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Storm, snow, surf

March brings both the promise of summer and sharp reminders of winter. Icy cold north westerlies, not unexpected here in mid-March, brought snow to the mountain tops ahead of Storm Gareth. And so an unusually mild winter gave way to three days of mad March weather.

Nephin, Ireland’s highest standalone mountain, is often a giant barometer of our unpredictable West of Ireland weather. In winter, it can wear a beautiful snow cap and the next day its white veil will have melted into paintbrush smears with the slightest rise in overnight temperature.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A distant Nephin snow-capped looked majestic. Stretching out before a sumptuous vista of bogland, blanketed in a golden carpet of yellows and browns decorated with bare trees, red twig dogwood and clumps of bronzed heather.

Snow-capped Nephin from near Ballina. Photo: Anthony Hickey

A scene crowned in a painter’s blue sky with fluffy featherbeds of mellow Cumulus clouds towering and skimming over the snowy peaks of the hazy Nephin range.

Monday, March 11

Monday morning, the waters of Killala Bay were heaving and pulsating under a big sea swell roused by the oncoming Storm Gareth.

For the thrill-seeking surfers, it was ecstasy to show off their skills riding 12-foot waves.

A surfer moving through the waves at Enniscrone. Photo: Anthony Hickey
A surfer moving through the waves at Enniscrone. Photo: Anthony Hickey

It was one of those fairytale surf days in Enniscrone. Walls of water regularly break into almost perfect surfing waves.

Surfers crouched on their boards rising and dropping over the crests. Waiting for the perfect break before taking off from the peak and gliding up and down walls of arching and folding waves, perfectly balanced in a race to keep ahead of the thunderous breaking surf.

For the surfers, the stiff off-shore southerly blowing a snowstorm of spray off the wave crests was not ideal. But from my standpoint, it looked magnificent, the misty breakers in harmony with distant Nephin’s grey cone now almost bare of snow except for a threadbare veil of white.

Tuesday, March 12

An indoors day as Storm Gareth arrived midday Tuesday raging and gusting, unleashing the worst of its venom along the coast where swells drove waves over harbours and piers all along Mayo shores.

A snowstorm of spray from the waves at Enniscrone looking towards Nephin. Photo: Anthony Hickey

Wednesday, March 13

Checking out the aftermath of Storm Gareth took me to Downpatrick Head and Dun Briste. A wild and wonderful scene of white-topped waves galloping ahead of a stiff northwesterly in a rollercoaster sea of foaming, frothy surf. Big rolling waves bashed into Downpatrick Head, enveloping the slatey cliff edge in pure white clouds of mist.

A snowstorm of spray from the waves at Enniscrone looking towards Nephin. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Storm Gareth crashing waves over Downpatrick Head. Photo: Anthony Hickey

As bursts of sunlight cut through the gaps in the racing cumulus clouds, illuminating the white crests of the churning waves, newborn lambs sought shelter under twisty briers and thorny hedges in the refuge of a high ditch. Near the shore, the flocks of gulls huddled together in the shadow of an overhanging cliff for respite from nature’s commotion.

Another awe-inspiring sight – such natural wonders on our doorstep.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.