Animals in Ancient Ireland

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER XXVI....continued

5. Something further about Animals.

There are not, and never have been, any venomous reptiles in Ireland. There are small lizards, five or six inches long, commonly called in Irish, art- or arc-luachra, 'lizard of the rushes,' but they are quite harmless. According to Giraldus, the first frog ever seen in Ireland was found in his own time in a meadow near Waterford: but recently our naturalists have discovered a native frog, or rather a small species of toad, in a remote district in Kerry.

But though we have no great reptiles in nature, we are amply compensated by legends, according to which there lives at the bottom of many of the Irish lakes a monstrous serpent or dragon, usually called píast or béist, i.e. 'beast,' from Latin bestia; and sometimes nathir, i.e. 'serpent.' The legend is as prevalent to-day as it was a thousand years ago: and very many lakes have now, as the people say, a frightful monster, with a great hairy mane, at the bottom.

But we bad a much more gigantic and much more deadly sea-monster than any of these—the Rosualt—a mighty animal that cut a great figure in Irish tales of the olden time. When the Rosualt was alive —which was in the time of St. Columkille—he was able to vomit in three different ways three years in succession. One year he turned up his tail, and with his head buried deep down, he spewed the contents of his stomach into the water, in consequence of which all the fish died in that part of the sea, and currachs and ships were wrecked and swamped. Next year he sank his tail into the water, and, rearing his head high up in the air, belched out such noisome fumes that all the birds fell dead. In the third year he turned his head shoreward and vomited towards the land, causing a pestilential vapour to creep over the country, that killed men and four-footed animals.

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