Farm Ireland

Wednesday 13 December 2017

The season's here for poets and romantics

Trees shedding leaves and shorter days brings to mind a line which paints a fine word-picture of autumn: 'A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer’s wave goodbye'
Trees shedding leaves and shorter days brings to mind a line which paints a fine word-picture of autumn: 'A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer’s wave goodbye'
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

THERE is always a sense of pleasant anticipation when looking forward to the next season, whether it be spring, summer, autumn or winter.

Our memories also tend to be selective and we mostly think about and recall only the nicer elements of each of the seasons.

In winter we long for spring and by the time October arrives we are again happily dreaming of crisp frosty mornings, blazing log fires, roast pheasant, the sounds of cattle munching contentedly in warm sheds and those wonderful farmyard scents of hay, silage and well-fed animals. Despite the workload that snow brings, we can still appreciate the beauty of a countryside transformed into a white wonderland.

Spring brings a sense of hope and renewal with fresh shoots, snowdrops, daffodils and the gradual leafing of trees. Later, the return of the swallows and house martins, song birds busy nest-building and the sounds of the dawn chorus all reassure us that, once again, crops will grow and if the weather is kind, food will again be plentiful.

Mayday heralds the arrival of summer, a time of lush abundance when our ancestors celebrated the date with feasts and festivals to honour the \continuity of life and our survival for another year. The customs associated with Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasagh recall the ever-present Celtic link with our ancient history and our inherited closeness to the land.

Marking the seasons and the changes in the strength of the sun were, until very recently, of huge importance, for the success or failure of crops meant the difference between life and death.


It is thought to have been around 500BC when the first Celtic settlers arrived in Ireland and their influence is still very evident today in our art, literature and language, principally due to the work in the 1890s of Celtic revivalists such as Douglas Hyde and WB Yeats. These gifted scholars successfully created a historical identity and a sense of real pride in being Irish. Yeats especially popularised our written mythology which abounds with stories of heroes and heroines who are said to have lived in Ireland in ancient times.

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There are tales of strong women and warrior men, gods and goddesses, and the people of the goddess Danu, the Tuatha De Danann. There are wonderful descriptions of love, passion, cattle raiding, poets who have powers to paralyse with their words, women who train warriors for battle, and druids who can foretell the outcome of wars. Throughout the text of these legends, just like today, the weather and the changing seasons were all-important. The cycle of growth, ripening, decay and renewal ruled our ancestors' lives at a time when successful agriculture was the only means of survival.

With the earlier ripening crops we now grow, September is more in tune with that sense of the waning of summer than the end of October which formerly marked the beginning of Samhain. The Celtic year began then with celebrations that predated the modern harvest festivals. As the days shorten we are again approaching that time when grain has been harvested, ripe fruit, nuts and berries have been picked and logs cut and stored as we prepare for the long, cold winter nights ahead.


There is something about autumn that has always appealed to poets and romantics and many famous poems have been penned in honour of the season. Perhaps the best known is To Autumn by John Keats, written in 1819, less than two years before his early death from TB at the age of 25. The opening lines "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun" capture the essence of the fading of summer, as did Yeats when he wrote The Falling of the Leaves. Yet another of those poems that we toiled over at school and only appreciated later in life. I have no idea who wrote the following line but it paints a wonderful word-picture of the season and our thoughts as winter approaches: "A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer's wave goodbye."

And finally, getting quickly back to the real world of fickle weather, overdrafts and the task of just trying to earn our living growing crops and rearing animals for market, I asked a farming friend what he thought of when autumn arrives. He said that to him it was a time for the three Ms: mushrooms, maggots and mastitis. Not quite what Yeats or Keats might have said but we all know where he was coming from.

Irish Independent