In Ireland the month of March is associated with all types of weather including strong winds, heavy rain, sunshine, and even the icy conditions of winter. The erratic weather that invariably accompanies March, especially the earlier half of the month, made a deep impression on the imaginations and lives of previous generations who lived their lives closer to the land and the changing seasons. References to the strong winds of March are well known in Ireland; the Donegal writer Seamus MacManus described the noise produced during particularly heated bargaining at cattle markets of the late eighteen hundreds as resembling the roaring of east and the west winds passing through the Barnesmore Gap in the Blue Stack Mountains on the first day of March, while John O’Donoghue, who grew up in County Kerry in the opening years of the twentieth century, noted that the old people in his youth feared the harsh winds of March often associating them like the howl of a banshee as an omen of death.
If dry weather preceded the month of March it was taken as an omen that March would be a wet month that year; as Amhlaoimh Ó Súilleabháin noted in his 1831 diary; ‘if the pools aren’t full before March, March itself will fill them.’ From St Patrick’s Day, which in Ireland is traditionally perceived as the middle of spring, it is traditionally believed that the weather improves. An old Irish saying attributed to Saint Patrick claims that the weather would be fine for half of his own feast day and for every day afterwards. As if to prove the truth of the saying, when the harshest winter in living memory occurred in the early months of 1947, popularly known in Ireland as the Big Snow or White 47, for the icy and blizzardous conditions that continued from late January until the middle of March, when the snow finally ceased falling on Saint Patrick’s Day.
Despite the promise of more settled weather from Saint Patrick’s Day, unsettled
weather was often known to continue into April, with the first three days of that month often referred to as ‘Borrowing Days’, explained by the following legend, ‘an old cow on the 31st March began to curse and swear at March, tossing her tail in the air, and saying to the devil, I pitch you – you are gone and April has come, and now I will have grass. March, however, was too much for her, and he borrowed three days from April, during which time he made such bad weather the old cow died.’
Kinahan, GH. ‘Notes on Irish Folklore’. The Folk-Lore Record 4 (1881),
MacManus, Seamus. The Rocky Road to Dublin. Dublin, 1938.
O’Donoghue, John. In a Quiet Land. London, 1959.
Ó Síocháin, Conchúr. The Man from Cape Clear: The Life of an Islandman. Translated from the Irish by Riobard P Breatnach. Cork and Dublin, 1975.
Ó Súilleabháin, Amhlaoibh. The Diary of an Irish Countryman 1827 – 1835. Translated from the Irish by Tomás de Bhaldraithe. Cork/Dublin 1970/1979.