For the most part squalls are nasty things. Winds that dip down from high above, moving quickly and sometimes moving in totally unpredictable directions. As a sailor you learn to respect them. The sight of a squall cloud gets your palms itchy to take in a couple of reefs, or just ditch the sails on deck altogether until it passes.
Even on land they are unpleasant. On the way home this evening on the bicycle I was hit by a squall out of an otherwise sunny sky. In seconds it had dumped a blast of cold rain, too suddenly to make for shelter or don waterproof gear. So I sit here writing in my wet trousers.
A squall also takes me back to my youth in Glasnevin of the 1970’s when going to mass was obligatory in Ireland. We used to seek variety by swapping between churches and priests. It was always worth a trip up to Sillogue church for a Christmas mass to hear the poem below. The priest in question was famous for his delivery style, a slow twangy drawl interspersed with sharp orders to the congregation (stand now, sit down, only I say this bit etc). The priest was known in the area simply as Fr Tangmalangaloo an onomatopoeic name that reflected his intonation.
Tangmalangaloo: by Father Patrick Joseph Hartigan
The bishop sat in lordly state and purple cap sublime,
And galvanised the old bush church at Confirmation time;
And all the kids were mustered up from fifty miles around,
With Sunday clothes, and staring eyes, and ignorance profound.
Now was it fate, or was it grace, whereby they yarded too
An overgrown two-storey lad from Tangmalangaloo?
A hefty son of virgin soil, where nature has her fling,
And grows the trefoil three foot high and mats it in the spring;
Where mighty hills uplift their heads to pierce the welkin’s rim,
And trees sprout up a hundred feet before they shoot a limb;
There everything is big and grand, and men are giants too–
But Christian Knowledge wilts, alas, at Tangmalangaloo.
The bishop summed the youngsters up, as bishops only can;
He cast a searching glance around, then fixed upon his man.
But glum and dumb and undismayed through every bout he sat;
He seemed to think that he was there, but wasn’t sure of that.
The bishop gave a scornful look, as bishops sometimes do,
And glared right through the pagan in from Tangmalangaloo.
“Come, tell me, boy,” his lordship said in crushing tones severe,
“Come, tell me why is Christmas Day the greatest of the year?
“How is it that around the world we celebrate that day
“And send a name upon a card to those who’re far away?
“Why is it wandering ones return with smiles and greetings, too?”
A squall of knowledge hit the lad from Tangmalangaloo.
He gave a lurch which set a-shake the vases on the shelf,
He knocked the benches all askew, up-ending of himself.
And oh, how pleased his lordship was, and how he smiled to say,
“That’s good, my boy. Come tell me now; and what is Christmas Day?”
The ready answer bared a fact no bishop ever knew–
“It’s the day before the races at Tangmalangaloo.”