111:  Linkin Makes his Report

When I saw Linkin, I told him he would not believe what I’d read in the Irish book.

He told me I would not believe what he’d learnt in the master’s chamber.

“In truth,” he sayt, “there was so much learned talk of the Irishes’ history, laws, and customs I grew weary, and slept.”

Then he sayt, “The Earl of Essex does not wish to go to Ireland because his enemies here will work against him whilst he’s away.”

“Haply,” sayt I, “he need not bide there long.”

Linkin sayt, “I fear Ireland may be the ruination of him.  Certes, it was the ruination of his father, who gave some Irish lords a good dinner and then murdered them.  Can you credit it?”

“To hear of so bloodie a banquet would surely please all,” sayt I, hopeful.

But Linkin sayt this tale was not fit for our parlement.  Malicious cats might spread the word that noble Essex and our Earl hoped to do the same.  He arrkst what I’d heard.

I told him of the book with pictures.  And of what I’d read therein that gave me to believe the Irishes were kin to us cats.

He sayt that together we’d learnt enough, and went to tell his Irish committy friends.

No invitation for me to accompany him.

A grey cat seated before a stone wall with a wooden door set into it.
Paws, the matriarch of St Pauls.
By day Pauls’ yard served as a clearing house for human news and gossip; by night Paws presided over a parlement of local cats.

When any cat at Titchfield had informations to give out, they came calling, “Newes, newes,” beneath the windows.  Then all knew to assemble at our Field.

In London we had to wait for Paws to summon us.  She sent her minions across the rooves to cry, “Parle, parle.”

Linkin and his friends had ready their report, which he gave out to great applauds.

“Ireland,” sayt Linkin, “is a land of mists and bogs.  It seems a very paradise for us cats,  were it not for the wolves, which are many.

“Some say that the wild Irishes change theirselves into wolves.  But that’s an idle superstition.  Who would choose to be a wolf, kin to dogs?

A wolf as bishop, from a medieval manuscript held by the Walters Art Museum.

“The Irishes understand neither the good protestant religion nor the bad popish one.  But they hate protestants because they hate the English. 

“The English chased them out of their possessions.  And is’t not true that we cats hate those who chase us?

“There are English folks who’ve lived in Ireland since the old times.  Some say they’ve grown more wicked than the Irishes, for they suck Irishness with their mothers’ milk.  As we suck our catness. 

“How is that wicked?  Do not all kits take the nature of their mothers who first frame and fashion them?

“There is great store of fish and fowls in Ireland.  A cat could dine well there.  The Irish eat of flesh, and their chiefest drink is milk.  They seldom eat of bread.  Sometimes they take a drink called Uskwi-Bow [usquebaugh].  Stinking stuff, I believe, but cats need not drink it.  There is much water in Ireland.

“Certes, they’re kin to us, for they care nowt for marriage.  They part at their first quarrel, then find another wife or husband.

“But they do not lack for courage.  They are brave soldiers, and when they come to fight they give out fierce cries to affright their enemy.  As we do.

“They fight not in the field, but hide by river-crossings or narrow paths where they know their enemy will pass.  They pounce, then flee into the trees.  And are not trees a place of safety for us?

“Some say it were better to fight them in winter, when the trees are bare and they cannot hide theirselves.  But I hear the Earl of Essex will set forth in spring.  May the Queen Cat of Heaven protect him!”

“If he goes to kill our Irish kin, she won’t,” came a call.

Other cats sayt they wished to see Ireland for theirselves, and arrkst if it was many ways from Paws’ yard.

The cat from the Spain Committy (aggrieved, for she’d wished to tell of Ireland) sayt there was but two roads, and both led to a wild sea that must be crossed.  That was why the newes she’d sought from Ireland was late in coming.

Linkin sayt, most gracious, “I long to hear it, for my informations came from English households.  I pray some cat on a ship that’s crossed the Irish sea will send newes soon.”

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorTricks acquired her knowledge of Ireland from John Derrick’s book, but Linkin – and perhaps other cats on the Irish Committy – must have heard some discussion of Edmund Spenser’s A View of the The Present State of Ireland.

Written around 1596, it wasn’t published until 1633, but a number of people would have seen manuscript copies.

Edmund Spenser (c1553-1599). Best remembered now as a poet, he lived in Ireland for about 18 years.

A View is in the form of a dialogue between Irenius, who has lately come from Ireland, and Eudoxus, who asks him questions.

In brief, the Irish are the most barbarous nation in Christendom, more in need of civilising than the English were before the Norman Conquest.

The original Anglo-Norman colonists in Ireland have become as bad as the Irish.

To subdue the country by conventional warfare would be too expensive.  The best strategy would be to establish a series of well-supplied garrisons from where recalcitrant Irish could be starved into submission.

Then the land could be repopulated by English settlers with Irish tenants.  A Lord Deputy should continue to rule Ireland on behalf of the Crown, but with the additional support of a Lord Lieutenant.  Spenser probably had the Earl of Essex in mind for the latter role, but would Essex have wanted it?

He certainly wasn’t keen on leading the latest attempt to subdue Ireland.


110: I Learn of Ireland

A wine glass on a table.My haunting of the book box served me well.

There came a day when the master gave a dinner for his friends.  They brought their kits with them.

And after the master and his friends had eat their fill, they went into the master’s chamber for sober talk.

Or so they wished us to believe.

Linkin and I guessed they meant to speak of things not fit for children’s ears, so he followed soft behind.

Little dog Wattie, in hopes of sport, stayed with the master’s kits and their playfellows. So did I.

Before the mistress left us she oped the book box, and fetched one out.  

She gave it to the master’s daughter, saying she could read a goodly tale to her friends while they ate of their nuts and sugar-suckets.

A bowl containing dried figs, candied fruit and nuts, with sweets made from white sugar lying on the table.Then the mistress, doubtless a-feared she’d miss hearing a choice piece of newes, snatched up her wine cup and hasted away.

She forgot to lock the book box.    

Two of the master’s kits rose up so swift you would have thought they were cats.  They flew straight to that box, and began to hunt within.

The maidservants with us did nowt to stay them.

The master’s boy sayt, “Here’s the one with the bawdy tale in it.”

The girl sayt, “This here has more pictures.  Goodly ones of wicked Irishes.”

She bore it to the table, and laughed when I leapt up to see all.

What a wonder that book were!

It told of thieving, murderous men called woodkarn [wood-kern].  So viperous are they that not even Saint Patrick who banished the snakes could make them civil.

And how the pictures joyed us!  Viz.

Woodkarnes from Saint Filcher’s den stealing cows and horses from loyal Irishes, and burning their house.  To the great dismay of a hen that saw all.  She was fortunate not to be roasted.

A cartoon-style woodcut of an Irish raid on a homestead.

Then we saw pictures of English soldiers killing rebelsome Irishes and cutting off their heads.

And a banished rebel alone in the forest with nowt but wolves to talk to of his misery.

In Latin.  For, as one kit sayt, not even Irish wolves would trouble to speak Irish.

A cartoon-style woodcut of an Irish chieftain alone in a wood with prowling wolves.

But the master’s daughter kept the best for last.

This was the spectacle of noble Irishes at dinner.  Mack Swine and his lady.

The board they ate off lay on the ground.  Sure, a cat could do well at such a feast, but the churls had no cat.  Onlie a thieving cur.

Two rogues were cutting up a stolen cow.  And because the Irishes have neither pots nor ovens, two more were boyling meats in a beast’s own hide!

A greedy priest was sneaking up behind the lord and lady.  His name was Friar Smell-Feast.

A cartoon-style woodcut of an Irish feast.

And a Bard (a kind of fool poet) was giving out his verses.  Beside him sat another rogue, making musick.  And two more stood near, lowering their breeches to show their bare bums.

They spake in Latin too.  It was writ small, but the master’s boy could read it.

One was saying he’d been taught this behaviour by his parents.  The other sayt he learnt his from useless old folks, too.

That set all screeching.

Then, there being but one sweetmeat left (I’d hooked it, but not ate it), the master’s daughter sayt it were the prize for whomever guessed what those Bare-Bums were about.

One kit sayt they meant to drop their turds in full sight of their lord.

A maidservant sayt: “They’re showing the Bard how well they like his verses.”

A saucie little girl sayt, “They serve as the Irish lord’s trumpeters.”

She was awarded the sweetmeat.  Then she swore she would give it to the first who  honoured their parents’ return in this manner.

A little boy laughed so hearty he choked on his sugar-spittle and had a fit of coffs – which the others called a coffin fit, and offered to cut off his head as the cure.

That made him laugh more, then puke on the floor.  A maidservant went for a bucket and mop.

All the kits, still screeching, ran off with Wattie to play some fool game on the stairs.

The book was mine, but I knew I would scarce have time to read it.  In truth, I eyed but a few pages before another maidservant laid hastie hands on me and book together.

She put the book into the box, and set me upon its lid so none could guess it had been open.  I sat there most loyal and dutiful.

But I’d read enough to make me think that Ireland could be a very paradise for us cats.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorThe book that all found so hilarious is John Derrick’s The Image of Irelande, With a Discoverie of Woodkarne wherein is most lively expressed the Nature and Qualitie of the said wilde Irish Woodkarne…for pleasure and delight of the well-disposed reader.

Written in 1578 and published in 1581, it’s a satirical anti-Irish anti-Catholic piece of  propaganda that also aims to glorify Sir Henry Sidney’s third stint in Ireland and his second as Lord Deputy (1575 to 1578).

The first part is a verse history of Ireland and the benefits of English rule. That’s followed by a description of wild Irish ways and a series of illustrations with brief explanatory verses below them.

Only one copy of the book with a full set of illustrations survives.  It’s held by Edinburgh University Library.   The pictures with their accompanying verses are also reproduced on Wikisource.