Bede's Account of Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter V

Bede then continues to give a description of Ireland. His account, although of some length, and not in all points reliable, is too interesting to be omitted, being the opinion of an Englishman, and an author of reputation, as to the state of Ireland, socially and physically, in the seventh century: "Ireland, in breadth and for wholesomeness and serenity of climate, far surpasses Britain; for the snow scarcely ever lies there above three days; no man makes hay in summer for winter's provision, or builds stables for his beasts of burden. No reptiles are found there; for, though often carried thither out of Britain, as soon as the ship comes near the shore, and the scent of the air reaches them, they die. On the contrary, almost all things in the island are good against poison. In short, we have known that when some persons have been bitten by serpents, the scrapings of leaves of books that were brought out of Ireland, being put into water and given them to drink, have immediately expelled the spreading poison, and assuaged the swelling. The island abounds in milk and honey;[2] nor is there any want of vines, fish,[3] and fowl; and it is remarkable for deer and goats."


[2] Honey.—Honey was an important edible to the ancients, and, therefore, likely to obtain special mention. Keating impugns the veracity of Solinus, who stated that there were no bees in Ireland, on the authority of Camden, who says: "Such is the quantity of bees, that they are found not only in hives, but even in the trunks of trees, and in holes in the ground." There is a curious legend anent the same useful insect, that may interest apiarians as well as hagiologists. It is said in the life of St. David, that when Modomnoc (or Dominic) was with St. David at Menevia, in Wales, he was charged with the care of the beehives, and that the bees became so attached to him that they followed him to Ireland. However, the Rule of St. Albans, who lived in the time of St. Patrick (in the early part of the fifth century), may be quoted to prove that bees existed in Ireland at an earlier period, although the saint may have been so devoted to his favourites as to have brought a special colony by miracle or otherwise to Ireland. The Rule of St. Alban says: "When they [the monks] sit down at table, let them be brought [served] beets or roots, washed with water, in clean baskets, also apples, beer, and honey from the hive." Certainly, habits of regularity and cleanliness are here plainly indicated as well as the existence of the bee.

[3] Fish.—It is to be presumed that fish are destined to prosper in Hibernia: of the ancient deer, more hereafter. The goats still flourish also, as visitors to Killarney can testify; though they will probably soon be relics of the past, as the goatherds are emigrating to more prosperous regions at a rapid rate.