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Tales from the Other Side: The borrowed days of March

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

Welcome to ‘Tales from the Other Side’ where we look at folklore, mythology and magic.

Like the Irish people, the weather is never boring or predictable and you can expect to see the changes multiple times during the day. It’s no surprise that there are a host of phrases and lore related to the weather that has shaped the landscape and favourite topic of conversation. In the past, people predicted the weather by analysing the sky, patterns in the environment or the behaviour of birds and animals. There are also proverbs that relate to particular points in the calendar that people used to calculate what conditions the coming days would bring. Michael Gallagher, a retired postman from Donegal, is known for using some of these methods to predict the weather and people eagerly await his forecasts for the year.

In Ireland spring begins on 1st February which coincides with the Celtic feast of Imbolc or St Brigid’s day. As this is the start of the agricultural year farmers are always keen to know what weather the season may hold and there are many proverbs and stories particularly related to this time of year.

The last three days of March and the first three days of April are considered to be days during spring where there will be a relapse into cold, wintry weather. These days are known as ‘the borrowed days’ or ‘the reevouge days’. They are considered to be days of ill omens where chaos and disorder reign. No new tasks or enterprises should be started on these days and any big decisions or journeys should be avoided.

According to legend, the month of March used to be 28 days long. One particular March there was a brindled cow who longed for the month to be over as it was so cold and wintry. The cow complained constantly about the cold, biting winds and harsh weather of March. However, she also boasted that despite the terrible conditions that she would not perish and would survive to see the better month of April come in. When March heard this it angered him greatly and he went to speak to April. March begged to borrow three days saying “April, April, stand to me now and lend me three days to skin this old cow”. In his fury, March then set out to make these three days even more cold and miserable than before.

The first of them was wind and wet,

The second of them was snow and sleet

The third of them was such a freeze,

It froze the birds’ claws to the trees

During these three days, the poor old cow grew weaker and weaker before finally being defeated by March and therefore failing to survive to see the milder days of April.

For more on Michael Donegal see here

Browse the Tales from the Other Side archive here


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