Saturday, 13 June 2015

Summer in Galway: Thor, human sacrifices, pagans & sun stroke

Thor's Battle Against the Jötnar (1872) by Mårten Eskil Winge

After May’s rather desultory attempt at making a summer, June has delighted us all with its more determined approach to creating sunshine and blue skies. Where May skulked and scowled at the sun, June has been skipping along smiling and winking and making an Ghrian grin and blush with happiness and pleasure. Of course the less poetically minded prefer the explanation from Met Éireann that our present pleasant weather is nothing more than the result of ‘Continental anticyclones blocking Atlantic depressions’.

Yet there may be another more troubling explanation for the change in the weather. Two weeks ago me and my boys were walking down the hill that rolls steeply from our house to Rusheen Bay. The rain came on, fast and furious and spitting bits of ice at us. My youngest son, Callum, was not a bit put out by this. Having spent eight months at a Catholic school he knows all about the power of prayer. When you are trouble all you have to do is put your hands together, look serene and ask God for help.

Unfortunately my son is a very gregarious little boy who will chat away to anybody, including proscribed deities. The very idea of there being only one god is completely beyond him. He also enjoys looking and hearing all about strange ancient rituals. So as the freezing rain beat down, my son stopped walking, put his hands together, raised his eyes skywards and declared: ‘Dear Thor, if you stop the rain I will make a human sacrifice.’ The rain stopped. Instantly. Without pause or hesitation. Stopped. ‘Good stuff’, declared my little pagan and then hurried on down the hill.

Now of course, it may have simply been a cosmic coincidence, but it was a pretty startling thing to behold. The problem is my son is now determined to carry out a human sacrifice by way of thanks to the Thunder God. He asked my neighbours seven year old daughter but she did not want to be ritually killed. He then complained to her mother who said ‘Sure. Next time’s she naughty I’ll send her round to be sacrificed.’ My son has been waiting patiently but so far his chosen victim has not come calling. His happy blue eyes are now looking further afield.

However, blood thirsty infants are not the only danger facing sun lovers in the west of Ireland. Before we rush down to the beach its well to remember the safety tips from Atlantic Coast LifeGuards: Always swim between the red and yellow flags; Read the safety signs; Ask a lifeguard for safety advice; Swim with a friend; If you need help, stay calm and attract attention. 

As for the sun, the HSE advises: cover up with loose clothing and wear a hat and avoid going out when the sun is strongest (usually noon time); when buying sunscreen, choose one with a sun protection factor (SPF) that is suitable for your skin type and protects against both UVA and UVB rays; and remember, even if the sunscreen is water-resistant, you need to reapply it after a swim. The HSE also has good advice on avoiding heatstroke on those extra hot days: stay in the shade; don’t overdo physical exertion; have plenty of cold drinks but no caffeine or alcohol.

But the most important safety tip to remember is this: If you see a happy looking little boy with curly hair and big blue glasses, run away…

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