Reading The Landscape

Islanders knew how to read the landscape and work with the elements and Earth energies. Some of the best documentation for this comes from Joe McGowan’s book Inishmurray: Island Voices, based on interviews with those who had once lived on tiny Inishmurray island off the coast just north of Sligo. The old ways were alive on this and other islands in western Ireland until just over sixty years ago when it was the time of the great leaving. With populations dwindling, the young people called to war or attracted to a romanticized urban existence, it was no longer possible to sustain island life and whole communities left their heritage and homes in one communal exodus.

McGowan’s interviews and stories breathe life into those old ways as you will see in the next few posts. Let’s begin here…

An ability to tell what the weather was going to do was indispensable to all farming and fishing communities. ’There never was confusion till then’, an old man said of the early attempts at weather forecasting that were broadcast on the wireless. Disillusioned with the new technology they went back to the old ways. A robin singing from a high place meant a good day ahead, singing from the middle of the bush foretold bad weather. A could settling on Slieve League presaged bad weather, if the cloud was rising then the day would mend. Soot falling and crickets singing by the hearth meant rain.

There were no clocks on the island…The sun told time. So did the tides. If it was a full or new moon it was a spring tide. Therefore low water was at noon. That was more reliable than any clock. …The right time to work the shore was decided by tides not clocks. In the morning, nature provided its own alarm clock: when the cock crowed it was time to get up.