashionable skating party and gala day was given on Lough Neagh on Thursday last at Coney Island and Maghery. A large party, including Lady Avonmore, Miss Evans, Dungannon; Captain Phillipson JP, Moy; Miss Wybrants, Moy; Dr Tate, Moy; Mr Evans, Toronto; Miss McKenzie, Toronto; Rev R Mitchell, Moy; the Misses Adams, Coalisland; Mr and Miss Travers, Grange, arrived in Maghery about twelve o’clock, when skating commenced, the mile from Maghery to Coney Island being traversed several times, and numbers of the party went out for four or five miles in the direction of the Bann. The ice was in first-class order and fine sport was afforded. When the party returned to Maghery a hearty tea was partaken of, and the party then separated after an enjoyable day.


Those who were skating on Lough Neagh on 18th inst. Had the pleasure of witnessing Mr Robert Mulholland, merchant of Crumlin, crossing the lough to Ram’s Island with his grey horse and sleigh. This, as everyone is aware, is a very rare occurrence, and afforded the numerous skaters and spectators considerable amusement, while some expressed their doubt of Mr Mulholland successfully accomplishing his purpose. But, as the ice is about eight inches thick, there was little to be feared and the gentleman returned in safety.

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