The Scaraveen is the time between April 15th and May 15th each year in Ireland, when the weather patterns on the west coast of Ireland are a little unpredictable, to say the least.
During this springtime period the weather in Ireland can be very changeable and temperature extremes can be experienced.
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The Scaraveen Tradition
There is a strong tradition of watching out for the Scaraveen in Munster, especially in the coastal areas of counties Cork, Kerry and Clare.
My granny from Skibbereen would often talk of the scaraveen around April, and as a child I had no notion what she was talking about. When I finally questioned her about this Irish weather term, she explained that the weather in spring is chaotic in Ireland, but it’s Mother Nature’s way of taking care of spring time plants, and hardening them up.
The scaraveen can bring unexpected warm spells of weather in springtime which promote plant growth.
Hail showers are frequent during the scaraveen, and these bursts of heavy rain with icy pellets are designed by Mother Nature to harden plants.
Blustery gales are also part and parcel of the scaraveen and their purpose is to distribute pollen and promote plant fertilization.
However, there can be many a frosty morning in late April or May that my granny blamed on the scaraveen. Late frost was the most feared aspect of the scaraveen, since freshly planted potatoes with budding stalks do not fare too well with exposure to a bout of hard frost.
Origins of the Term Scaraveen
“Scaraveen” is an English word derived from the original term in the Irish language.
It is the anglicized version of the old Irish phrase “garbhshíon na gcuach” (pronounced gar-iv-heen nah goo-uck).
This translates as the rough weather or time of the cuckoo. The month of May is ofter referred to as the rough month of the cuckoo by rural Irish people.
The Irish term garbhshíon was transformed initially into the term garaveen in English, and over time this eventually became scaraveen. This word is now part of what we call Hiberno English.
The Rough Month of the Cuckoo
The cuckoo arrives in Ireland at some time during the period of the scaraveens.
This small, solitary bird spends its winters in sub-Saharan Africa, but Ireland’s shores beckon to it around early spring, where it’s familiar call can be heard in the hedgerows.
The cuckoo does not build its own nest, but instead lays her eggs in the nest of another small bird. The mother cuckoo believes in fostering out her young.
When her chicks hatch, they usually eject the chicks that truly belong to the mother bird who owns the nest. The cuckoo chick deceives its foster mother into believing it rightfully belongs in the nest.
Old Irish folklore tells us “the Scaraveen” is Mother Nature’s pay back for the cuckoo.
The cuckoo arrives in Ireland expecting warm spring weather, but as retribution for her sneaky ways of mothering, the cuckoo is not guaranteed mild weather, but is often greeted with frosty nights and sharp, freezing winds.
Cold, wet and truly miserable weather can often happen in Ireland during the time of the Scaraveen, and we can all blame the cuckoo for this unpredicatable weather.
Here’s an old saying from the Irish language.
“Garbhshíon na gcuach is garbh í agus is fuar.”
This translates as:
“The rough weather of the cuckoo is sharp and cold.”
The Irish are a superstitious race, and in rural Ireland the advice from our folklore is to stay out of the sea and avoid sea swimming until after the scaraveen has passed. Mother Nature could get you in the waves, as she calls for retribution on the cuckoo.
Another old saying confirms that May weather is not to be trusted. It goes like this, ‘cast not a clout ’till May is out’. In other words, keep your warm clothes on, until warm days are guaranteed in June.
Have you ever heard of the scaraveen or the rough month of the cuckoo? I look forward to reading your experiences of the scaraveen in the comment section below.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad –Irish American Mom
Pronunciation – slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th
Mairéad – rhymes with parade