I think I was sixteen when I first encountered the Si Gaoithe. I was the boy that season with Michael Barry of the High Street, which would have made this event occurring in the summer of 1982. It was one of those beautiful sunny and still summer days, which are so rare when fishing. So dry and calm, that you can forgo the oilskins and woolly jumpers, and controlling the punt was a lot less of a challenge, having only tidal conditions to contend with.
|An Sidhe Gaoith Daniel McDonald 1841 NFC|
Suddenly all hell broke loose. One of the punts was rocking and a voice could be heard in high animation. Despite the distance, it was clearly the punt of Christy Doherty (RIP) and there was some talk that Christy must have "lost it" or perhaps had landed a "pig of a salmon" our parlance for a very large fish.
|Hauling the nets Photo via Tomás Sullivan|
It later emerged that what Christy was so excited about was the Si Gaoithe, which was falling all around his punt and he was letting other punts nearby know, so that they might see it. I was never clear if he was upset or happy to see it. For many you see the Si Gaoithe is a omen they prefer to avoid. When I told my grandmother later, she blessed herself and said, "God protected ye from all harm"
The Si Gaoithe itself however is a natural phenomenon and is something that traditional people have their own names for worldwide. We also have our own local traditions about it here in Ireland, which vary from county to county. I decided to borrow a definition rather than pretend I know the science. "A dustdevil is a whirlwind of air into which dust and debris gets caught up, making it visible. Dust devils form through a different mechanism than tornadoes, and are much smaller, usually only 10 to 50 feet in diameter, and usually not extending more than 100 feet into the air. They usually are seen during relatively dry conditions, when sunlight is providing strong heating of the surface, and when winds are generally light. The heated land surface produces convective rolls of air (as in the diagram above) since the wind is a little stronger at (say) 100 feet in altitude than near the ground. If these rolls get tilted upright, then a dust devil can form."
|Joel and myself many years back out on the river|
Witnessing such events is a privilege, one that I haven't seen since we stopped fishing. It may seem like I'm fooling myself, but I still believe today as I did in 2006, that I would one day be back on the river and I am not going to loose sight of that anytime soon.
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