Eugene Daly continues his series on various aspects of Irish folklore and customs
The ancient annals of Ireland were written down by monks from the beginning of the Christian period in the fifth century A.D. to the end of the 17th century, but they claimed to detail events going back to pre-historic times.
All the great monasteries had a scriptorium, a special room where the scribes made copies of the Bible stories as well as historical and social events. The annals started as a chronology of holy days but they also gave details of political events and other interesting events, including references to the weather.
The following are some weather phenomena recorded: A.D. 663. Darkness on the Calends (the first day of May), at the ninth hour and in the same summer the sky seemed to be on fire. A.D. 799: There happened great wind, thunder and lightning on the day before the festival of Patrick, so that one thousand and ten persons were killed in the territory of Corca Bhaiscinn (West Limerick).
AD 941: A great flood in this year – Mhic Nóis (Clonmacnoise) was swept away by the water (St. Ciarán the Younger had built here a very famous monastery; there are many high crosses and remains of churches still to be seen). A.D. 1328: Much thunder and lightning this year, whereby much of the fruit and produce of all Ireland was ruined and the corn grew up white.
A.D. 1329. The cornfields remained unreaped throughout Ireland until after Michelmas (29 September) because of the wet weather. A.D. 1339: The cattle and winter grass suffered much from frost and snow, which lasted until late spring. A.D. 1363: A great wind this year, which wrecked churches and houses and sank many ships and boats.
A.D. 1471: Showers of hail fell at Bealtaine (May Day), with lightning and thunder, destroying much blossom on fruits in all parts of Ireland. One of these showers, in the east, had stones two or three inches long, which made large wounds on the people they struck.
In the following entry, the scribe obviously used his imagination a lot. A.D. 739: The sea cast ashore a whale in Boirche in the province of Ulster. Everyone in the neighbourhood went to see the wonder. When it was slaughtered, three golden teeth were found in its head, each of which contained fifty ounces. A.D. 743: Ships with their crews were plainly seen in the sky this year.
The following are some other words pertaining to Irish weather. Deiseal: The ancient Irish had a custom of turning sun-wise (clockwise today), when performing rites and ceremonies. For example, pilgrims at a shrine or holy well always did the ‘rounds’ deiseal.
Dog Days: John Millington Synge opened his poem ‘Queens’, with the line ‘Seven dog days we let pass, naming Queens in Glenmacnass’. In ancient Rome ‘the dog days’ from late July to late August were traditionally the most sultry and stifling of the year.
The oppressive heat was blamed on the dog star Sirius, and the hot spell was believed to be a lurking evil, when the wine turned sour, dogs went mad and fever stalked the land.
Fahrenheit: Measuring the temperature of water from freezing point to boiling point was the system devised by Daniel Fahrenheit (1686-1736) and was the European standard until replaced by Celsius in the 20th century.
Celsius (or Centigrade) is now used, named for the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius (1702-1744) who proposed it. Centrigrade comes from the Latin term for ‘one hundred steps’ reflecting its 100 degree scale from 0 degrees (freezing) to 100 degrees (boiling).
Harvest Moon: the harvest moon is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox, 21st September, when we have equal light and equal darkness. The latest possible date for the harvest moon is the second week of October. In Irish it is Gealach na gcoinnlíní (the moon of the stubble). Tradition has it that farmers could work late into the evening bringing in their crops by the light of the harvest moon.
The first full moon following the Harvest Moon is the Hunter’s Moon which was said to provide the ideal light for hunting migrating birds (geese, duck etc) returning in great flocks from their summer Arctic breeding grounds.
Indian Summer: Imported from North America, this is now commonly used in Ireland to describe a last fling of unseasonably pleasant weather before the full onset of winter.
Often around Martinmas (St. Martin’s Day, November 11th) there is often a spell of fine weather, known as ‘Fómhar na nGéanna (The autumn of the Geese) because of the custom of eating goose on this day.
Julian calendar: In 45 B.C. Julius Caesar replaced the ancient Roman calendar with a new one of 365 days divided into 12 months with a February leap day added every four years.