Animals as Pets in Ancient Ireland

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

« previous page | contents | start of chapter | next page »

CHAPTER XXVI....continued

6. Animals as Pets.

Many passages, both in the Brehon Laws and in Irish literature in general, show that tenderness for animals was a characteristic of the Irish people. It appears from the Senchus Mór that when cattle were taken to be impounded, if the journey was long, they had to be fed at stations along the way: and while in pound they should be provided with sufficient food and water.

The custom of keeping pet animals was very general; and many kinds were tamed that no one would think of keeping as pets now. We read of lap-dogs, foxes, wolves, deer, badgers, hawks, ravens, crows, cranes, cats, sheep, and even pigs, kept as pets. Pet cranes were very common and are often noticed: the Brehon Law mentions fines for trespasses committed by them. St. Columkille had one which followed him about everywhere like a dog while he was at home in Iona. St. Brendan of Clonfert had a pet préchán or crow. St. Colman of Templeshanbo in Wexford kept a flock of ducks on a pond near the church, which were so tame that they came and went at his call.

Such animals were so common, and were mixed up so much with the domestic life of the people, that they are often mentioned in the Brehon Laws. Many of the Irish saints were fond of animal pets; and this amiable trait has supplied numerous legends to our literature. St. Patrick himself, according to Muirchu's seventh-century narrative, showed them a good example of tenderness for animals. When the chief Dáre gave the saint a piece of ground at Armagh, they both went to look at it: and on their arrival they found there a doe with its little fawn. Some of St. Patrick's people made towards it to kill it: but he prevented them; and taking up the little animal gently on his shoulder, he brought it and laid it down in another field some distance to the north of Armagh, the mother following him the whole way like a pet sheep.

« previous page | contents | start of chapter | next page »