Note: The article contains a few interspersed hyperlinks to newspaper articles, just click on the blue text to read these.
It’s incredible to think that the beautiful summer of 1995 was just over a quarter of a century ago! All my memories from that year seem much too recent. Was it long, absolutely, you had temperatures above 30C recorded in June and as late as Sunday 20th August. It’s longevity was on a par with 1976. Our most recent hot summer, 2018, had hot weather through June until mid July, and the rest of the summer was quite average in terms of warmth. It was a front loaded summer if you like. The summer of 2013 was very similar. That’s where recent summers fall down as opposed to a 1976 or 1995. August has been middling to poor most years since the excellent August of 2003.
The summer of 1995 began for me when I finished my second year college exams on the 8th June. After celebrating the year end that night, I walked home in weather that was dry but cool and would continue in that vein until around Sunday 18th June. That later date sticks out in my mind for two reasons, firstly in O’Moore Park, Portlaoise that day we all thought Laois footballers had scraped past Carlow in the championship after a late Mick Turley point. Later that evening on the Sunday Game it was shown that Turley’s shot had gone wide. Carlow were offered a rematch by the Laois County Board, as is their wont, as sporting Laois people!
The second event of note for me on that day took place in the Southern Hemisphere. England played New Zealand in the semi final of the Rugby World Cup. The old VCR was put on timer as this match clashed with the Laois game. My brother and I watched the match without knowing the result. News didn’t travel instantaneously then primarily because the vast majority of people didn’t have mobile phones, they were conspicuous on the few that had as they were the size of a brick! The Kiwi winger, Jonah Lomu, who had just turned 20, had been the most talked about player in the tournament since he ran through the Irish team in the opening group game. However the All Blacks were up against a seasoned grizzled English side that had just beaten Australia in their quarter final, the reigning champions. Lomu dazzled in an astonishing New Zealand team performance. He scored 4 tries, memorably running over England full back Mike Catt to score one of them. Sadly Lomu passed away, aged 40, in November 2015, after struggling with nephritic syndrome since he was 19. In my mind I will forever link him with the glorious summer of 1995.
The weather really began to heat up between 18th June and the 25th June, when the Laois v Carlow rematch was played. It was around 20C on the 18th and the temperatures rose by a degree or two each day until it was 30C by Sunday 25th. We had another trip to O’Moore Park in dazzling sunshine and stood on the terrace. The effect of the large crowd and sunshine heating up the cement terracing meant the temperature was probably in the mid 30s there in the ground. My mam wanted my dad, 69 at the time, to wear a sun hat as we left the car, he was having none of it, too hardy in his own mind for that. Before the game started he was using a match programme to shade himself from the sun! The match was a great spectacle, far better than the drawn game. At one stage early in the second half Carlow were 5 points up. Mick Lalor kicked a wonder point from right below us on the terrace sideline and Laois rallied and eventually won by 3 points. The week that followed until the end of June was one of the hottest on record in Ireland. The temperatures reached 31C and 32C locally for the next 5 days. I was spending my summer holidays from college at home on the family farm. Round bales of hay/straw had replaced square ones at this time but somehow we ended up having one field square baled. I remember pitching them (loading them on to a trailer with a pitchfork) that week. The heat outside was heavy going enough but when we were stacking them in a galvanised shed it was almost unbearable near the top.
Every summer has its songs, its own soundtrack. Now this is unique to us all, depending on our musical taste, but some songs are memorable for most of us. 1995 was very much a year when Indie music and Brit Pop were in vogue. The memorable Fr. Ted quote when the young rebellious priest, Fr. Damo, asks Fr. Dougal “Who do you prefer, Oasis or Blur?” is about as 1995 as you can get! Those two bands were pitted against each other in the music media that summer and a big deal made of Blur’s ‘Country House’ reaching number 1 ahead of Oasis’ ‘Roll With It’. Another big story in early August was Robbie Williams leaving Take That. Not much was expected of Robbie as a solo artist and Gary Barlow’s star was in the ascendency. Here’s a flavour of the chart songs on the radio that summer: Boom Boom Boom-The Outhere Brothers, Common People-Pulp, Scatman-Scatman John, Some Might Say-Oasis, This is a Call-Foo Fighters, Alright-Supergrass, Shy Guy-Diana King, Waterfalls-TLC, Never Forget-Take That and Girl From Mars-Ash.
July continued warm, if not as hot, with sunny weather for the most part early month. After their victory over Carlow, Laois faced Dublin in Navan in the Leinster Football semi final on a beautiful hazy Sunday, 9th July 1995. Laois held their own for the most part. A famous Jason Sherlock goal, when he lost his boot in the build up, set Dublin on their way. For many Dublin football supporters this was the summer of Jayo, he scored some crucial scores that summer, including an excellent goal against Cork in the All Ireland semi final. Jayo mania hit fever pitch in the capital. He was modelling clothes for Penneys and his image seemed to be on every bus shelter in Dublin for the next year. He wasn’t in the same league as the really outstanding footballer of 1995 (and indeed an all time great), Tyrone’s Peter Canavan, but he took the pressure off a Dublin team who had been failing at the semi final or all Ireland final stage since 1992. He had a confidence, charm and swagger and loved doing interviews, and contributed on the pitch. On that same day Laois lost in Navan a sporting fairytale began in Munster. On a parched sod in Thurles the Clare hurlers, under Ger Loughnane, bridged a 63 year gap and won their first Munster hurling title since 1932. Their exploits and emergence became a story of the summer, beating Galway in the all Ireland semi final and Offaly in the All Ireland final itself, their first all Ireland since 1914, a gap of 81 years. As Laois hurlers won their last and only all Ireland in 1915 a lot of us Laois supporters took this as a positive omen for the following year!
That July Sunday witnessed the start of another odyssey. This was a long journey which brought Laois minor football all Irelands in 1996 and 1997 and ultimately a Leinster senior title in 2003. Laois minors played Kildare in a Leinster semi final before the senior game v Dublin. With time almost up Laois were awarded a penalty to draw the match. Ian Fitzgerald, future Laois Leinster winning captain, stepped up and calmly stroked the ball the Kildare keeper. Laois played Westmeath in a novel Leinster Final pairing, again Laois needed Ian Fitzgerald to draw the match with a penalty in Croke Park. The replay in Tullamore on a hot August Saturday evening drew 15,000 people, unheard of for a minor match. The standard of football was very high throughout. Laois should have won this match but missed chances in normal and extra time. The match went to a 3rd game, a second replay, on the following Saturday evening in Tullamore and Laois lost by a few points. Westmeath went on to win the minor all Ireland which inspired the Laois players, who now knew they were good enough to do the same. Laois had about 9 starters from their 1995 minor team underage the following year and went on to win the 1996 all Ireland. Success breeds success and players like Ian Fitzgerald, Brian Beano McDonald, Chris Conway and players from the later minor all Ireland winning teams would be on the panel for the Senior team success in 2003. Ian Fitzgerald was the outstanding minor player nationally that year and he had the distinction of receiving the first sports scholarship for a GAA player in Trinity College Dublin. I was studying History in the college and went into the 3rd year of my degree in October 1995 as Ian begun his dentistry degree. I got to know him well through playing football with him on the college team.
Back home I was struggling with a football ankle injury for the early part of the summer. Hard dry ground can be hard on the limbs and I had rolled my ankle in May and repeated the dose in June. Late in the evening I would try and balance on a wobble board, a device designed to aid proprioception and help with the recovery of ligament injuries. I was right by mid July. On the farm at home we had drained some of our wetter land. Even this ground was bone dry in August and countrywide many farmers and gardeners were praying for rain. After the drains were put in and the fields ploughed, picking stones began. A task that is familiar to anyone with connections to farming! My brother, my dad and I picked from early in the morning until sun down, with breaks for meals and the days we trained football with our local club. When I look back I feel a bit worried at how naive we were, we spent that much time under the sun without once using sunscreen!! You always thought you were coming to the end of the stones but they just seemed to crop up overnight like mushrooms. They were of all shapes and sizes. The bigger ones had to be prised from the ground with crowbars, and we all wanted to better one another in what we could lift, including an ageing father who should have known better! We ended up using the stones for building a roadway through some wet land to allow us drive through during winter. A neighbour too trailer loads for foundations for a slatted shed he was building. Two of our farm wells ran dry and we made a weekly journey to a neighbour, Sydney Duckett, who had a small river running through his land, with a tanker to suck water out of it. Unfortunately as well as water we sucked up a lot of pinkeens and the two wells had fish in them for years! The problem with the fish in the wells was they constantly blocked water pipes. Sydney was an interesting man, he fought in WW2 in the Pacific with the British fleet. He had some horrific tales to tell, and unlike many veterans he wasn’t shy in telling them.
August was the best of the 3 summer months. At the old Kilkenny official Met Station its average night and day temperature was 18.9C. This was about 3.5C above average at that time. It probably would have topped 20C but for a few cool days at the end of the month. Up to that time the only month which came anyway close on the Kilkenny records was July 1983 at 18.2C. August 1995 is, to this day, the hottest month ever recorded in Ireland. From 1st August until Saturday 26th 25C was broken everyday bar 2 days. 30C was reached on 8/9 of these days somewhere in Ireland. The harvest was of really good quality and surprisingly plentiful, some rain in mid July had helped, despite the countryside in general looking burnt and parched. As is often the case with heatwaves and long dry spells gorse fires broke out in parts of the country, the Dublin and Wicklow mountains being badly affected. I think I can’t sum up August 1995 weather conditions any better than the front page of Met Eireann’s monthly weather bulletin about the month below. Or the above image showing reservoir levels in Roundwood, Wicklow that month. It was a truly memorable, possibly once in a lifetime, summer. For me, along with the remarkable weather, it brings so many personal and sporting memories. Hopefully we’ll see its equal.