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The winds of change

After the pub, the forge was probably the most popular gathering spot for men in rural Ireland. At the forge you could laze around with legitimacy. Aside from the blacksmith nearly everyone there had nothing to do except wait; wait for a horse to be shod, the sock of a plough to be fitted, a gate to be straightened or rivets to be driven in or taken out.

There was no better place to go on a wet day, you’d be dry, warm and entertained to the glow of blacksmith’s fire . You could even make yourself useful pumping the bellows when red heat was required. The conversation was always lively, peppered with wisdom, devilment and the occasional nugget of gossip.

The blacksmith often worked late into the evening, a time when he got a bit of space and peace once his farming customers went home to milk the cows. But there was no guarantee he would be left alone when the shadows lengthened and the evening fell. After they ate the supper the men who worked nine-to-five jobs would saunter in for their sojourn around the blacksmith’s fire. Arrayed in cardigan, collar and tie, with pipes full of tobacco and heads full of tales from the metropolis they would perch themselves within spitting distance of the glowing coals.

A certain member of the collar and tie brigade, who had the highest of regard for anything he had to say, was expounding one evening on the destruction wreaked by a recent storm. After detailing the physical mayhem from Cahersiveen to Carlingford Lough he asked the blacksmith if he had heard the wind.

“I did of course,” the blacksmith replied, as he dropped a piece of red-hot iron into the cooling barrel where it hissed like a thousand snakes.

“Did you get up?” he was asked,

“I did not, I lay there on the bed listening to it,” he said, “like I have to listen to you.”

I was reminded of this story recently. In fact, I’m reminded of it most every night for the past few weeks as the wind howls against the roof of the house causing rafters to creak and slates to shudder. Our sleeping quarters are located in the upstairs of a dormer house, close to the frontline when the wind launches assault after assault on anything that stands in its way. In a fit of irrational irritation I found myself, after the third or fourth consecutive night of gale force wind, getting cross with it as I tossed and turned asking if the whistling and howling and lashing of rain on the skylight would ever stop.

According to many experts the increased frequency and severity of high winds and stormy conditions are a consequence of climate change. In a NASA blog from March 2020 Alan Buis, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, tells us that “Earth’s atmosphere and oceans have warmed significantly in recent decades. A warming ocean creates a perfect cauldron for brewing tempests. Hurricanes are fuelled by heat in the top layers of the ocean and require sea surface temperatures (SSTs) greater than 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) to form and thrive….Since 1995 there have been 17 above-normal Atlantic hurricane seasons…” While all scientists are not quite willing to hang their hats on the connection between climate change and the severity of storms, most agree that greater levels of precipitation are to be expected.

Closer to home Maynooth’s Professor John Sweeney, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), tells us that for every single degree of warming in the atmosphere there is a 7 per cent increase in water vapour. His colleague, Professor Peter Thorne goes on to explain that the atmosphere acts like “a leaky sponge” when warmed. Isn’t well we know it. Two words could describe our daily weather forecasts, wind and rain.

Like the late blacksmith from my own village, I have no choice these nights but listen helplessly while gust after gust of wind tries its damnedest to peel something off my roof.

As I write this, I’m listening to my four-year-old young neighbour, who has broken out of the confines of his own garden and is running around mine, whooping with delight as he leads his father on a merry chase.

I wonder what will be here when he is my age, almost 60 years from now? Will his children and his grandchildren sit with him at night in a weatherproof capsule and ask, “What was the world like before the wind came to stay?”

First published in the Farming Independent on Tuesday, February 23rd 2021

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