Travel Writing by Cory Hanson

Surviving our Last Irish Winter


Dublin—4:57 p.m.

It’s dark out there. It has been for a while.

As the Irish winter—officially our last—continues to crawl its way to spring, I can’t help but think about how surprised we were by the extreme latitudes of Ireland. Way back then, I wrote about the late summer sunshine and the low winter light:

Tomorrow, December 21st, is the Winter Solstice. The shortest day of the year for the Northern Hemisphere, Planet Earth. The higher latitude has been one of the sneakiest changes we’ve noticed in our move. When we were planning our European vacation last summer, I took a look at the map and was surprised by the position of the continent. Everything seemed…shifted to the north.

When we arrived in Dublin in the high summer of July, it was immediately apparent that we were not in Kansas—or Iowa—any more. The sun stayed up well into the night hours, keeping the sky lit well past our regular bedtime. I had of course heard of baseball games played at midnight in Alaska and the six-month cycle of light and dark at the poles, but I didn’t realize, until checking, that Ireland (and the rest of Europe) sits much closer to the North Pole than any of the continental United States. With the upcoming Winter Solstice, I hit the internet and did some latitudinal research. Per

  • Dublin: approximately 53 Degrees N latitude. Length of day on December 21: 7h:29m:55s
  • Calgary, Canada: approximately 51 Degrees N latitude. Length of day on December 21: 7h:54m:17s
  • Rome, Italy: approximately 41 Degrees N latitude. Length of day on December 21: 9h:07m:38s
  • Iowa City, Iowa: approximately 41 Degrees N latitude. Length of day on December 21: 9h:07m:09s

Lesson here—climate is connected much more with geography than with latitude. Dublin’s winter is certainly nothing compared to what our friends in Calgary will see. Likewise, Southern Iowa’s winter will be much more sever than that in Southern Italy.

Whenever I think about the low track of the Irish winter sun, I always picture our first Howth Head hiking adventure at the end of December 2013—only days after the above post was published. Walking south on those trails—facing directly into the midday sun hovering over the sea—we were dazzled by the glare, and could barely make out the Baily Lighthouse and Dublin City through the blinding water of Dublin Bay.

Glare on the Baily Lighthouse Howth Dublin Ireland Hiking

Glare on the Baily Lighthouse

Now, as we look forward to the end of our last Irish winter, I can say that we won’t miss the short days, nor the low light, nor the cold mornings, nor the heavy rain and floods that have ravaged the country each December and January.

I am reminded of the early Stone Age builders of Newgrange, measuring the year by the sunrise on the horizon. How happy must they have been to see the sun reach its lowest point, knowing that spring was finally—finally—on its way. In a way, I feel a little like they must have—minus the neverending discomfort and fear of death in one of many horrible ways—knowing that the worst of the winter is behind me and that spring and summer, with all of their exciting unknowns, are just around the corner.

I finished that 2013 blog post comparing the Irish winter to the cold, snowy, icy, sub-zero winters in Iowa:

I guess we should consider ourselves lucky to be here, and we do.

I must have written that before we received our first winter electricity bill.

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