Post-traumatic rain amnesia

We Irish tend to feel, with some justification, that we’re more informed about the past than most other races. Many very old issues are unresolved here. We still have a lot of unfinished history. Knowing that history, and having opinions about it, is part of every Irish person’s base culture.

But there is one area of the past for which we have a deep, wilful blind spot. We suffer from rain amnesia, in particular the virulent sub-variant, post-traumatic summer rain amnesia. On principle, we refuse to recognise that it rains here between May and September. Apart from the occasional hillwalker, no one in Ireland owns rain gear, and very few have waterproof clothing of any description. In a warm pub on a rainy July day, the  smell of wet wool can be overpowering.

Oh God will it ever stop

We loathe wet summers. We take them as a personal insult, and are deeply, bitterly disappointed when it rains in August, even though it always rains in August. So we repress the memories of a lifetime of rainy summers and, come May, expect glorious baking sunshine.

Autumn, when rain is grudgingly accepted, is almost a relief. But not quite. The most common weather conversation remains:

“Grand day”.

“Ah sure as long as it’s not raining.”

As a result, weather forecasting here has to be part psychotherapy. The profession has developed its own jargon, full of defensive euphemisms: “fresh and blustery”, “organised bands of showers”, “scattered outbreaks of drizzle” and, particularly common, “unsettled”.  Unsettled means frequent rain. Irish weather is “unsettled” like the Black Death was an outbreak of acne.

Comparing Irish and English forecasts shows just how touchy we are about this. On the BBC, the forecaster will tell you how much, where and when it’s going to rain, perhaps with a rueful shake of the head. On RTÉ, it can never be told straight. A glimmer of desperate hope – “It might be dry in Munster on Thursday!” – is essential before the sheepish revelation of an approaching deluge.

Maybe some things are better repressed. If we remembered accurately, we’d realise that Irish rainfall is always above average.

We might be starting to face up to our problem. The Irish Met Office is starting to recover past weather, digitising reports made daily since 1840 in the Phoenix Park (though the results are not yet public). They also have an excellent guide to the locations of historic Irish weather archives and a very interesting day-by-day reconstruction of the weather of the week of the Easter Rising in 1916.

The Four Masters complain about the weather in 4000 years ago

Professor John Sweeney of Maynooth has also done an excellent summary of our historic obsession, including a description of the earliest reference to a meteorological event in Europe, a description in the Annals of the Four Masters to Lough Conn ‘erupting’, allegedly in 2668 BC. We’ve been at it a long time.


25 thoughts on “Post-traumatic rain amnesia”

  1. As I read this I am sitting looking out what my Grandmother used to call “a fine soft day” in otherwords gently and continuously raining!

  2. In 2017, on our second trip to Ireland, we experienced Hurricane Ophelia. The media reported that it was the first hurricane since 1961. We thought it was a fluke, although three days later, Storm Brian drenched us again in Kinsale. Last month, we narrowly escaped the remnants of Hurricane Dorian as we flew home from Dublin September 24. Climate change comes to the Emerald Isle too?

  3. We were visiting there in September of 2015 in County Donegal for ten days. It never rained during our trip. I explained to the locals that my wife was a weather witch and they begged her not to go home!

  4. I loved this article. It is so different in the Boston, MA area. They spend 15 min. giving all the details.
    Judy Sylvia

  5. From Toronto: 20 cm. of rain this morning, 25 cm. this afternoon then a brief pause so the kiddies can go out on Hallowe’en, then snow by Sunday. Or not. Weather forecasts are read with a very large grain of salt around here.

  6. I remember the forecasters using the term “sunny spells”, which I thought was rather curious, never having heard this term back home in Queensland, Australia.
    Then my car got a flat tyre, and while waiting for help, I had a couple of hours to observe the sun peeping out from behind the clouds for brief periods, but mostly it was cloudy. Sunny spells gives out some hope, I guess.

    1. A favourite Irish word: aiteall. Foclόir Scoile defines it as ‘Fine spell between showers.’ There had to be an Irish word for it.
      I remember how beautiful the rainbows were in the patches of blue sky. Better than waiting for car help!

    2. A favourite Irish word: aiteall. Foclόir Scoile defines it as ‘Fine spell between showers.’ There had to be an Irish word for it.
      I remember how beautiful the rainbows were in the patches of blue sky. Better than waiting for car help!

  7. I am gloating as I write this on a sunny say in California. Oh, wait. We have raging brush fires and earthquakes.

  8. Sat all day at school, in wet clothes and socks. Hanging our coats around the fire hoping they would dry for the next day. Memories…..

  9. Fun article! I’ve made six visits of a month long each to County Tipperary. I live in the state of Washington, USA & our weather is very similar. We have this saying:
    “Living in Washington is like living in a car wash!”

  10. Please oh please, send some of your glorious rainy weather to us here in Queensland, Australia. We had our first 21 mls of rain here on 20th October. The first rain since March 17th, a whole 7 months ago. The grade 2 children at school were very afraid of that little storm. Please God the drought will break soon.

  11. Not long now and the whole world will be emigrating to Ireland either because their own countries are now arid wastelands or because of Brexit! I live in the UK but thank goodness I still have an Irish passport.

    1. LucyAnn, we may live on one of the direst continents on earth. In spite of our “drought and flooding rains” it is still the best place on earth to live – God’s own country. Every day we thank our forefathers for coming here from Ireland and the UK. I have been to Ireland many many times and believe me it is far better and easier to live in the dry than the wet.

  12. After a long weekend in Phoenix for the 2019 International Famine Commemoration at the Irish Cultural Center and McClelland Irish Library, and hearing all my co-Michiganders long for a wee bit of green in the landscape, I’m happy to be back in Michigan. Flying in is a vision of green and blue, much like Ireland. Downright blustery here but no major floods, no hurricanes, no raging fires and no sharks in my Great Lakes.

  13. On my last to Ireland from Texas, I went to the Gents (or is it blokes?) while at Arundel’s by the Pier in Ahakista, looking for relatives left behind.
    A rugged lad came in and said “fine weather we’re having”.
    I thought (if you like rain and lashing wind?) why yes it is…
    Then I asked. “You would happen to know any Sullivan’s, or Twohig’s from around here would you?”
    He replied “I’m Tommy the Fisherman Arundel, my gran was a Twohig (sounded more like Tweeg).

    Turns out it was a sunny day after all.

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