The Weir

I was taken by surprise when I took a detour to have a look at the weir of my childhood – a feature
of my 7 or 8-year-old summer. The weir of my memory had high riverbanks that needed a dangle by
the arms and drop from the bank to get to the concrete, landing with a thud in summer canvas
runners. It is tiny, inconsequent, you would hardly notice it unless you went looking. How on earth
did I manage my first consecutive swimming strokes here?
I was a child who always had a wander lust – always pushing the boundaries of – not going beyond
the gap in the hedge, but sneaking out to follow the older brothers, at a distance, until they would
spot me and shout ‘go home go home– you can’t come with us – you can’t keep up, Daadeee she is
following us again. Then I would hear my father’s footsteps coming behind and he would scoop me
up laughing as I roared and screamed blue murder.
That summer Mal my younger brother, following our older brothers, discovered the weir. We would
pack two Calvita cheese sandwiches and a bottle of cold milky tea, our togs rolled up in spit thin
towels and head off. There was a concrete wall running across the river and downstream from the
wall the older lads had built a dam creating a pool for swimming. We played around in front of the
wall. To the rear of which – on the pool side were eels. I clearly remember standing on the wall with
the water lapping over my feet and seeing, to my horror, a monster eel heading through the pool
towards where I was standing.
I fell/plunged/bellyflopped into the water and in my desperation to get away I swam – I swam – I
swam. Probably three consecutive stokes but I DID IT. I remember the thrill, probably heightened by
the adrenaline rush of fear, at the sight of the eel. I was standing swigging cold tea and crowing,
crowing, crowing.
Fast forward more that 40 years and I am standing remembering this child, this wild unruly thing
who could get beyond excited by small achievements and never minding how inelegant the process.
A few short months before I made this detour to the weir, I had been standing in my wetsuit on the
bank opposite Urquhart castle on Lough Ness. The boatsman took great enjoyment in calling out at
intervals “Irish you are doomed.” A piper onboard was adding atmosphere by playing a rousing
Scottish chorus. I add here that even if he played the theme from Jaws, I could not have been more
nervous. I had a lot to prove and aside from the possible monster, now, I could not let the Irish
down. Being the slowest, I was first off with my swimming buddy who had recently learnt to swim.
The water was brown and murky and gave no assistance – no buoyancy and no current, but at least
it was calm. As we moved towards the centre of the lake the main body of swimmers passed us and
we were trailing and getting tired. Eventually in the slowest time recorded for anyone swimming
across Lough Ness I landed on the beach crowing ‘I did it, I did it, I did it,’ however inelegantly – I did
To finish up, we headed for the local pub where no one believed a word of the story. It was only with
the arrival of the boatman that the event was reluctantly verified.