A sudden squall.


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.”



Summer Holiday Time


It’s one of those years in Ireland where the Summer will not settle.  Any fine day is soon blown away by a capricious wind which rips the blue from the sky and sends squall clouds scudding across the bay.

Wind; by Fannie Stearns Davis

The Wind bows down the poplar trees,
The Wind bows down the crested seas;
And he has bowed the heart of me
Under his hand of memory.

O heavy-handed Wind, who goes
Hurting the petals of the rose;
Who leaves the grasses on the hill
Broken and pallid, spent and still!

O heavy-handed Wind, who brings
To me all echoing ancient things:
Echoing sorrow and defeat,
Crying like mourners, hard to meet!

The Wind bows down the poplar trees
And all the ocean’s argosies;
But deeper bends the heart of me,
Under his hand of memory.

A squall.

A fair day.  All seems well.  Then you look upwind and see it coming at you.  It is dark, fast and threatening.  It moves differently to the cyclonic wind.  It is more aggressive, jerky, and hits the sea from a high angle.  You face three choices.  You can drop your sails, batten down and ride it out, as long as you are in the open, far from a lee shore.  You can run to the side, tighten your sail, steer full and bye, try to let it slide by, get around it.  But it can change direction, and come after you.  Finally, you could turn and run downwind.  Run directly away from it.  Probably the most dangerous course, because if it catches you there is the danger you will broach.

So, what to do?  Absorb the fury, front up to it, or run away?

A squall is a wind, but maybe a squall can be a person in your life.  How do you deal with those you threaten you and yours?

This I do know, you can’t avoid them!

Mr Tambourine Man (Excerpt); by Bob Dylan

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.