16 May 2022

Then & Now: You couldn’t ask for better weather

Then & Now: You couldn’t ask for better weather

Enjoy it while it last... the weather will become unsettled after Wednesday Picture: Pexels

THE WEATHER dictates the arrival of spring more so than the calendar, with February 1, and March 1 all claiming the arrival of the first season of the new year. We are after a good winter weather wise apart from the four storms that hit Ireland in December and February.
We had little frost and January was dry with February the wettest month. March winds are drying up the land and summer time has arrived and the recent dry warm spell has brightened people’s spirits. It brings to mind the old traditional saying: “It is not spring until you can plant your foot on twelve daisies”.
The word spring has old English origins and has many other meanings. It was probably chosen as the name of the season because this is the time when plants spring up and grow. The Latin name for the season is "ver", a word that is found in the adjective vernal, meaning of the spring, such as the vernal equinox, (March 21) when we have equal day and night. In Irish it is an tEarrach from Lá Fhéile Bríde (February 1) and ending the day before Lá Bealtaine (May).
In the spring the dreary landscape of winter is repainted with the fresh greens of new leaves, the delicate pinks of fruit-tree blossom, and the bright colours of spring flowers. In the animal and bird kingdom this is the breeding season, and the reproductive urge is at its strongest. Spring is the season of resurrection and new beginnings.
Fresh buds open and the earth comes to life again. Farmers and gardeners are busy planting crops and seeds as the temperatures gradually rises.
The hedgehog, who has spent the winter in hibernation, comes out of his den. Many animals give birth in the spring, winter coats are shed, and some animals change colour.
For those who make a living from the land, spring is a busy time of the year. March is often regarded as the first month of spring, but astronomically it straddles the seasons, the first twenty days belonging to winter. In many respects it is a month of preparation and anticipation. For farmers it is the sowing season and in the Christian church it is largely dominated by Lent and Easter.
Spring in many countries with a strong Christian tradition, is marked by Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, it has roots in older traditions. Easter is derived from a much older celebration of fertility and reproduction. Windy dry weather in March is generally considered to be good as promoted in the following lines: March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers, A bushel of March dust is worth a king's ransom, and a dry and cold March never begs for bread.
Many cultures celebrate the return of spring and the blossoming of nature. In Japan, the annual blossoming of cherry trees has become a significant national event. Hanami, or cherry blossom time is a time for festivals and gatherings at parks and shrines. Cherry blossoms, or sakura, symbolize the humanity of life, which is a major theme in Buddhism. People of the Jewish faith celebrate Passover, which commemorates when the Jewish people were freed from slavery to Egypt. Passover falls on the first full moon after the northern spring equinox and lasts for seven days.
The poet Edward Tennyson describes spring as follows:
In the spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin's breast
In the spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest
In the spring a livelier iris changes on the burnished dove
In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

The long acre
THE LONG ACRE is an expression that is never heard in modern Ireland and is remembered by only the elder generation. The practice was mainly confined to rural areas and away from the main roads that had passing traffic.
This was a time in Ireland when agriculture was the main income for the majority of households and even the poorest of people owned a few cattle. They were vital for survival and the cow's milk was used for meals and bread making purposes. The young calves were sold to pay rent, household bills and cattle were a security for the family against debt.
In an emergency a cow could be sold to pay for funeral costs or house or farm improvements. In older Ireland the humans and animals shared the one building and the heat from the animals at night kept the family warm. The cattle were housed in a shed adjoining the main dwelling in later times. The manure from the animals was used in the garden to grow the potatoes and vegetables to help feed the family. The welfare of the animals was vital for the survival of the family who often faced starvation and eviction.
A few acres of meadows were also needed to grow hay to feed the cattle during the winter months. The scarcity of fresh grass to feed the animals was always a problem so other ways of feeding them were sought. The network of our roads was far more primitive back then with only Mass paths in use and green passages for driving cattle and common carts.
People used nearby mountainsides and hills, which were commonage grounds for all to graze their cattle on.
In time efforts were made to connect townlands to villages and the greenways were replaced by limestone roads and ditches. The family's living beside the roads took advantage of the remaining green grass verges along the road. They let their animals graze along it and in time it became known as the long acre.
The woman of the house or the children stayed with the cattle as they took advantage of the free grass along the rural roads that saw little traffic. The arrival of the motorcar and tractor, and updated roads gradually saw the decline of the practice.
It was a common expression when I was growing up and a few people still grazed their few cows along it, until it became too dangerous.
The long acre is now a distant memory from past times, but it led to survival for many families. It helped to cloth and educate the children and should not be forgotten, now that we are a far more affluent society.

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