St Swithun’s Day was yesterday, so now we have rain for 40 days

THE most prolonged spring and early summer drought in the history of the state has been followed by one of the wetter and cooler midsummer periods of recent times.

A weather chart for the northern hemisphere colour-coded in order that temperature anomalies might be easily discerned showed areas warmer than the long term average were shaded red, and those that were colder were coloured blue.

The North American continent was red from coast to coast – nice and warm there, then.

The north Atlantic ocean was similarly marked.

Southern Europe was dark red, and there were high temperature warnings in place for parts of Spain.

The rest of Europe and the entire continent of Asia also held a pleasantly reassuring rosy hue.

There was only one small dark blue blob on that map.

Can you guess where it was?

Yep, right over Ireland. Nowhere else.

It’s a good job we’re used to it or there’d be complaints.

Even the northern reaches of Siberia are warmer than here.

In fact, a new temperature record has been set within the Arctic Circle, and the inhabitants of the north Russian town of Verkhojansk were basking in an astonishing 38 Celsius (about 104F).

If we had that here, we’d really have something to complain about.

And now St Swithun’s Day has come and gone for this year.

Remember, if it rains on that day (July 15), the weather will remain wet for the next 40 days, whereas should Swithun’s Day be dry, so the next 40 will be dry.

While alive, Swithun, who by all accounts was a benevolent character, enjoyed the office of Bishop of Winchester.

On his death on July 2, somewhere about the year 862, his request that he be buried outside, where ordinary folk would walk over his grave and rain from the heavens would fall upon it, was granted.

Just over 100 years later church authorities decided he should be given an indoor tomb, so had his remains exhumed and re-interred within Old Minster Cathedral.

That took place on July 15, which from that time on became known as St Swithun’s Day.

Some small dispute appears to have arisen in the process, the result of which was that poor Swithun’s body was dismembered, and various parts were taken to decorate shrines in other churches, his head notably being promoted to a prominent place within the walls of Canterbury Cathedral, where it remained for some time before being taken to France.

He was credited with a great many miracles, the most often remembered of which involved the restoration of a basket of eggs that had been mischievously broken by a gang of labouring men.

So now, if it rains on July 15, there are some who confidently expect it will rain for the following 40 days.

It will be nothing short of a miracle if it doesn’t.

There is actually a scientific basis for a prolonged period of either wet or dry weather through the summer.

If the jet stream lies far to the north of Ireland, it allows warm, settled weather to drift up from the Azores.

On the other hand, if that jet stream lies to the south, colder, wet and blustery Arctic weather begins to dominate.

In 1828 Amhlaoibh O’Suilleabhain put the theory of Swithun’s Day to the test and commented, at the end of the appointed time, that: ‘It is the weight of nonsense to say that if it rains on St Swithun’s Day, it will be raining for 40 days afterwards. In Callan (County Kilkenny) it did only 27 days rain…’

So take courage. Ireland may turn red yet, or at least a lighter shade of blue.

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