Saturday 21 July 2018

Praying for rain could become the norm amid global warming

The Beast from the East and record temperatures in Ireland may share some common ground, writes John Sweeney

Marie Louise de Jong, Marleen Wester, David Faber and Judith van Driel of The Dudok Quartet Amsterdam at Bantry House, Co Cork. They are performing in St Brendan’s Church at 8pm on Tuesday at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival. www.westcorkmusic.ie. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney
Marie Louise de Jong, Marleen Wester, David Faber and Judith van Driel of The Dudok Quartet Amsterdam at Bantry House, Co Cork. They are performing in St Brendan’s Church at 8pm on Tuesday at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival. www.westcorkmusic.ie. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney

John Sweeney

On July 2, 1887, the following circular was issued by the Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath: "Rev and Dear Brother, The long drought threatens to become a national calamity. Agreeably to the apostolic precept, that 'in all things by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, our requests should be declared to God', our Church sanctions public prayers for such changes of weather as may be most conducive to human comfort and prosperity. I therefore authorise you, under the present circumstances, to use the prayer for rain."

In a country where we mostly pray for the rain to stop, this exhortation to pray for drought relief seems to be the only such occurrence over the past three centuries. Droughts in Ireland do not figure prominently in our consciousness.

However, recent work by my colleague Conor Murphy and his team at Maynooth University has demonstrated that, historically, they were much more of a feature of the Irish climate than has been the case over the past 40 years. Indeed, the weather chart for the end of June 1887 is almost identical to that of the end of June 2018. Then, as now, the drought was most severe in the east of the country and led to widespread crop failures and water supply problems. Health concerns were more prominent as the public sewers lacked enough water to flush waste through them.

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