Yes, a frost in May/ Cork

Posted by SR on October 06, 2004

In Reply to: Yes, a frost in May posted by Shae on October 06, 2004

: : : : : : : : : : : Can anybody help with derivation of this expression; used in the childrens song "Here we go gathering nuts in May, nuts in May, nuts in May"
: : : : : : : : : : : In the northern hemisphere at least, one would expect to gather nuts in May; rather in the autumn or winter!

: : : : : : : : : : 'Here we go gathering nuts in May
: : : : : : : : : : On a cold and frosty morning!'
: : : : : : : : : : I remember it from my childhood in Ireland but have not heard it in years. Did you mean one would 'not' expect to gather nuts in May?

: : : : : : : : :
: : : : : : : : : Thanks !! You are exactly right; I did nmean to write " not in May". Simply careless -- again!!

: : : : : : : : It's apparently a corruption of "knots in May", bunches of flowers.

: : : : : : : Yes, correct.

: : : : : : : "Remember the old childhood rhyme, "Here we go gathering nuts in May?" Well, there are no nuts involved at all. The word was originally knots, and referred to knots or bunches of flowers. So, while May 1st was an important day in the Irish farming calendar, it was also a time to celebrate the end of winter with the gathering of flowers, dancing around bonfires or May poles, and one very special activity usually performed by Irish children - the making of a May bush. It was once thought that on Beltane, the fairies would get up to more mischief than usual. So, parents were just as eager to help their children in the creation of this important May Day symbol, because it was said to protect the family, ward off evil spirits and ensure a plentiful harvest in the coming months. In more recent times, as the influence of the Roman Catholic Church became stronger and more widespread throughout Ireland, the erecting of the May Bush was done to honor the Virgin Mary."

: : : : : : I agree with all of that, and if it does not sound presumptuous, I would add that 'May' = hawthorn (Crataegus).

: : : : : : DFG

: : : : : So the unseasonal nuts have been fully explained - however, still appearing fractionally improbable is a frost at that time of year. I'm looking toward our Irish contingent (yes, Shae, that's you) to confirm that Irish climates are as harsh as the rhyme seems to claim.

: : : :
: : : : I am not Shae, but frost in May is a bit unusual but not at all unknown in the North of Ireland (and has been known elsewhere.)

: : : : DFG

: : : I keep thinking back to Frank McCourt's description of Ireland's weather. Maybe it should have been "cold and mouldy" instead...

: :
: : And 'May' (as in hawthorn) flowers several months earlier than the month of May.

: : DFG

: For its latitude, Ireland's climate is temperate due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. As an example, Dublin and Moscow are at the same latitude but they don't have similar climates. Nevertheless, frost and even snow are not unknown in Ireland during May. Based on a 30-year average, the south-west of the country has ground frost on one day during May while the centre has it on seven days. Bearing in mind that the 'nuts' of the nursery rhyme were collected on May 1, it's quite feasible that the morning in question was indeed cold and frosty.

: As for Frank McCourt, even Limerick people agree he must have grown up in a different Limerick to everybody else. While filming 'Angela's Ashes' on location, the director insisted on using the rain machine even on days when it actually was raining!

I remember frosty May mornings in Cork with a trace of snow on the Galtee Mountains. The salt spray from the Atlantic and the Blackwater had a crisp, cold smell and taste. We even had a saying: "April, May, stay out of the sea (say). June, July, swim 'til you die!."