10 amazing facts about rainbows — in Ireland and beyond

We all love to see rainbows after some Irish rain. But how much do you really know about them? Check out our fun facts about rainbows in Ireland (and beyond).

10 amazing facts about rainbows in Ireland and beyond

Rainbows have fascinated humans for millennia. They have inspired poems, paintings, and songs. They fill our Instagram feeds and—if we are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time—the camera rolls of our iPhones.

And while most of us have yet to find that promised pot of gold guarded by a leprechaun at the end of the rainbow, we still root for the popular Irish legend.

Unfortunately, it takes some patience to spot a rainbow. While you are waiting to take that perfect shot (or just marvel at it with the naked eye), read through our fun Irish facts about rainbows.

10. Rainbow in Latin means “rainy arch”

Amazing facts about rainbows include the meaning of the word
A rainbow in County Donegal

Rainbow comes from the Latin arcus pluvius and the Old English term renboga, meaning “rainy arch” or “rain bow”.  The name pretty much speaks for itself.

However, just in case you might wonder where “bow” descends from, it’s a Proto-Germanic word standing for “to bend”, which was also used to indicate a curved direction or an arch.

9. Mornings and evenings are best to see rainbows

Amazing facts about rainbows include the best times to see them
A rainbow at Muckish Mountain in Donegal

While, technically, rainbows can appear any time of the day, mornings and evenings are your best bet to spot one. When the sun is 42 degrees up, light passes through water drops at the proper angle to create a rainbow above the horizon.

When the sun is higher—or lower—the rainbow will be below and often invisible or blocked by buildings and trees. Rainbows appear in the sky opposite the sun, so no matter how much you crave a few sun rays, turn your back on them.

8. Rainbows are full circles – if you watch them from above

Amazing facts about rainbows include the fact that they are full circles
Credit: @city_of_physics / Twitter

We are used to seeing rainbows as an arch, but that’s just because the horizon cuts them in half. If you are lucky to come across one while being on a plane—or if you have a thing for skydiving and jump at the right time—you can admire it in full bloom as a circle.

7. Aristotle was obsessed with rainbows

Amazing facts about rainbows include the fact that Aristotle with them

Greek philosopher Aristotle was one of the first prominent names to seriously dig into exploring the world of rainbows. In fact, he was the first in history to figure out how rainbows were created.

That being said, the famous scholar didn’t get all the facts quite right: In his book “Meteorologica”, he declared that rainbows only contained three colours: purple, red, and greenish-yellow. A quick look at our fun facts about rainbows in Ireland would have proven him wrong (see below).

6. Rainbows have a lot more colours than you might think

Amazing facts about rainbows include the fact that they have a lot more colours than you might assume
A rainbow over Cahir Castle in County Tipperary

Unlike Aristotle, we were taught at school that rainbows had seven colours, namely red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. However, that’s not entirely true either.

In reality, each hue blends into the next, and according to scientists, rainbows contain up to one million (!) different colours, many of them invisible to the human eye. The glorious seven date back to Isaac Newton’s theory in the 17th century. Fun fact: In China, rainbows officially come in just five colours.

5. Greeks believed in a goddess of the rainbow

Irish was the goddess of rainbows in Greek mythology
A painting by George Hayter of Venus, supported by rainbow goddess Iris, complaining to Mars

Rainbows have fascinated people for thousands of years. In Greek mythology, there even was a goddess of the rainbow called Iris, believed to link humans to immortals by serving as a messenger between both worlds.

The Romans had a pretty similar concept, while later on, the rainbow became a sort of physical connection between heaven and earth.

4. Hawaii has more rainbows than any other place on Earth (sorry, Ireland)

Amazing facts about rainbows include the fact that Hawaii has the most rainbows on Earth
A rainbow in Honolulu, Hawaii

Given the perfect mix of showers, misty rain, and sunshine, rainbows in Ireland are common—but the most sightings are recorded in Hawaii. In fact, the “aloha state” is often nicknamed “The Rainbow State”, and Honolulu is called “The Rainbow Capital of the World”.

Rainbows are so common in Hawaii that they have become not just part of everyday life (and pretty much every travel and Instagram picture), but they are also depicted on vehicle licence plates.

3. The longest-lasting rainbow was seen in Taiwan

A rainbow in Taiwan
A rainbow in Taiwan (Credit: Martin Lindstrom / Flickr)

Typically, rainbows disappear pretty quickly, but Taipei’s locals were treated to a very special sighting on 30th November 2017: The colourful spectacle was visible from 6:57 to 15:55—that’s 8 hours and 58 minutes!

Taiwan’s rainbow beat the Guinness World Record holder at the time—Wetherby, Yorkshire in the UK, which arched for six hours straight on 14th March 1994. Ireland needs to up its rainbow game!

2. Rainbows at night do exist – but they are rare

A moonbow (lunar rainbow) captured in Scotland
A moonbow (lunar rainbow) captured in Scotland (Credit: Andy Rogers / Flickr)

We have all seen rainbows in Ireland in daylight. But what happens to them when the sun goes down? Even though they are much rarer, rainbows do exist in the dark. Just like the sun, moonlight can produce them.

The lunar version is often referred to as “moonbow” and typically looks monochrome or white. However, a few photographers have managed to actually get colourful shots using extra-long exposure. If you are one of them, we would love to see your pictures!

1. No two people see the same rainbow

A rainbow near the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland
A rainbow near the Cliffs of Moher (Credit: @jewelsfamilytravel / Instagram)

Rainbows are optical illusions formed when light rays bend—and no two people can see the exact same one. Even the person standing right next to you will look at a slightly different version.

The reason for that is simple: It all depends on how the light is being bent and reflected back to you. Don’t believe us? Cover one eye and look at the rainbow, and then switch to the other one and notice the difference.

Avatar
Astrid Hofer works as a freelance journalist for media outlets around the world, mainly writing about travel, lifestyle, and pop culture. When she is not busy listening to live music in one of her favourite pubs, taking cheesy sunset pictures at the beach, or cliff walking, she can usually be found over a mug of hot chocolate planning her next trip.