In a word

St Swithin

Mon, Jul 14, 2014, 01:00

Tomorrow, July 15th, is St Swithin’s Day. And you know what that means? If it rains, we’ll have 40 wet days in succession. If it doesn’t we’ll have 40 dry days. And the cow jumped over the moon.

This has been scientifically tested by the UK Met Office. It was found not to be true. Yes, I had wondered about that too. Had the UK Met Office no better things to do?

Then I was once told by an old woman in Mayo: “If you can’t see Croagh Patrick it’s raining and if you can see it, it’s going to rain.” Maybe our Met Office people might look into that? You may have heard the rhyme:

St Swithin’s Day if thou dost rain

For 40 days it will remain

St Swithin’s Day if thou be fair

For 40 days ’twill rain nae mair

They say it goes back to Elizabethan times. There is also an old saying that when it rains on St Swithin’s Day the saint is christening apples. It was also believed that an apple should not be picked or eaten before July 15th, and that apples still growing at St Swithin’s Day would ripen fully. As for the man himself, Swithin, or Swithun to give him his correct name, was born in the south of England county of Wessex. He was educated in its capital Winchester, eventually becoming bishop of Winchester.

When he died in 862 he was buried out of doors at his request where his grave might be trodden upon and rained on, presumably as a gesture of humility.

On July 15th, 971, it was decided to move his body to a new indoor shrine and, the story goes, the saint made his unhappiness known at this via a heavy shower of rain then and on the following 40 days.

Still, Met Office people do like to point out – to be sure, to be sure – that the location of the jet stream shortly after the summer solstice determines, to a great extent, the following summer’s weather. If it is located southerly then it is likely to be an unsettled summer. If it is in a northerly position then it is likely to be brighter and dry throughout summer.

That’s Met Office people for you in these North Atlantic latitudes, forever having their cake and eating it. inaword@irishtimes.com

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