Ireland’s weather is wildly unpredictable, and always has been. But there many signs from nature that can give us clues about the coming weather, says the now-famous Donegal postman, Michael Gallagher.
A region’s weather may change greatly from day to day. People have tried to predict the weather for thousands of years. A correct prediction was of paramount importance to sailors and soldiers, airmen and fishermen, travellers and farmers.
In the past, people in rural Ireland, who depended so much on the weather for sowing, reaping and harvesting of crops had a fairly reliable system of their own to predict the weather. They understood that all life on earth depended on the sun. So they looked to the sun and planets, wind and water, birds and beasts for guidelines. The heavenly bodies were studied very carefully by our forefathers for any changes in the weather.
During the past 40 years, I have been a postman in the Cloghan area. On my rounds have had the privilege of becoming well acquainted with the people from the townland on both sides of Reelin river, around Cloghan, Commeen, Ballykerrigan, Letterhillue and the neighbouring parish of Inskeel.
Generations of people from this area have passed information down, despite persecution, hardship and poverty. They enabled me to compile information on traditional methods of foretelling the weather. The present generation have a duty to keep this information safe for future generations.
So why do the Irish talk about the weather so much? In bygone days people always wanted to talk about the weather, because in those distant days, there were no radios, papers or TVs or technology. The people in the mountains, such as Bluestack Mountains where I have delivered the post for many many years, especially the old people, love to share their stories about their survival and the weather. The first thing in the morning people in rural parts of Ireland would talk about is the weather. This is because the weather was part of their daily activities, such as farming, fishing and also sports.
Of course farmers needed a weather outlook the most of all. If they got a bad winter and spring they risked a bad crop and their survival depended on it. But not only theirs. If the farmers failed, people of Ireland would have to spend more on imports to survive. So it was important that rural people had a system of reading the coming weather.
As I travel through these mountains now, passing old ruins and wall steads it gives me lots of sadness – I have memories of these people who have since passed to their resting place. A lot of their wisdom has passed with them but many people in Ireland are turning today back to the old ways.
I did try to f ind out as much as I could from these people. But also I have gathered my own knowledge along the way. As a postman I knew straight away what the weather was going to be like for that day. But more seriously it took years of observing and keeping track of what happened in nature to read what the weather was going to be like after that. For example, sheep playing in the fields is a sign of bad weather coming.
I don’t think global warming will change the behaviour of animals and other things I use to forecast weather. Such a change in animal behaviour and habits takes generations to happen. The climate changes in cycles of hundreds of years because of volcanoes or the activity of the sun, for example.
We may have another stretch of severe winters and hot summers or quite opposite. Of course animals and plants will adapt over time to change in the climate but not on a year-to-year basis. Surely some signs may disappear and some new may appear but this is all part of the nature as I see it. As the changes come, my forecasts will adjust because we are a part of the same cycle of nature. So let me share with you some things I have learned about how animals can predict the weather for us.
Signs From Animals
Our feathered friends are most sensitive to weather changes,. People who study them minutely can foretell changes in weather conditions. The wren, robin, sparrow or finch that washes and preens their feathers in a pool of water is giving us a sign of fine weather. If willy wagtails can be seen fluttering about a street or farmyard, heavy rain may be expected.
Everyone is acquainted with the St. Swithin’s day story which says that rain on that day brings forty days of similar weather. But another prophesy, which may not be so well known, foretells that the twelve days before St. Swithin’s day are a guideline for the twelve months which follow.
The moon in all its phases was a great weather guide for the past generations. A far ring on the moon meant a storm near at hand while a ring near the moon meant a faraway storm. If the weather does not change at the beginning of any phase of the moon it means it will not change for the duration of that quarter. Also the new moon’s first quarter follows the same pattern of weather as the old moon’s last quarter.
In winter and early spring, if the new moon makes her appearance on the second or third day and appears like a small silvery crescent with upturned ends, it foretells frost and snow for the duration of the moon. If the moon appears to be racing behind the clouds, that presages wind and storm.
For more information, you can buy my book, called Traditional Weather Signs. I wrote it to share my knowledge with people. The great interest I received from the public after my appearance in local radio or papers showed that there is big need for this sort of book. The book is available on the O’Mahony’s website or from my own website www.michaelgallagher.ie.