02 November 2014

It was more like Samhradh than Samhain on
the sands of Brittas Bay this afternoon

The beach at Brittas Bay … it was more like a late summer afternoon than the beginning of winter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

Today is traditionally marked as All Souls’ Say [2 November], while yesterday, 1 November, was All Saints’ Day and in Ireland traditionally marked the first day of winter.

The month of November is Mí na Samhna in Irish, and Samhain marked the beginning of winter, in the same way that Imbolc (1 Feabhra or February, Lá Fhéile Bríde, or Saint Brigid’s Day), marked the beginning of Spring, Bealtaine (1 May) announced the arrival of Summer, and Lughnasa or Lúnasa on 1 August hailed the start of autumn.

The meaning of the word is linked with a festival and or assembly held on 1 November in mediaeval Ireland, but its meaning may also refer to “summer’” – from sam (summer) and fuin (end), although summer ended much earlier than this time of the year.

We are about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. This was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter.

But the cattle were still out grazing in the green fields this afternoon, there was a clear blue sky, and the countryside was basking in lights that made it look more like early autumn or late summer than the beginning of winter.

Warm sunshine at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

I was the deacon at the Choral Eucharist in the Christ Church Cathedral this morning, reading the Gospel (Matthew 23: 1-12) and assisting at the administration of the Holy Communion. This morning, Canon Ken Kearon preached his last sermon as a canon of the cathedral prior to his consecration as Bishop of Limerick.

It is hard to believe that winter may have started … the view across the countryside with Greystones below this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Later, two of us headed south in the bright sunshine, and we stopped to admire the green and yellow fields, and the view across Greystones and the harbour and out to sea, before going to lunch in the Happy Pear.

It was bright enough and warm enough to sit out on the street while we had lunch al fresco, and lingered a little longer over two perfect double espressos.

Initially, we thought of going for an afternoon stroll on the beach in Greystones, but it was so warm and sunny we had second thoughts and decided instead to drive further south to Brittas Bay.

It is almost four years since I was in Brittas Bay [3 January 2011], and we had planned a walk on the beach there last Friday [31 October 2014] after visiting Kilpatrick House in search of further details about Ludwig Wittgenstein’s time in Ireland.

I imagined that during the winter months he spent at Kilpatrick House, between December 1947 and April 1948, Wittgenstein went for many walks along the sand dunes at Brittas Bay.

However, the grey clouds and the threat of rain on Friday steered us away from Brittas Bay, and instead we went for lunch at the at the Avoca Garden Café in Mount Usher Gardens near Ashford, and a stroll through the garden centre and shops.

The setting sun at Brittas Bay this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

We headed south to Brittas Bay this afternoon, but the road works on the N11 at Jack White’s we almost missed the turn to the coast, and were heading towards Arklow before we found our way back again onto the coast road.

Brittas Bay is between Wicklow Town and Arklow, and on summer days it is one of the most popular beaches near Dublin for day-trippers. The beach at Brittas Bay stretches for 5 km of almost-uninterrupted white sand dunes and clean beaches, and the powdery sand and sand dunes form an Area of Scientific Interest (ASI) that is both rare and unique.

The name Brittas comes from the Old French bretesche, meaning “brattice, boarding or planking,” and refers to wooden defences associated with a motte or castle-mound of the Anglo-Norman period. Today, wooden boardwalks from the car parks to the beach are a measure to protect the 100 hectares of sand dunes, with their wildlife and plants.

The main car park was closed, but we found another one at the southern end of the beach, and used a small pathway to cross the dunes to the beach.

Two swimmers braving the water and the waves at Brittas Bay this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Down on the beach, a few families were playing with kites, there was a small number of lone stragglers, and two people – a woman in a wet suit and a man in swimming shorts – were brave enough to try swimming in the waves and the cold water.

Behind the beach, beyond the dunes, the sun was setting somewhere in the west in the Wicklow Mountains, out in the east, the wind generators were whirling away at their work on the sand banks in the sea. We walked a little north first, towards Mizen Head enjoying the clear skies and rolling waves.

Four years ago, I wrote of how Brittas Bay must have featured in countless school essays in Irish, each entitled “Cois Farraige,” and each with the opening words: “Lá brea samhraidh a bhí ann. Bhí an grian ag tainbh ...” We left reluctantly, imagining we were catching not the first bright days of Samhain but the last lingering beams of Samradh.

On the way back, we missed the signs to Jack Whites and the N11 and ended up on the northern edges of Arklow. But the traffic was light, and we were back in south Dublin before darkness had closed in.

A kite in the air above Brittas Bay this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

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