Sunday, 17 September 2017


It starts with the car windows veiled in morning dampness. Then flower beds show more seed heads than petals.

The rains came exactly when they always do, just as festival season hit Galway, and by Race Week we were into that humid damp air that meets hot sunshine breaking through thunderclouds.

Before that though, we had a long dry Spring and Summer. A friend of mine grades Summer by how often he leaps into Lough Corrib, and this year there wasn’t the heat for more than four swims. 

Not good by his standards, yet I’m always amused by the Irish ability to eradicate the memory of months of good weather with two wet mornings.

I’m already hearing that Autumnal old chestnut:

“Ah sure, we never had a Summer at all!”

But yes we did. We had no Winter last year, which was strange and deeply disturbing, but Spring came right on time, with the sweet peas planted into containers on Paddy’s Day.

Despite the seemingly driven Irish desire to see bad weather in good, I know it was dry for months because I have a dog who loves walking, and from March to August I did not once don my waterproof leggings.

During most Summers I become obsessed with the weather forecast, trying to spot a window of dryness so that I can mow the lawn, but this year it was easy.

Well, until the Arts Festival. But you’ll have that.

It took me decades to truly understand that the seasons here are a month apart from the ones in my native London. Regular as clockwork, on August 1st my farmer landlord in North Mayo used to say:

“Well, that’s it now, Charlie. That’s it gone.”

At the time I’d refuse to believe him. Back in England August is seen as high Summer, but this year on August 1st, as I stood on the front lawn with Lady Dog, waiting for her to do what dogs do, I felt a turn in the wind; a different rustle to the leaves on the trees; the slightest whiff of growth oozing into decay.

It was arrogant of me to disbelieve a Mayo farmer. Of course the climate is different here, 500 miles further west, on the Atlantic edge of the continent.

I love it.

Yes, I know that sounds incredible. I know that when we’re feeling beaten up by Winter’s brutal endless storms, demoralised by the lashing rain of another midsummer letdown, we cheer ourselves up by reassuring each other:

“Ah well, we don’t live here for the weather!”

No, we don’t, but without our weather would we have the place we love?

One night years ago I was crammed into the shelter of a shop porch with a man who resembled Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses. 

Together we watched as blankets of sideways rain powered up Dominick Street, torrents of insistent swirls, dancing silver under the street lights.

We looked at each other and then out into the bleakness, both knowing well that this was not a passing shower; that we would have to brave it and deal with the consequences.

Turning to me he threw back his head and laughed maniacally.

“God’s gift to Ireland!” he screamed above the clamour of the storm. “God’s gift, the raaaaiiin!” he cheered, eager for me to ask him why.

Not really in the mood for theological debate, I resisted the urge to reply “Well ta very much, God!” instead settling for the more respectful:

“How’s that then?”

Delighted I’d finally bitten his apple, he launched into his spiel, which was, I must admit, enlightening.

“Without the rain there’d be a hotel on every clifftop. Without the rain there’d be caravans and mobile homes as far as you can see. Without the rain there’d be millions of tourists here every month of the year and the farmers would go broke and sell up to build more hotels and the land would be gone and the space would be filled. Without the rain everything you love about Ireland would be gone.”

Silence fell between us.

Somehow this stranger could not have summed up better what I love about the West of Ireland. Almost beyond the compassion, warmth and wit of the people, I adore the pace and space of the West.

Wildflower meadows pop up in vacant lots in the middle of village streets. You can walk for hours without the sound of distant traffic. I can lie in my bed in the morning and listen to donkeys braying, pheasants squawking and the endearing rasp of a gently snoring Snapper.

Our mountain sides are empty. 

Our clifftops are grassy. 

The weather is terrible and as Autumn sets in now, it will only get worse, but consider this: wherever you live in Connacht, you’re never more than 20 minutes drive from somewhere stunningly beautiful.

If you step out of your bus or car and stand in the middle of nowhere for 15 minutes, you’ll be giving thanks, feeling privileged to live in this extraordinary part of the world.

At night we can see the Milky Way in all its glory. During the day we can walk among wildlife, dreaming for a moment we are the sole representatives of the human race.

Autumn is nature’s planting season, when tilting grasses and falling fruit sew seeds; when billions of bacteria are born in rotting growth, returning life and energy to tired soil.

Next Wednesday is Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year (5,778, since you ask!)

Jewish people see Autumn not as an end but a beginning. We will dip apples into honey, to give thanks for the harvest and ask for a sweet year ahead.

Be grateful for the gifts nature bestows on us here, and before you curse the rain, consider the alternative.

©Charlie Adley

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