Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Natural History of Ireland (Author: Gerard Boate)

chapter 21

Of the Temperature and Qualities of the Air, and Seasons in Ireland, as for Heat, Cold and Moisture

Of the Cold weather, and the Frosts.

ALTHOUGH the climate of Ireland is somewhat northerly, the land extending it self from the beginning of the one and fiftieth degree of latitude, until the end of the five and fiftieth, nevertheless is the air there very temperate, and nothing subject to violent colds (not only in Munster, Leinster, and Connaught, but even in the most northern part, to wit the province of Ulster) much less than any other land lying in the same height or latitude, yea than many countries of a much more southerly climate.

True it is, that the cold weather doth commonly begin here somewhat soon, namely in the beginning of October, and sometimes in the middle or latter end of September, continuing ordinarily the space of five or six months, until the midst or latter end of March, and sometimes also good part of April; during which whole space of time all such persons as are chilly and cold of nature, and do sit still much, can hardly be any long while without a fire.


But again on the other side, it is very seldom violently cold there, and freezeth but little. There are commonly three, or four frosts in one winter; but they are very short, seldom lasting longer than three or four days together, and withall at their very worst nothing near so violent as in most other countries; so that some all winter long hardly come near a fire once in a day, and that not only in the ordinary cold weather, but even whilst it is a freezing.

Yea many times the cold is so slack even in the midst of the winter-months, that by walking only, or doing some other moderate exercise, you shall find your self as warm, and the air as sweet and pleasant, as if it were in the month of May.

There hath been some winters, wherein it hath frozen ten or twelve days together, so as the Liffie, and other the like rivers were quite frozen, and might be gone upon by men and beasts: but those are altogether extraordinary, and do come very seldom, hardly once in the space of ten or twelve years.

But how mild they ordinarily be, and how little subject to excessive cold, may appear hereby, that all kind of beasts and cattle, as cows, horses, and sheep, do there all winter long remain abroad, and do feed in the fields, where they are left in the night-time as well as in the day, and that many herbs, which in England and Netherland do dye every winter, here continue all the year long.

Of the warm Weather

AND as the cold in winter is very moderate and tolerable, so is also the heat in summer; the which is seldom so great, even in the hottest times of the year, as to be greatly troublesome. And it falleth out oft enough in the very summer-months, that the weather is more inclinable to cold than to heat, so as one may very well endure to come near a good fire. And this cometh to pass only during the wet weather, for else, and whilst it is fair, it is very warm all summer long, albeit seldom over-hot: and so it is many times also even on the rainy days, whereas for the most part it is very cool in them, and the heat much less than the season doth require.

Of the Rain and wet Weather

THE rain is very ordinary in Ireland, and it raineth there very much all the year long, in the summer as well as in the winter. Commonly in the spring of the year it is very fair weather, with clear sun-shine from morning till night, for the space of five or six weeks together, with very little or no interruption; which fair weather beginneth commonly in the month of March, some years in the beginning, other years in the midst, and sometimes in the latter end of it. But the same being once past, it raineth atterwards very much all the summer long, so as it is a rare thing to see a whole week pass without it; and many summers it is never dry weather two or three days together. Which inconstancy and wetness of the weather is not only troublesome to men, but also


hurtful to all things growing out of the ground for mans behoof. For the heat never being very great, and there besides often interrupted by the intervention of the foul weather, hath neither time nor strength enough to ripen them so well and so soon, as otherwise it would, whereby it cometh to pass, that as well the fruits of trees, as the corn and grass, here commonly much later do come to perfection, than in the most part of other neighbouring countries. And as the ripeness of the fruits and other increase of the earth is greatly retarded by the abundance of unseasonable rain, so it doth also fall out oftentimes, that the same being come to ripeness, it is difficult to get them in, by reason of the exceeding store of rain which doth come down during the hay-time and the harvest. Wherefore it behoveth one here to be wonderful diligent, and not to lose any part of the fair weather. For else one would run great hazard to sustain great losses, and to have all spoiled. But those that are vigilant and careful, and that lose no occasion at all, do commonly in the end get in their increase well enough, notwithstanding all those great hinderances, so that there be as few years of dearth in Ireland, as in any other country of christendom; and most years there is not only corn enough got for the sustenance of the inhabitants, but a great deal over and above, for the sending out of great quantities of grains into other countries.

Of the fair weather in the latter end of Autumn. In the foul weather the nights are often fair.

IN the latter end of autumn weather is commonly fair again for some weeks together, in the same manner as in the spring, but not so long; which as it doth serve for to dry up, and to get in the corn and hay, which till then hath remained in the fields, the too much wet having hindered it from being brought away sooner; so it giveth the opportunity of plowing the ground, and sowing the winter-corn, the which otherwise would very hardly be done. For that season being once past, you have very little dry weather the rest of the autumn, and during all winter. And although it doth seldom rain continually for many days together, yet is the wetness very great, and few weeks do pass, wherein are not two or three rainy days. And it is to be observed, that ordinarily it raineth in Ireland much more by day than by night, and that many times when it doth rain two or three days together, the nights between are very clear and fair; the which also many times falleth out in other foul weather, and when all day long the skie is overcast with clouds and mists.

Some dry Summers in Ireland, but hardly ever any too dry.

BUT although it is ordinarily thus in Ireland, yet the same inconstancy and variableness of years and seasons, which is observed in most other countries, doth also here occur, and that more in regard of the summers and dry weather, than of the winters and cold. For it is marvellous seldom to have there a hard winter and long frost; but summers have been which were full of very dry, and


fair and pleasant weather. But as winters cruelly cold, so likewise over-dry summers do in this island hardly come once in an age; and it is a common saying in Ireland, that the very dryest summers there never hurt the land. For although the corn and grass upon the high and dry grounds may get harm, nevertheless the country in general gets more good than hurt by it. And when any dearths fall out to be in Ireland, they are not caused through immoderate heat and drought, as in most other countries, but through too much wet, as excessive rain.

Amendment of the wet Air in Ireland how to be expected.

So that the Irish air is greatly defectuous in this part, and too much subject to wet and rainy weather; wherein if it were of somewhat a better temperature, and as free from too much wet, as it is from excessive cold, it would be one of the sweetest and pleasantest in the whole world, and very few countries could be named, that might be compared with Ireland for agreeable temperateness. And although it is unlikely, that any revolution of times will produce any considerable alteration in this (the which indeed in some other countries hath caused wonderful changes) because that those who many ages ago have written of this island, do witness the self same things of it in this particular, as we do find in our time: there is nevertheless great probability that this defect may in part be amended by the industry of men, if the country being once inhabited throughout by a civil nation, care were taken every where to diminish and take away the superfluous and excessive wetness of the ground, in all the watery and boggy places, whereby this too great moistness of the air is greatly increased, and partly also occasion'd.

This opinion is not grounded upon some uncertain speculation, but upon assured experience; for several knowing and credible persons have affirmed to me, that already some years since good beginnings have been seen of it, and that in some parts of the land well inhabited with English, and where great extents of bogs have been drained and reduced to dry land, it hath been found by the observation of some years one after another, that they have had a dryer air, and much less troubled with rain, than in former times.

Herewith agreeth what we read in that famous writer Pliny, in the fourth chapter of the seventeenth book of his natural history, concerning that part of Macedonie, wherein the city Philippi was seated, where the air formerly having been very rainy, was greatly amended by the altering the wetness of the ground: His words are these, ‘Circa Philippos cultura siccata regio, mutavit coeli habitum:’ that is word for word, ‘the country about Philippi being dryed up through tillage, hath altered the quality of the air.’