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The Wind;
In primary (grade) school I learned this little poem about the four winds …in Irish, or ‘as gaeilge’ as we say here in Ireland. The Irish or Gaelic it is written in, is lovely, rich and rhyming, in a kind of way. There’s a wonderful cadence to it and a predictable pattern, akin I suppose to the continuum of waves towards a shore, or a field of ripening barley rippling back and forth as the wind blows across it.

An Ghaoth
An ghaoth andeas bíonn sí tais
agus cuireann sí iasg i líonta.
An ghaoth aniar bíonn sí fial
agus cuireann sí rath ar shíolta,
An ghaoth anoir bíonn sí tirim
agus cuireann sí brat ar chaoirigh,
An ghaoth adtuaidh bíonn sí fuar
agus cuireann sí fuacht ar dhaoine.

I remembered learning the poem by rote as we did all stuff in school back then. Despite the teachers best intentions and menacing ministrations, I forgot the poem and only recently came across it again. Such ‘learning by rote’ at the business end of a ruler or strap, didn’t engender any love in me for the poem, or for the language and frankly, it’s meaning was beyond me, kind of, given that I was a townie, being taught in a country school, and the wind, if it ever bothered me was one that blew in a howling gale around the high gable of our shop-cum-home in the middle of Main Street, Loughrea, far from the sea and the open prairies of oats out the country.

A high wind in the town sometimes meant a few slates flying off the impossibly high three storey roof, giving my dad real headaches on how to replace the blue Bangor slates that weighed several pounds each and measured a half square metre or more. Or the unruly wind from a certain direction, dodging between the towns gables and tall chimneys meant a down-draught that prevented the fire from being lit, or smoked out the sitting room and kitchen where we always had a fire going for heat, there being no central heating in our house, or in any house for that matter, back in the sixties.

While my country school-pals were fluent in weather and weather signs, we in the town were fairly clueless. We were cosseted away from nature back then, though to be fair, not as cosseted as our children are these days. They have no idea at all how to read the signs that mother nature signals to us every day. Low flying crows, high flying swallows, far-inland seagulls and grass-feeding starlings all meant something to the farmer, the sailor or the fisherman, but mean naught to most of us these days. We live by our hourly radio weather forecasts and the luridly coloured weather apps on our phones.

In general, without these modern aids, we would be blissfully unaware of impending storms or the promise of fine weather. Not for us the tapping on the glass of the hallway barometer to confirm the appropriateness, or otherwise of our fashionable clothing choices.

My father’s and my grand-father’s last act before going out the door was to set the dial on the barometer, matching the static needle to the barometric pointer, and then tap the glass sharply with one finger-nail. If the barometric arrow, or needle in the barometer moved, you read the words on the dial next to the direction the needle moved.

Those words on the home barometer read read, clockwise, left to right: Stormy, Rain, Change, Fair and Very Dry.

That was it, they were simple, uncomplicated, easy to understand descriptions of impending weather events. We didn’t have terms for a ‘mixed bag’ or ‘scattered showers’, or ‘wind-chill’. No, back in the day, you got fair warning, maybe 24 hours notice, to pull the boat further up the beach, or take in the washing, or to head for the bog to turn the turf. Times, and weather-forecasting were both fairly simple and uncomplicated back then. There were no tightly packed isobars or Doppler Radar to confuse and amuse the amateur weather forecasters back then.

Everyone had their own way to forecast the weather. Some had a feeling in their bones. More had a look at the clarity of the distant hills, or the corona on the moon or sun, whether the rainbow was in the north, or in the west, the colours of the dawn and the twilight skies. Others relied on birds and animal behaviour, dogs, chickens, cats, all got a chance to chime in on the weather.

In my house it was the mercury. Dad talked always in terms of the falling mercury, or the rising mercury. In fact, mercurial was the term my father used a lot when sudden change came in the weather, in politics, or in his or someone else’s mood. And my dad was a primary school teacher, taught me, and believe me, while I couldn’t predict the weather, I was that boy that Oliver Goldsmith wrote about in Sweet Auburn, when describing the village schoolmaster,
“the boding tremblers learn’d to trace,
The days disasters in his morning face,”

Speaking of Primary School teachers, here’s a treat for you. If you go to the Duchas website and then go to the tab, ‘Collections’ and then, ‘Schools Collection’, the browser will open up a treasure trove of Irish lore that was collected by Primary School teachers from all over Ireland in 1937 and 1938. They collected copy books full of interviews that were conducted with only rudimentary supervision and then they sent the end result off to a warehouse in University College Dublin where until recently, they lay, undisturbed and forgotten.

To create the collection, school children around the country were asked to go to the oldest person in their village or family and ask them various questions about what they remembered learning or hearing or doing in their lives. Consequently Ireland has a unique and invaluable first-hand record of the lives and stories of a couple of generations that in places go back to the Famine period in Ireland. Each school’s collection is searchable online. You may find your parents or grand-parents or great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents were involved as interviewers, or interviewees.

Many of the stories these children collected are now being translated, (some were in Irish or Gaelic) and transcribed ,(all were hand-written by children, with the expected variations in hand-writing styles and abilities). The results are astonishing dn delightful and most are available online now and are free to browse.

Many of the children asked similar questions, no doubt prompted by the suggested template the Department of Education gave the teachers. Many of the children asked their older interviewees for local folklore and for local sayings. The results are fascinating and if nothing else, they prove one thing for sure. The Irish have always been fascinated with the weather. They had a saying or a poem or a wise word for most weather types and occurrences and signs.

In fact, page 1 of the Folklore Collection from the Schools Collection is from a tiny primary school Cill Éinne on the Aran Islands and the first pages in their interviews are about how to forecast good weather and rain. (you can click on Cill Einne above and the link will bring you straight to the page. Use the arrow key to go page by page, or the search function to find your or your parents’ or grand-parents’ primary school.

The Irish on the Cill Einne page is gorgeous and is easy to understand.
Here’s a sample, about good, wet and bad weather signs.

“Seo iad cuid dé na comhartaí atá ag muinntir Árainn i dtaobh na h-aimsire.
Aimsear Breág
Bíonn torann mór ag an bhfairrge. Nuair a bions dath nádúrach ar an bfairrge Tagann an rón ingar dón talamh Bíonn an t-iasg ag éirge aníos as an bfairrge. Bíonn an liabhán ingar don talamh. Tagann na faoilleain isteach ar an talamh. Bíonn an talamh o dheas agus o tuaidh i bhfad amach.
Téigheann na géada fiadhain o dheas. Bíonn torann mór ag an bfairrge ag bualadh in aghaidh Túr-Máirtín. Bíonn dath dearg ar an ngréin. Nuair a bhíos an gaoth dtuighe án bíonn na réalta i bfad ón ngealach. An bhfairrge a béith chiúin. Bíonn na mucha mara ag eirghe ar bárr na fairrge. An t-aer a béith glan. Dath dearg a béith ar an spéir. Gaoth adthuiadh a béith ann.

Dath gorm a beith ar an bhfarrige. An rón a dul i bfad amach ins an bfairrge. An traigh a bhéith bog. An talamh ó thuaid a béith ingar. Bíonn solas mór ar Ceann Bóirne. Bíon cuileóga ag imteacht ins an aer. Taoille mhór a bhéith ann. Easgain a bhéith i bhfior-uisge. Súgha a bhéith ag tuitim. Gaoth andheas a bhéith ann. Rud a bheith timcheall ar an gealach.

Droch Aimsear
Na faoilleáin a bhéith ar an bfairrge. an fairrge a bhéith garbh. An t-iasg a bhéith ag imteacht amach ins an bhfairrge. Na faoilleáin a bhéith ag teacht aníos ag piocadh ar bféar. Na muca mara a dul amach i bhfad ins an bhfairrge. Na réalta a bhéith ingar dé’m ghealach, Bíonn an t-éar dórcha”.

(I can translate this for you or you can simply go to google translate… but the ghist of it is that the older people told the younger school-children that the signs for good weather, bad weather and rain were to be seen in the behaviour of dolphins, seals, seagulls and fish, as well as the appearance of the sun, moon, stars and the waves and colour of the sea).

Back to my poem about the wind. These little poems, adages or pithy sayings were mnemonics, to help people who had no barometers, or indeed much formal education, to remember important stuff, in this case how to predict the weather.

So, with that in mind, and recognising how lovely and poetic the Irish version is, I have tried to make the english translation a little more pretty and less mechanised translation.
So here goes…first a rough translation.

An ghaoth andeas bíonn sí tais agus cuireann sí iasg i líonta.
The southerly wind is moist/humid and puts fish into nets.
An ghaoth aniar bíonn sí fial agus cuireann sí rath ar shíolta,
The westerly wind is generous and develops seeds,
An ghaoth anoir bíonn sí tirim agus cuireann sí brat ar chaoirigh,
The easterly wind is dry and grows wool on sheep,
An ghaoth adtuaidh bíonn sí fuar agus cuireann sí fuacht ar dhaoine.
The northerly wind is cold and really chills people.

And so, here is my mnemonic verse
The Wind

The wind from the South is a warming wind
and fills the nets with fishes.
The wind from the West is welcoming and kind
and blesses the planting.
The wind from the East is a drying wind
and thickens the sheeps’ fleece.
The wind from the North is bitter, unkind
and leaves the people wanting.

And the original Irish/Gaelic
An Ghaoth
An ghaoth andeas bíonn sí tais
agus cuireann sí iasg i líonta.
An ghaoth aniar bíonn sí fial
agus cuireann sí rath ar shíolta,
An ghaoth anoir bíonn sí tirim
agus cuireann sí brat ar chaoirigh,
An ghaoth adtuaidh bíonn sí fuar
agus cuireann sí fuacht ar dhaoine.

I hope you like it. Thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment and/or share.

Brian Nolan

Copyright Brian Nolan 12/02/2019

Galway Walks [email protected] phone 0863273560 @galwaywalks Walking Tours of Galway

#Folklore #Irish # Ireland #Duchas #Weather #Wind #Primaryschool#Gradeschool #Aran #Inishmore #Islands