FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
By Kieran Cooke
Ireland is often called the Emerald Isle – it rains so much that the grass there is always green. But there’s a lot more to the Irish weather than rain.
LONDON, 29 October – It’s said that in one day in Ireland you can experience four seasons of weather.
That’s a considerable understatement: Irish weather is so skittish that spring, summer, autumn and winter can often occur all within an hour: visitors have been known to go through four changes of clothes before breakfast. Others give up – and opt to stay in bed.
Obviously such perverse weather behaviour makes life difficult for the nation’s forecasters. They have developed what the late great Irish meteorologist Brendan McWilliams termed “the honourable ploy of hedging” – forecasters bluff their way through by predicting every type of weather imaginable.
Yet as Damian Corless points out in this informative and often amusing book, Ireland’s climate – that’s long-term meteorological trends as opposed to short-term or daily weather patterns – has been remarkably stable over the past 9,000 or so years.
This is particularly the case when climate patterns in Ireland are compared to those in regions such as North Africa where, over the same period of time, the Sahara was being turned first into lush farmland and then back into harsh desert.
“There have been some extreme episodes of prolonged famine and pestilence down the millennia, but the rarity of such fierce disruptions serves to underline just how stable and dependable Ireland’s climate has been for its people.”
Corless takes us through a dizzying array of facts and fables on the Irish climate and, as with all good Irish narratives, he is not afraid of going off on a tangent or two. We learn some ancient history.
“The first settlers (in Ireland) arrived around the beginning of a particularly warm period known as the Holocene Climatic Optimum. This pleasant interlude kept Ireland up to 3°C warmer than it is today for the first 4,000 years of human habitation, spanning from around 7,000 BC to 3,000 BC.”
Irish connections are made. It was an Irishman, Sir Francis Beaufort, who in the early 19th century devised a system of measuring wind speeds, giving birth to the Beaufort wind scale still in use today. And it seems that Guglielmo Marconi, who through his pioneering work on long-distance radio and telegraph transmissions did so much to lay the foundations of present-day weather forecasting, was a man with Irish roots: his mother was Irish and so was his first wife.
But where Corless is most interesting is on how climate and particular weather events played a role in shaping history. The Spanish Armada, limping home after their defeat by the English in 1588, was forced to take the long route back to Spain, around Scotland and the west coast of Ireland.
A series of westerly gales drove the Spanish ships on to the jagged shores of Ireland. “The Spanish losses off the coast of Ireland greatly exceeded those in the skirmishes with the English navy. As the grieving Spanish put it themselves, the flower of Spain’s nobility was cut down in Irish waters.”
According to Corless, the Irish weather also put paid to Oliver Cromwell, the man who has come to symbolize the cruelty of British rule in Ireland.
The story goes that Cromwell caught a fever from a mosquito bite while bludgeoning his way across the bogs of Ireland: he was never the same man again, dying before he could properly establish his republican revolution.
But the weather also acted against the Irish themselves. In 1796 a French attempt at ousting the English from Ireland failed due to furious storms off the Irish coast: in the mid-19th century the damp Irish weather was a major factor behind the spread of the potato blight and the death or emigration of millions in the famine.
In more recent times, weather systems in Ireland helped shape the destiny of Europe. Though Ireland was neutral in World War Two, through an old agreement it would transmit weather reports to London.
Corless tells the story of how Ted Sweeney, a postmaster at Blacksod Bay in County Mayo on Ireland’s west coast, sent a vital forecast to London of the approaching Atlantic weather.
Armed with this information, the Allied commanders decided to postpone the D-day invasion of France by a day: gales in the English Channel were avoided, and the tide of war was turned.
No book on Irish weather would be complete without some proverbs – and Corless has plenty of them.
“If the dog’s stomach rumbles the weather will change” is one to listen out for.
“When the mist on the new moon dies of thirst, dry weather is in store” is as mystifying as Irish weather itself. - Climate News Network
Looks Like Rain: 9,000 years of Irish Weather, by Damian Corless, The Collins Press, 2013, €14.99