The Great Summer of 2014

The great summer of 2014 came to a snap close last weekend, when an Atlantic depression struck Ireland, bringing gale force winds to most of the country, and plunging the temperature from the balmy teens down almost to freezing last night.  It is a dramatic change in the weather.

The lawns are strewn with the litter of dead leaves, broken conkers and storm tossed branches.  The roads are crunchy with beech mast, hazel shell, alder cones, ash keys, sycamore helicopters and acorns.

The meteorological records show a long summer that was better than the average, with lower rainfall, higher temperatures and higher sunshine.  This pleasant summer gave way to a fantastic Indian summer all through the month of September and into early October.

We now use the term “Indian Summer” to refer to something positive.  An extension of the good weather.  In the past it was often used in a negative sense.  It is nature playing cruel tricks on plants, fooling them into germinating seeds that are doomed by winter frost.  It has connotations of infertility, inconsistency, inconstancy.  It might have been used to refer to the foolishness of a late flowering love affair.  The Indian Summer of a Spinster was seen as a foolishness in a society where the function of marriage was to produce children.  In modern society we are far more tolerant of romance, marriage for love and even gay marriage.

“Indian Summer” is one of those terms that has been researched to find the origin, only to come up empty.  We will probably never know who invented the term or why.  The origin seems to be from New England, and it was in widespread use in the 18th Century.

The original usage of the term referred to a period of unseasonably warm weather AFTER the first frost.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac has adhered to the saying, “If All Saints’ (November 1) brings out winter, St. Martin’s brings out Indian summer.”

There is a theory about the Indian Summer that SOUNDS viable.  Early New England settlers lived in fortified palisades, especially on the frontier.  There were conflicts between the British and the French spilling over from the Wars of the Spanish Succession and the Seven Years War in Europe, followed by the War of Independence.  The British, French and Colonists made frequent alliances with native american tribes and engaged in raids up and down the frontiers.  In addition, the Indian tribes were engaged in their own battles with each other and with the white settlers.

Once the snows of winter fell the Indian tribes would settle in to their winter lodges.  For the white settlers the risk of an Indian raid were greatly reduced by winters grip.  In this context an Indian summer was not a good thing.  It extended the season in which a war party could swoop down on a settlement and drive off some livestock or raid food stores.  Indian summer carries a connotation of the treacherous nature of weather opening a door to danger.  As an explanation for the origin of the term it seems to match with the negativity of original usage.  While Summer brings plenty an Indian summer brings violence and the potential for want and even starvation.

There is only one problem with this theory.  It is wrong.  Indians raided all through the winter.  In King Philips war 1675-76 both the Settlers and the Indians campaigned through the winter.  The Great Swamp War was fought in mid-December when frost made it easier for the settlers to attack the Indian Lodges on the swamp.  The Deerfield raid was in February, which would have been in the icy grip of winter.  So the notion that raiding parties did not venture out in winter snows is simply not true.

Fall, leaves, fall; by Emily Bronte

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

Pirates

Pirate King Barbarossa (Redbeard)

Pirate King Barbarossa (Redbeard)

Arrr, this be my favourite day of the year.  International talk like a pirate day!

All hands on deck, man the main brace, aloft me boys and loose the sheets, set courses, topsails, topgallants, royals, moonrakers and skyscrapers. Weigh anchor and cast off.  That be a sail on the horizon and she bears the look of a fat merchantman ripe for plucking.

Charge your pistols with fresh powder and give your cutlass a keen edge, it’s time to do what pirates do.

Here is a poem about real pirates.  There was a famous raid on Baltimore in West Cork in 1631 by Barbary pirates from Algeria.  The pirates captured 108, mostly English settlers who worked in the fishing industry in the town.  Only 3 were ever ransomed.  The poem is in a style I find overblown and turgid, in the Victorian tradition.  Arr, but it be what it be.

The Sack of Baltimore ; by Thomas Osborne Davis

The Summer sun is falling soft on Carbery’s hundred isles,
The summer sun is gleaming still through Gabriel’s rough defiles;
Old Innisherkin’s crumbled fane looks like a moulting bird,
And in a calm and sleepy swell the ocean tide is heard:
The hookers lie upon the beach; the children cease their play;
The gossips leave the little inn; the households kneel to pray;
And full of love, and peace, and rest, its daily labor o’er,
Upon that cosy creek there lay the town of Baltimore.

A deeper rest, a starry trance, has come with midnight there;
No sound, except that throbbing wave, in earth, or sea, or air!
The massive capes and ruin’d towers seem conscious of the calm;
The fibrous sod and stunted trees are breathing heavy balm.
So still the night, these two long barques round Dunashad that glide
Must trust their oars, methinks not few, against the ebbing tide.
Oh, some sweet mission of true love must urge them to the shore!
They bring some lover to his bride who sighs in Baltimore.

All, all asleep within each roof along that rocky street,
And these must be the lover’s friends, with gently gliding feet—
A stifled gasp, a dreamy noise! “The roof is in a flame!”
From out their beds and to their doors rush maid and sire and dame,
And meet upon the threshold stone the gleaming sabre’s fall,
And o’er each black and bearded face the white or crimson shawl.
The yell of “Allah!” breaks above the prayer, and shriek, and roar:
O blessed God! the Algerine is lord of Baltimore!

Then flung the youth his naked hand against the shearing sword;
Then sprung the mother on the brand with which her son was gor’d;
Then sunk the grandsire on the floor, his grand-babes clutching wild;
Then fled the maiden moaning faint, and nestled with the child:
But see! yon pirate strangled lies, and crush’d with splashing heel,
While o’er him in an Irish hand there sweeps his Syrian steel:
Though virtue sink, and courage fail, and misers yield their store,
There ’s one hearth well avenged in the sack of Baltimore.

Midsummer morn in woodland nigh the birds begin to sing,
They see not now the milking maids,—deserted is the spring;
Midsummer day this gallant rides from distant Bandon’s town,
These hookers cross’d from stormy Skull, that skiff from Affadown;
They only found the smoking walls with neighbors’ blood besprent,
And on the strewed and trampled beach awhile they wildly went,
Then dash’d to sea, and pass’d Cape Clear, and saw, five leagues before,
The pirate-galley vanishing that ravaged Baltimore.

Oh, some must tug the galley’s oar, and some must tend the steed;
This boy will bear a Scheik’s chibouk, and that a Bey’s jerreed.
Oh, some are for the arsenals by beauteous Dardanelles;
And some are in the caravan to Mecca’s sandy dells.
The maid that Bandon gallant sought is chosen for the Dey:
She ’s safe—she’s dead—she stabb’d him in the midst of his Serai!
And when to die a death of fire that noble maid they bore,
She only smiled, O’Driscoll’s child; she thought of Baltimore.

’T is two long years since sunk the town beneath that bloody band,
And all around its trampled hearths a larger concourse stand,
Where high upon a gallows-tree a yelling wretch is seen:
’T is Hackett of Dungarvan—he who steer’d the Algerine!
He fell amid a sullen shout with scarce a passing prayer,
For he had slain the kith and kin of many a hundred there.
Some mutter’d of MacMurchadh, who brought the Norman o’er;
Some curs’d him with Iscariot, that day in Baltimore.

Tom Foolery

Image

We have this bomb shelter in our garden.  It is a silly thing, built in the second world war out of concrete.  Who ever thought that County Tipperary would be a target for bombers?  But it is very hard to go back in time and understand the motivations of those who built it.  I guess it is a small indication of the very real fear that people felt during World War 2, even those in supposedly neutral countries like Ireland.

This bomb shelter floods every autumn when the water table rises, and remains flooded all winter, drying out only in late spring.  It is pretty much a useless endeavor.  The entrance is steep, claustrophobic, slippy, dark and clammy.  A perfect nightmare.

What I find funny is how it has lodged in the childhood memories of so many of my wife’s cousins.  The house has been a constant fixture in the folk memory of her Tipperary family.  As kids they were paraded out here on Sunday afternoons to visit their terrifying Aunt Babe.  Strapped into uncomfortable Sunday best they were expected to behave, to be seen and not heard.

When released from the parlor and set loose in the gardens they made for the Air Raid Shelter.  Boys dared each other to descend into this dark, damp and frightening hole.  So it became a rite of passage for them to dare the horror and emerge unscathed, proud and just that little more grown up.  Any of the male cousins I have met have asked if the air raid shelter is still there.  It looms large in their memory of the house.

In a small way it reminds me of the entrance to Dwimorberg and the men of Dunharrow.  I thought I should stick a sign on it saying;

The way is shut.

It was made by those who are Dead.

And the Dead keep it.

The way is shut.

Lament for Eorl the Young; by JRR Tolkien
Where now is the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the deadwood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?