Beware the Looney Bird, My Friends
Beware the Looney Bird, My Friends. Even if he claims to be an eye-witness chronicler!
Gerald of Wales (Giraldus de Cambrensis) lived in the 12th century and traveled to Ireland in 1184 with Henry II and in 1185 with Henry's son Lord John (later King John of Magna Carta fame). Gerald visited Ireland again in 1199 and in 1204, at which time he stayed for two years. He died in 1223.
Before his death, Gerald wrote a book about Ireland for King Henry (The History and Topography of Ireland), translated copies of which are available in paperback from Penguin. Oh, boy! Eye-witness information about Ireland during the Norman encroachment.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Among the gems Gerald passed off as eye-witness truth:
1. The cure for snakebite. “The [boot] thongs of that country, those really made from the hides of animals bred in the country, are wont to be an effective remedy, when cut up in little pieces and drunk with water, against the bites of serpents and toads.”
2. The misogynist island. “There is a lake in the north of Munster which contains two islands, one rather large and the other rather small. The larger has a church venerated from the earliest times. The smaller has a chapel cared for most devotedly by a few celibates called ‘heaven-worshippers’ or ‘god-worshippers'.
No woman or animal of the female sex could ever enter the larger island without dying immediately. This has been proved many times by instances of dogs and cats and other animals of the female sex. When brought there often to make a trial, they immediately died.”
3. An island that defies death. “There is an island in the sea west of Connacht which is said to have been consecrated by Saint Brendan. In this island human corpses are not buried and do not putrefy, but are placed in the open and remain without corruption. Here men see with some wonder and recognize their grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and great-great-grandfathers and a long line of ancestors.”
4. Washing in the grey. “There is a well in Munster and if anyone washes in its waters, he immediately turns grey. I saw a man who had washed there one part of his beard. It had turned grey, while the other part retained its natural dark color.”
5. Fish with 18 carat teeth. “Two years before the coming of the English to the island, there was found at Carlingford in Ulster a fish of unusual size and quality. Among other wonderful things about it was that it had three teeth of gold of about fifty ounces’ weight in all. It seemed to prefigure the imminent conquest of the country.”
6. Only truth-speakers. “Iceland, the largest of the islands of the north, lies at a distance of three days’ sailing to the north of Ireland. Its people say little but they always tell the truth. They speak but seldom and briefly and never use an oath. They do not know how to lie.”
7. A wonderful wolf. “About three years before the coming of Lord John into Ireland, it happened that a priest, journeying from Ulster towards Meath, spent the night in a wood on the borders of Meath. He was staying up beside a fire which he had prepared for himself under the leafy branches of a tree, and had for company only a little boy, when a wolf came up to them and immediately broke into these words: ‘Do not be afraid! Do not fear! Do not worry! There is nothing to fear!’
They were completely astounded and in great consternation. The wolf then said some things about God that seemed reasonable.”
8. A wild woman. “Duvenaldus, the king of Limerick, had a woman that had a beard down to her waist. She had also a crest from her neck down along her spine, like a one-year-old foal. It was covered with hair. This woman in spite of these two enormities was, nevertheless, not hermaphrodite, and was in other respects sufficiently feminine. She followed the court wherever it went, provoking laughs as well as wonder.”
9. Lion in love. “I saw in Paris a lion which a cardinal had given when it was a whelp to Philip the son of Louis, then a boy. This lion used to make beastly love to a foolish woman called Johanna. Sometimes when he escaped from his cage and was in such fierce anger that no one would dare to go near him, they would send for Johanna who would calm his anger and great rage immediately. Soothing him with a woman’s tricks, she led him wherever she wanted and changed all his fury immediately into love.”
10. No fleas m’lady. “There is in Connacht a village celebrated for a church of Saint Nannan. In olden times there was such a multitude of fleas there that the place was almost abandoned because of the pestilence, and was left without inhabitants, until, through the intercession of Saint Nannan, the fleas were brought to a certain neighbouring meadow. The divine intervention because of the merits of the saint so cleansed the place that not a single flea could ever afterwards be found here. But the number of them in the meadow is so great that it ever remains inaccessible not only to men, but also to beasts.”
Gosh, ain’t history great?