John Arnold: I told a friend we could do with some rain... who’s sorry now?!

For a small little country, we have massive variations in our weather patterns - but sure where would we be without it? So says John Arnold in his weekly column
John Arnold: I told a friend we could do with some rain... who’s sorry now?!

John Arnold scaled Corrin Hill in Fermoy last week and said: “Often it’s bathed in fog or mist, but we were lucky that evening.”

ABOUT three weeks ago, I got the desire to travel, just for a few days — a mini-break would be grand, I felt. After all, the last time I was out of the house was nearly two years ago.

So I said to herself ‘Wouldn’t it be grand to get away for a few days, you know, for a little change?’ Wisdom personified, she told me to stop day and night dreaming and concentrate on farming!

Well, they say you should be careful what you wish for — sure, the very next night I was in a bed in the Mercy Hospital in Cork! A bout of my old ailment, diverticulitis, granted my wish for a ‘mini-break’ — I’d said two or three nights would be a grand little holiday, and that’s what I got!

In fairness, the Mercy was as good as any hotel but ‘twasn’t exactly what I had in mind!

Similarly, about a fortnight back we had a very cold snap with frost most nights and a biting northerly wind. From a farming point of view it was a hard spell. Though the cows were out by day and night, there was precious little grass growing ’cause the soil was too cold and dried out from the wind.

On the phone to a retired non-farming friend, I declared we could do with a few days’ rain. 

Lads, he nearly exploded, declaring that us farmers are never satisfied when it came to the weather! I pointed out I was only praying for rain in about six fields!

Well, he texted me today, saying: ‘Your prayers were answered — I hope ye’ve enough rain now!’

“Rain in May fills the haggard with corn and hay. A wet May and a windy June makes the farmer whistle a merry tune.”

Thus wrote Lily Thompson, from Portlaw in Waterford, back in 1938 whilst attending Clonegam National School. Of course, there’s a good modicum of truth in that nugget of weather lore. I suppose long ago, before the art of weather forecasting became a science as it is today, people had to look, listen and observe the messages given by nature and by animals. The old people were great at ‘reading the signs’ and it wasn’t just farming and rural-dwellers who studied the portents of what was to come.

Corrin Hill rises majestically near the town of Fermoy, and people standing in the town can glance up at Corrin and forecast if rain is coming or not. Whatever it is about Corrin, it ‘divides’ weather systems because often you’d leave the town in torrential rain, pass Corrin, and the sun could be bating the stones a mile out the road.

Like a man I knew long ago. Himself and his brother were travelling from Ballyduff to Fermoy on a horse-drawn back to back trap. Someone asked him what was the weather like ‘down along the Blackwater’. ‘Wisha’, he replied, very broken and quare and mixed, shure I was sitting on the right hand seat coming up and the sun was shining at that side of the road but me brother was at the other side and he got downed entirely’!

Truly, for a small little country, we have massive variations in our weather patterns. Where would we be without it? 

If we lived in a place like Spain or Australia or Canada, sure you’d be very bored because in places like that there’s little or no ‘localised’ weather — same all over the country for most of the year.

In the absence of most sports in the country last year, and when we got fed up talking about Covid, the weather was a great conversation starter. ‘Hardy morning’, ‘There’s no flies in it today’, ‘I’m sweatin’ like a pig’, ‘Twill make a scorcher’ and ‘There’s a show of rain in them there clouds’ — when you meet a stranger in the street, boreen or roadside, a comment on the weather will always break the ice — if you know what I mean, even on a baking hot day

When I was growing up I never heard of ‘The Bartlemy Thrasher’ until a girl from deep down in East Cork came to dwell in these parts, a cliamhain isteach — she married in and married well too. She told us all about this particular kind of a wind. During the month of September in the Garryvoe, Ladysbridge and Shanagarry and surrounding areas, a gushing wind from ‘the North’ was always referred to as the Bartlemy Thrasher.

September was traditionally the month when the two great Horse Fairs were held in Bartlemy — dating back to the 1600s. As men in the fields of East Cork were doing harvest work, this big wind came from the very general Bartlemy direction, thus giving the phenomenon its name.

Likewise the meaning given to the sí gaoithe (fairy wind) — in very warm, sultry days in July and August, a mini whirlwind was often observed. I recall myself back in the ’70s seeing a small cock of hay taken up by this wind, over a ditch and dropped in another field. It happened with a big swoosh, a bit frightening, but the older people just blessed themselves and worked away at the hay.

People working in fields in the Mount Uniacke / Dungourney area also often observed the sí gaoithe and believed it was the movement of souls from Dangan cemetery to Ardagh and Killeagh burial grounds. They just considered it part and parcel of life, death and the after-life, as natural as could be.

Yes, weather lore is deeply entwined with our culture and beliefs. 

Here in our parish this week — the first week of the public going to Mass again after the lockdown — we had three days with Rogation Mass each evening. An age-old tradition, it comes from the Latin verb rogare, meaning ‘to ask’, which signals the asking of God for the appeasement of his anger and for protection for crops and animals and fine weather for agricultural pursuits.

When the wind is in the east, ’tis neither good for man or beast... no truer words were ever written or spoken — sure, we all know that a biting Easterly wind would cut through you.

The wind from the East certainly dried out the fields in the month of April, but ne’er a blade of grass will shove up its head while the Easterly prevails. Fishermen say that ‘When the wind is in the north, the skilful fisher goes not forth’ but ‘when the wind is in the west, it’s at it’s very best’.

I suppose with modern metrological instruments and weather satellite stations all over space, reliance on the ‘old signs’ has declined a bit, but they are still as true today as when uttered and observed by our wise ancestors centuries ago.

Just last week, of a beautiful, crisp and sunny evening, a small group of us climbed Corrin Hill doing the Stations of The Cross. To gaze into Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford from the summit is stunning. Often it’s bathed in fog or mist but we were lucky that evening.

They say an ancient chieftain was told by a wise fortune-teller that his young son might die by drowning. In order to avoid this possibility, the chieftain built a stone fortress on the top of Corrin — far, far away from any river or lake.

The story goes that builders working for the chieftain had a big vat of water for mixing mortar and sadly the king’s son drowned in this vessel.

I know it’s only a legend, but believe you me, there’s a lot of truth in them old legends and sayings about the weather and about history.

And only in dreams can I gaze on dark Corrin

Which frowns tall and green with the town at its feet

How oft have I rambled far up to its summits

And gathered green shamrock from wild meadows sweet.

Oh! memory your chain binds my heart to old Erin

With links time or absence can never destroy

It comforts and brightens my life’s dreary pathway

And oh! take me back to my home in Fermoy.

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