Thursday, December 6, 2012

The History and Topography of Ireland

The History and Topography of Ireland, by Gerald of Wales

Here it is, the 12th and final book for my medieval literature challenge!  I've reached Paradise!  Woohoo!

I'm glad I chose this book to read, too.  Geraldus Cambrensis was a fairly prominent churchman and a prolific writer.  He was mostly Norman and 1/4 Welsh, connected with one of the Norman families that invaded Ireland, and he visited that country in 1183 along with Prince John, at the order of Henry II.  This is his report to the king about Ireland.

Geraldus' map of Europe, with Ireland on the left.
The book is divided into three parts.  First is a description of Irish geography: the lie of the land, prominent rivers, native birds and beasts, and details about natural wonders.  The entire land of Ireland naturally repels anything poisonous; venomous creatures die if transported to Ireland, and even thongs of Irish leather act as an antidote to poison.

The second part is all about the rest of the wonders of Ireland, and there are lots of them!  I loved this part.  Healing wells, islands with special properties, birds with extraordinary abilities and miraculous artifacts, all sorts of fantastic things.

Barnacle geese as described in Part I
Lastly there is a history of the Irish people, which is different than the mythic history I've read before (about the Tuatha de Danann and all).  Here, the first people to come to Ireland were relatives of Noah seeking to avoid the Flood.  Several waves of settlers later, we get to the first kings of Ireland, the customs of the Irish people, and the coming of St. Patrick.  After a good dose of history, Geraldus finishes off with a fulsome tribute to Henry II, containing enough flattery to make anyone sick.


This is a great little book!  I hope I can get its counterpart, which is all about Wales. 

2 comments:

Nancy Leek said...

That sounds like a fun read, so I'll have to borrow it from you. I thought Ireland was a pretty magical place when I visited there, but obviously it wasn't a patch on the Ireland of old.

Geraldus wasn't much of a cartographer though, was he? The British Isles are two big blobs with a cluster of little blobs on top of the bigger one. Is that Iceland to the north of Ireland?

Jean said...

Yep, that's Yslandia. If you go to the collection of historical maps of Ireland I got this image from ( http://www.uni-due.de/DI/historical_maps.htm ) you'll be able to read the sideways medieval Latin placenames.