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Summer, it's literally not what it used to be

Most of us learnt in school that summer was in May, June and July but that’s not what Met Éireann says…

SUMMER, THAT’S THE months of May, June and July, right? Well no, not according to Met Éireann.

According to the Irish meteorological agency, summer is in fact the months of June, July and August. It even says so in this ‘Fun Facts for Young Primary Students’ leaflet.

Although when many of us were primary school students, we would have been told by our teachers that summer is the months of May, June and July and that August is the beginning of autumn.

So which is it and why the confusion?

According to Met Éireann, summer is defined as the three warmest months of the year. The agency bases its definition on climatological data over a nearly 30-year period.

That definition is in line with most European institutes’ definition of summer and with what the World Meteorological Organisation says.

Strictly speaking, the seasons are defined by the annual changes in the weather but how do we know exactly when the first daffodil of spring has started blooming or the first leaf of autumn has fallen from the trees?

As Met Éireann explains in this document:

The use of these astronomically defined dates for the start of the seasons is due, in the main, to the need, seen by diary manufacturers and quiz masters and the like, for definitive dates.

But even so those definitive dates differ when it comes to what many of us were taught in school.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) told TheJournal.ie that in the primary school system the focus is on the Irish approach to seasons as reflected in the Irish language and in local custom and practice in classes for infants.

This refers to the fact that here in Ireland we define 1 February as the first day of spring after St Bridget, the patron saint of cattle and dairy work, from early Christian times. This was initially a pagan festival Imbolc, celebrating the new year on the farm.

Still confused as to when summer is?

Well you shouldn’t be. The NCAA adds:

Older students would also be introduced to the meteorological description in addition to the cultural practice.

It does not cause confusion, [it] raises lots of interesting points for discussion and there are no plans to amend this approach.

In any case, any move to change the early primary school curriculum to line up with Met Éireann’s definition of summer would be a big one and according to a spokesperson for the Department of Education:

At the present time that’s the curriculum that has been there from year dot.

A decision to change would not be taken lightly with the amount of textbooks out there.

With the current [economic] climate, this would be a huge thing.

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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