Inchmore island, surrounded by the frozen Lough Ree.

Air Corps comes to Athlone to deliver fodder to Lough Ree islands

The Air Corps was deployed to Athlone last weekend to deliver fodder to the islands on Lough Ree in an operation that saw the Defence Forces, the Gardai and the local community of Muckinagh join together at the weekend to ensure the cattle on the islands were fed. The only man who now lives on the islands on Lough Ree, John Connell, who will be 75 in June and lives on Inchbofin, became concerned about his cattle on Saturday as they had no fodder. His nephew Michael Connell told the Westmeath Independent this week: "I rang John on Saturday morning and his cattle had no fodder, they hadn't got any since Thursday and he was very worried." He explained that John had plenty of supplies for himself, but not for the cattle, and added that since the fodder, which will last for the next week was delivered, he was a different man. They then contacted the Gardai and the Army and the Garda Water Unit first went out to visit John to see if he needed anything himself and to try and get him to come back to the mainland, but he refused to leave the island. Michael said: "John is the only man living on the islands on Lough Ree. He built a house in 1986 on the mainland, but he wouldn't settle. On Wednesday we had to break the ice to get him back out to the island, he wouldn't stay in my house even for a couple of nights, he wanted to get back to check the cattle. The guards walked out with a small dinghy on Saturday and did their best to get him off the island, but he wouldn't move. All he wanted was the hay." The lake last froze in 1963 and Michael said his father was living on the island at the time and it was the year his parents got married and they used to walk across the lake when it was frozen, a spell which lasted for 13 weeks at the time. The Air Corps, with the help of soldiers from Custume Barracks in Athlone, local garda Stephen Connolly and members of the local community, delivered fodder not only to John Connell on Inchbofin, but also to the other islands on the Lough Ree where cattle were kept - Inchturk, Inchmore and Quaker Island. Michael Connell was full of praise for the Gardai and the Army, saying: "The army and our local guard Stephen Connolly did a powerful job. The soldiers were powerful, they did as much as they could, they were real gentlemen. I'd like to thank the guards and the army, they were very good and I have to say, money well spent." Michael also commended the local community, saying the amount of people who came out to help was great. Athlone Garda Sergeant John Lawless said gardai locally had been trying to identify people locally who may be vulnerable and need help during the current cold spell. He said the Garda Water Unit then travelled to Inchbofin to John Connell on Saturday and after ascertaining that Mr Connell was okay, but needed fodder, the gardai called in the Defence Forces. Comdt Rory McCorley of the 4th Western Brigade said the army had received the request on Saturday afternoon and on Saturday evening the Air Corps got the all clear, but at that stage it wouldn't have been possible to complete the flights so it didn't take place until the next day. The Air Corps helicopter arrived at Muckinagh on Sunday just before 11am and transferred fodder from Muckinagh out to Inchbofin on Lough Ree, before delivering the fodder to the other three islands. A total of 21 flights were needed to transfer the fodder and at one stage the helicopter had to go to Galway to refuel. The operation didn't finish until 4pm. Comdt McCorley said there was a great feeling of the community getting together to help out. He said there were concerns that the cattle and sheep might starve if the fodder wasn't delivered, but also there were concerns that they might wander out onto the ice in search of food and fall through the ice into the lake.