Will it be a white Christmas? Is the snow and frost going to paralyse the country again? What type of summer will we have? Every year bookmakers, farmers, ice cream companies, bus and car drivers are increasingly hanging on the word of a cheerful postman from Glenfin who has been accurately predicting the weather.
A new documentary on TG4 next Sunday follows Michael Gallagher on his postal rounds and gets an insight into his gift for weather prediction, the people he meets and how his skills have been handed down to him from an isolated community from deep within the Bluestack mountains. The documentary, ‘Fear na hAimsire’ is an intimate portrait of this enigmatic postman, his lifelong commitment to learning traditional weather signs and his 40 years in the heart of a community and people.
Over 40 years ago Michael set out on this post route on a bicycle his father bought him, a large leather satchel and bottle of tea. Today he drives an An Post van and has a flask. Weaving his way up both sides of the Reelin river through Galwolie, Ardlaghan, Cloghan, Commeen, Ballykerrigan, Letterhillue and Carrickalangen the documentary
follows Michael as he make his way to ‘Na Cruacha’ - an isolated enclave deep within the Finn valley where only a handful of houses are left of a community that once numbered in the hundreds. It is here where Michael learned the age-old signs of weather prediction that were handed down from generation to generation.
“The principles on which I base my predictions have been passed down for hundreds of years. Before the tsunami a few years ago, I saw the animals scarpering for the hills. There are always signs,” says Michael.
Stopping off in a sub post-office to drop some mail, Michael makes a key prediction about the forthcoming winter to post-mistress Ann McGlynn on what our winter has in store for us. Will it be as bad as last year?
Michael keeps his eyes peeled for birds and insects. The wren, robin, sparrow or finch seen washing and preening their feathers in a pool of water is a sign of fine weather. If Willy wagtails can be seen fluttering about street or farmyard, heavy rain may be expected. If the Robin sings in the evenings in Spring or Summer, rain will fall on the following day.
His techniques were picked up from the people of Na Cruacha.
“You know a lot of these people couldn’t read or write. They asked me to read them letters from America and some of it was very sad news indeed. But these people understood that all life on earth depended on the sun so they looked to the sun and planets, wind and water, bird and beast which all depended on the sun, for their guidelines. The heavenly bodies were studied very carefully by these people, for any changes in the weather. There was no radio or television up here,” Michael says.
Too many full moons in the month meant a storm was near at hand. If the weather does not change at the beginning of any phase of the moon, it means it will not change for the duration of that quarter. Also the first quarter of the New Moon follows the same pattern of weather as the last quarter of the old moon.
Michael is often to be found rooting around under bushes or behind walls. Worms, crawling on the road or on the surface of the ground, is a fore-bringer of rain, but, if seen crawling on the doorstep, look out for floods. Midges seen flying in multitudes up the mountain are a sure sign of approaching rain or the fox rambling near a river points
to frost. A sting from a flying ant can be very painful, and, the more painful it is, the nearer the rain.
Michael’s predictive techniques are numerous and varied and attract significant media attention every year - particularly as for the past three years he has accurately predicted Winter conditions. The last of a dying breed of postmen, Michael is a believer in the social role of the postman as a vital link to isolated rural communities, a tradition that he has adhered to for over 40 years serving the people of the Finn Valley.
The documentary also provides an intimate portrait of the Na Cruacha, the stunning landscape, the rich heritage and folklore passed down from generation to generation. Na Cruacha which has been documented by Folklorists from Switzerland, Germany, Iceland and North America, its people and traditions and more importantly its flora, fauna and
scenery will illuminate the documentary.
‘Fear na hAimsire’ is to be broadcast next Sunday, December 11 at 9.30pm