Though November arrived gently, it brought with it a reminder of the winter to come. By Deborah Watkins
Writing about the weather in Connemara is a risky business, particularly as conditions can change dramatically overnight, but with that caveat I think it is safe to say that November has arrived gently this year. It’s been a remarkable autumn that has stretched further that we dare to hope for, when we expect to brace ourselves for grey days plunged into early darkness, bitter winds and rain, and more rain.
But it’s as if we have earned some recompense for our waterlogged summer, and a short memory forgives.
The line ‘of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ from John Keats’ poem has borne true in an autumn that has blossomed with warmth and colour. Cloudless skies, hedgerows dazzled with rose hips and berries, extravagant golden grasses and heathers spidered with silvery mists. We’ve had a bounty of these sights and a bounty of days offered up one after the other, each one strung to the last, an added boon.
Last month saw Christ Church celebrate a community Harvest Festival as the whole community was invited to share in a tradition long held in the Church of Ireland, where thanks are given for the gifts of the land. Canon James Ronayne was the guest speaker and he shared his own thoughts on the festival, which while not an intrinsic part of the catholic tradition, can nonetheless be shared by all – particularly in this most rich and beautiful part of the country.
Church of Ireland churches are decorated throughout the country with fruit and vegetables for the harvest festival, alongside woven breads and autumn flowers and leaves. The celebration includes special hymns and prayers that offer thanks for the fruits of the earth. It is an ancient practice that has links with our pagan past.
As well as being the Irish name for August, ‘Lughnasa’ is the start of the Celtic season named after the ancient god Lugh, and is a celebration of the harvest cycle. Traditionally, people participated with dancing and a ritual cutting of the first corn. It wasn’t always a pagan ceremony, however, as medieval Christians also embraced the idea of harvest, making it a time to bless the fields to ensure a fruitful year ahead.
Harvest festivals are habitually held on or near the Sunday of the harvest moon, although this is not strictly adhered to today.
This year’s red lunar eclipse was a spectacular sight for anyone who stayed up to see it. It was also a harvest moon and I fancy it foretold the rewards of the season ahead, and news of a winter still in waiting.
My thanks to Mark Furniss who has allowed me to use his photographs, taken in Connemara over the last few weeks. You can view more of Mark’s work at www.markfurnissphotography.ie