In a Word . . . Forecast

Litany of names in shipping forecast soothes some but can irritate others

Our sea area forecast may not have quite the same hypnotic appeal as the UK’s shipping forecast but it shares one particular quality with its more well-known ancestor: names without familiar location.

Most people listening to the UK shipping forecast, for instance, would not have a clue where Cromarty, Fisher, FitzRoy or Forties are.

Similarly, many listening to our own sea area forecast/coastal report would struggle to locate Rossan Point, Fair Head, Hook Head, or Roche’s Point.

For most this doesn't matter. For others it can be an irritant. For some it can be an inspiration. Such as talented musician Glen Hansard.

His Oscar-winning song Falling Slowly, from the 2007 film Once, was inspired by the sea area/weather forecast and its regular line about air pressure “falling slowly”. Regular, as it brings us the rain. And how!

What might help would be the addition of county names to those headlands in the forecast. So it would read Rossan Point in Donegal (not Rosses Point, Co Sligo, with which it is frequently confused), Fair Head in Antrim, Hook Head in Wexford, and Roche's Point in Cork. A thought.

And it wouldn’t disrupt the format of the forecast, which is generally shorter than its UK counterpart.

That shipping forecast celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2017 and has been broadcast for almost 100 years. It is strictly formatted and limited to 350 words. With its odd names and familiar ritual it attracts an audience way beyond those for whom its information is essential.

For the older or more religious among us in Ireland it has a similar hypnotic quality as reciting the litany of the saints, with its exotic names and titles.

As for Cromarty, it is in northern Scotland; Fisher is a sand bank in the North Sea off Denmark; FitzRoy has been in the shipping forecast only since 2002, before which it was Finisterre (in northern Spain).

It is named after vice-admiral Robert FitzRoy, who established the UK's Met Office in 1854. He was also captain of the Beagle, on which Charles Darwin sailed while researching what became his theory of evolution.

And Forties refers to a large area of the North Sea where the depth is consistently about 40 fathoms (73m)

Forecast, from Old English fore (for before/in front of) and cast, from Old Norse kasta, to throw.

inaword@irishtimes.com