Here in Ireland we tend to relate the idiosyncrasies of this time of year to the annual reappearance of the cuckoo.

Irish tradition has it that the last few days of April and the early days of May often bring a short snap of unseasonably cold weather, and since this is the period during which the cuckoo is heard for the first time, our forefathers called such a cold snap Scairbhín na gCuac (the rough weather of the cuckoo), which is described as garbh agus guar — hard and cold.

And, indeed, the cuckoo’s song is a timely reminder to look around to see if nature locally is up to schedule. Nuair a sheinneas an chuach ar chrann gan duilléog, díol do bhó is cheannaigh arán, another saying goes.

The theory is that if the trees have not developed leaves before the cuckoo comes, the growing season is retarded and you may not have sufficient grass to feed your cow: you should sell the beast, and stock up with bread and other foods instead.

Evidence of the Scairbhin has certainly been with us for the past few days. After more than a fortnight of beautiful warm weather which we all enjoyed so much over Easter, for the past day or so there has been a blood-curdling easterly wind, calculated to freeze fur off a Polar bear. Monday and Tuesday this week were bitterly cold, with variations from hail and sleet to snow

The old  saying is perfectly true – “When the wind is in from the East,  ’Tis not good for man nor beast.”

April and May, you can never trust them. Don’t forget the very wide old saw: “Don’t change your clout, ’Till May is out.”

The Scairbhin

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