Thursday 20 September 2018

Dry up and learn to love the downpour

Our communal wringing-out unites us as the Blitz did Londoners, writes Joseph O'Connor

The tens of thousands of English Literature students who received their exam results on Wednesday will know the definition of Pathetic Fallacy. It's the attribution of human characteristics to inanimate objects or phenomena, especially weather. For example, angry clouds; a cruel wind; a vicious night. The term was coined originally by the great 19th-Century literary critic John Ruskin, who we can tell was not an Irishman because, had he been, he would have added "a f***ing hoor of a summer" to his list of arresting examples.

Pathetic fallacy doesn't get any more pathetic than during this summer in Ireland. But it isn't the first time we've known such a saturation. Remember the brilliant comic misery of Flann O'Brien's satirical novel The Poor Mouth, whose narrator reaches ecstasies of Celtic despair in descriptions of the relentlessly awful weather of his childhood? "Sometimes a little spell of weak whispering was audible but generally no sound except the roar of the water falling outside from the gloomy skies, just as if those on high were emptying buckets of that vile wetness on the world ... New hardships and new calamities were in store for the Gaels."

The wise O'Brien was on to something. For in Ireland, when we talk about the weather, we are always talking about something else. It's a code, a secret language that foreigners don't understand. It's our opera, our constant theme, our ever-changing drama. As such, it's also a way of saying how we feel, what we want, where we see ourselves. It's a barometer of national self-esteem, a sort of meteorological patriotism, and these days, as we know, the needle is pointing to "unsettled". Recession is drifting in like a slow-moving cold front. Unlike Dail Eireann, the heavens open daily. Last Saturday, more rain fell on

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