This unusual hornpipe comes from the Ballyshannon area. Long after the language had died out in the area the tune was always referred to by its Irish title. Its name, the Cuckoo’s Storm, refers to an old local belief that the first winds of April brought the cuckoo to Ireland. Scairbhín translates as ‘the rough month of the cuckoo’ from the phrase ‘garbh mi na gcuach’, and refers to the last two weeks of April and the first two weeks of May. This period often produces extreme changes in weather patterns. Long ago, subsistence farmers had to be intimately in tune with the land and weather. At this ‘hungry time’ of the year they were busy planting and tending their crops which were too young and underdeveloped to produce food. Scairbhín was nature’s way of guaranteeing the crops success. Early ‘unseasonal’ warm weather would allow seeds to germinate, a sudden cold snap would then serve to ‘harden off’ the young plants, and the howling gales which followed would disperse pollen. Scairbhín overlapped with the arrival of the cuckoo. Its call heralded the arrival of early spring and the milder weather which was sure to come, but which had not yet quite appeared.
Hornpipes emerged from the British maritime tradition in the mid to late 18th century. Shipping companies employed resident fiddlers to provide music for dancing. After its arrival in Ireland, dancing-masters adopted it as a showpiece. It became the supreme display of intricate foot-work. It differs from a reel in that it is usually played at a slower pace and with a dotted rhythm.