The Faoillich

I still recall the warm February day many years ago, when my mother-in-law explained The Faoillich to me.

It was the dead of winter. But after endless weeks of bone-chilling winds and daily snow squalls that turned into blizzards, the temperatures rose above zero; icicles melted as the brilliant sun bounced sparkles off them. There were several days of it.

“Is spring here”, I asked hopefully one day over tea, the house bright with winter sun.

“No,” she said, her voice full of wisdom. “It’s the Faoillich.”

According to the old Celtic traditions, the faoillich represents a warming period in the middle of winter. Some old Gaelic books say it represents the last two weeks of February; others say it is only a few days. The belief was that the warm days were borrowed from the summer in exchange for a few cooler days in the summer.

There are a number of translations of the word. Some early texts believe it translates to mean ‘wolf’ (faol) for the Wolf month, believing the cold brought the wolves out into the open in search of food. Others believe it refers to ‘dog days’ – as in the dog days of summer, while others still believe it could from the Gaelic word ‘faoile’ meaning joy. Those particular authors surmise the Gaels were overjoyed at the cold winter as it meant spring was sure to follow. (I think that is a stretch).

This Gaelic saying describes the winter season:

Mìos faoillich, seachdain feadaig       A month of the wolf, a week of the plover,

Ceithir latha deug gearrain,                Fourteen days of the gelding,

Seachdain caillich                               A week of the old woman,

Tri latha sguabaig                              Three days of the little broom

Suas an t-earrach                               Up the spring.

Then, hopefully, winter will be swept out the door.

A winter scene near River Denys, Cape Breton. (Bethune Photo)

Written for by Jocelyn Bethune

The Faoillich

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