The country of Ireland, otherwise known as Hibernia, is a country across from Cornwall, about 40 leagues from there, and only an arm of the sea stretches between them. My Lord the Archduke arrived at a port of this country called Kinsale; and I having come to this place, made the acquaintance of an honest old man, a native of there, because he spoke good French.
I had several conversations with him, because the country was known in writings for various and strange things. For when I came to ask him about the nature of that country, this man told me it was a good fertile country, with good land and bad people in it. In this country were good towns, beautiful rivers and beautiful lakes and good springs, and good land to work, good meadows and beautiful forests. And no venomous beasts could survive there for more than twenty-four hours and to see proof of this he told me that if I should carry with me some wood, stones or earth from this country everywhere I went,
p.284I would be protected against all venomous beasts. He also said that the rural people of this country were wild and bellicose and had their dwellings below ground to counter the great cold and fierce winds which happen there in winter. I asked him why some of the people of this country had faces smeared with blood as I had seen. He told me that they do that to keep away yellow marks which we call freckles of which several of them had full faces, which they acquire in summertime, when it is very hot. Because in this country, men go bareheaded, with hair cut and styled above their ears. These country people and people of the plain do not hesitate to do damage to each other because there is no justice in Ireland, especially in the area where my Lord had arrived. This is the region the savages hold; by right of main force more than anything else, and the stronger pillage the weaker when they take them in hatred; so that where someone has a thousand horned beasts one day, the next day he has none; but if he wants to take revenge, with the aid of his own people, he can do so, as he has no other recourse. He said that in each town there were lords competing against one another, because of which they demand from travellers going from one town to the next a new passport, which is a shame and a heavy charge for all the people passing by, otherwise one could not cross the country without being pillaged. He said also that at certain times of the year these savages and rural people never failed to come in great number to ravage the town and inhabitants of Kinsale; and that in times past would pillage everything and kill all who opposed them; but now the townsfolk have found a way to greet them happily and to feast with them, and to give them good food and drink, and at leave taking to give them a small souvenir; but against their arrival, they hide their good effects for fear of losing them.
In this area the sea is very dangerous and one cannot go there in winter without great peril. This country of Ireland is an island, enclosed by sea; this island is a good two hundred leagues long and one hundred and thirty leagues wide.
p.285The inhabitants are very strangely and singularly costumed and would that it is so well described that you might picture how they dress just as I saw them, both the men and the women. For to see them is enough to make you laugh. Firstly married women wear their finery, and linen head coverings; some yellow and others white. When they are women of status, they have chemises with long sleeves opened around the neck and in the seams silk needlework of different colours. Many of them had their hair cropped in front and back, except for two tresses of hair at either side, which are a yard long. They plait these like children here making hats from rushes and then secure them so they do not come undone. And with the tops of their heads so adorned, these loops of hair braided accordingly hang down in front more or less to their waists, in such a way that these women can clip them on to the ends of their headdress, which they have decorated with tassels.4 These women have their skirts or petticoats patterned with holes as was the fashion in the past and over their chests they have raised circlets to support the bust. And above their dresses they wear wide cloths and big belts decorated with beautiful buckles, some of gilded silver, also of copper, metal or brass, according to their rank. Their dresses have wide sleeves, open the length of the arms interlaced very nicely in a lattice. Generally the men, women and young girls wear their shirts open to the waist, without any distinction between them except the women's chemises, as they are over here, are wide below, tapering into four tails which hit the knees as the case may be. So that most young women and girls have their chests naked to the waist; it is as common there to see or touch the breast of a girl or woman, as it is to touch her hand. And so, there are as many different fashions and customs as there are countries. Over here we would mock this because it is not the usual custom,
p.286except in secret when Robin and Marian are in an amorous embrace.
There I saw all sorts of breasts according to age. There I saw nipples of girls aged twelve years; afterwards the nipples that they have when they are fourteen or fifteen years old, until they begin to develop in size and shape. Also I saw some completely developed, so very round and pert that it was a pleasure to see them, as here have the marriageable girls of eighteen years and above. I also saw all sorts of tits, middle sizes, big, shapely and in the open hand one would call them firm but yielding. And I saw some so disgusting and unsavoury that I marvelled where the little children could receive their daily nourishment. Also I saw others which were not at all worth looking at, so ugly and wrinkled were they and only deserve the name of flaccid udders.
The women and girls there wear coloured shoes of red and green and others that they like, better bound and held on by garters unlike those in Castile. They wear little sandals with single soles, very pretty and cute finely worked on top with another colour of leather and sometimes adorned with dyed leather as if they were gold, like the shoes which were bought for children at fairs in past times.
The place was full of beautiful young women and also girls of marriageable age who were very charming and pleasant. Unmarried young women went bareheaded in summer time with their hair tied back in the same way as maidens over here; and they wear on their heads garlands of flowers or greenery. Then I heard tell from some of our people which I do not believe it was not dear to have them; not to say that there were others who were corrupted and asked for nothing else. Such as these one comes across everywhere. Certainly these young girls seemed to me very pleasant and loving. If I had stayed there longer I could have learned better their ways of doing things. Yet I saw there only goodness and honour.
But it brings to mind the incident involving a savage and a young girl, who I saw one morning, and I regret that I did not recount it to this man whose acquaintance I made, because he spoke good French, to hear from him what he would say to me. Because this rough business amazed me greatly. It happened like this one morning, very early, no more than 4 o'clock walking about the churchyard, waiting for the church to be opened. I saw coming along the road a young man dressed as a savage, as he came he was talking all the while to a beautiful young girl. When they came towards the church this fellow took the girl by force and pulled her, half dragging, into the graveyard although she protested and resisted his power. But that was to no avail, as he led her forcibly to the door of the church. Having arrived there, this young man made with his hand the sign of the cross against the wall of the church and kissed it; having done this he wanted the girl to do the same. But she would not hear of it, whatever pleas and plaints he made to her. Because of this he resorted to brute force and took her by the hair and gave her several blows about the head and face so that the impact of the beating constrained her to do what he had done. I cannot recount their conversations which were loud and rough for I could not understand them but I knew enough to know that when she did what he wanted he embraced and kissed her; then leaving arm in arm and chatting together happy enough with each other in my opinion. Admittedly, at such harsh rite, I could neither accept nor imagine that it was a pact, betrothal or mariage de louvat so that they can leave each other the next day. Yet what the end was I do not know because they went off. In truth the start of their acquaintance was so rude and ungracious, yet away they went all lovey-dovey. If I were brave, I would have assisted the girl but that would be for nothing. For a coward without a pretty friend will never do a fine deed. But all things considered the injunction of my Lord the archduke served my purpose very well as a gracious excuse. For he had forbidden, in peril of not returning to the boats, any of us to pick a quarrel with the townspeople, and even if the order had never been issued I would not have acted otherwise.
Having heard about the rig-out of the women and girls, listen how
p.288the men are kitted out. For sure, even more strangely than the women, and particularly the rural people and the savages; for they were shorn and shaved one palm above the ears, so that only the tops of their heads were covered with hair. But on the forehead they leave about a palm of hair to grow down to their eyebrows like a tuft of hair which one leaves hanging on horses between the two eyes. They are strangely bearded, some shave their beards just to just above the mouth and others to below the mouth. Others shave some places and let their beards grow in tufts. These men have their shirts open down to the belt, without sleeves so that they have bare arms. They wrap themselves in a big linen cloth which goes around them one and a half times and stretches nearly from neck to foot, and they have bare feet and bare legs.
Besides they have at their belts very dangerous weapons, such as poignards with three edges having a handle like a bread knife of which the blade is more than an ell long; they know how handy this dangerous weapon is when hurling themselves against their foes; if it strikes them it kills them and pierces them through and through, as it is very sharp. In addition, they carry a rapier with a long handle which they hang in a sash; several have shields and spears and raillons.5 I saw some who had little Turkish bows which were a yard long, of which the string was a big sinew and the arrows were steel tipped reeds and feathered to shoot.
These men wear and cover themselves in big hairy coats, over their heads in the same way as the women in Brabant wear their cloaks. This coat only goes a half quarter beyond the belt and over this is a long linen apron. Thus shorn, bearded, armed and barefoot as I said imagine how strange this costume is to look at. I must say, I have never seen anything like this before even in a painting.
In this area they have only milk and water to drink. They are very strongly given to fighting one against the other not because of disputes but just out of ill-will.
p.289I have seen some of these savages, as quick in the fields one might say as horses; that is how it was. I must say that the locals dare not go outside town on business without being strongly accompanied and well armed for it is the savages who are masters of the countryside; and there where they find themselves to be strongest, they pillage whatever they come across.
On the Sunday when we had arrived in the port, which was the sixth of June and eleventh day of the voyage, the controller Jacques Artus, Jan de Camsin and myself along with some Spaniards went in a small passenger boat into Kinsale to make good cheer, still not knowing if they took us as friends or enemies. In any case whether they considered us to be friends or enemies we were always in their hands. And when we found ourselves in the midst of them, with great admiration, we came to see them as they did us; we seemed as strange to them as they to us. Now, being welcome, as we chatted together, we found an honest old gentleman of the town who understood and spoke our language, French, because he said that in his youth he had lived in Normandy. This man talked to us and eventually offered us, after various conversations, assistance and direction about finding proper lodging and entertainment, which he did. Thus we were very happy to have found him on account of the good turn he was offering to do us; equally he was pleased with us, because of his desire to know news of our king, our lord, and he was happier to help us than the Spaniards because he could not understand what they said. This man took us to stay in the house of his sister, that is to say in one of the big houses of the town. She was an old widow, very honest and regal and ready to give good hospitality to respectable people and she received us joyfully in her house, for the love of her brother and gave us a very good reception and welcomed us accordingly. And although she knew nothing of our coming until she saw us, yet we found ourselves well fed in her house, with cold shoulder of roast mutton, cold hotpot and very good cold meat pie. And because for so long we had not found such good food at sea we feasted and enjoyed ourselves there the more so.
During conversation at table with the brother of our hostess, it came into my mind to say to him that I had heard tell in the past, that in Ireland there was a place called St Patrick's Cave where one made penance; he assured me that was true. He said yes. But he only knew by hearsay. But if we wanted to know more about it, he would gladly ask his sister who had been there in her youth, when she was to marry at the age of fifteen years. I, wanting to know the truth about it, prayed that he would ask his sister what she found there and tell us what it was like. That sister gave him a long prologue. And when this one had finished, I asked him where and in what region was St Patrick's Cave, what did one need to do to go there, why would one go there, what would one find, see or hear there, and how long would one stay there. After he had consulted his sister about it and she had responded to my questions, he said that this place was very distant from there, four score leagues, that is to say very close to the sea, in the Scotch Quarter. The reason for going there was to earn full pardons from pain and guilt, available on certain days of the year to all those who have confessed and repented with a contrite heart. On what one needed to do to go there, she informed us, that when she found herself there with others, that is to say in a monastery, the abbot spoke to everyone who had come there with the intention of entering the Cave:
"My friends, I advise you, bring to your attention and warn you of the perils which can befall any of you. For if you, young persons, through irresponsibility and without having properly considered your affairs are come here to descend into the Cave in order to have remission for your sins, you could just as well have remission in some other places, in countries other than here, where our holy father the pope has conceded similar pardons, without being exposed to the dangers which have happened to several. However, I neither want to criticise nor praise your intention; for each one of you must be sensible enough to know what has to be done. Think carefully if you are up to this task."
Notwithstanding these remonstrances and good admonitions, the abbot could not divert the pilgrims from satisfying and completing their intention, so with common accord, they, having long since considered their case, thanked him for the sensible advice and praying that he would allow them go into the Cave, where the glorious friend of God, St Patrick made his penance,
p.291asking him if he could inform them of how they would get the benefit from entering.
"Now, by God," said the abbot, "since it is decided to undertake this task, you will need to endure twelve entire days on bread and water, and after you have really dwelt upon your sins, every day you go to confession and are reconciled, in doing so if you remember other sins that you had forgotten to confess you have finally made your entire confession, asking God humbly for pardon. Then for each of the three days before entering this Cave, you will receive the holy sacrament of the altar."
That was the way it was. Then when it was time to lead them and enclose them within, the abbot with his monks, led them in a beautiful procession, up to the door saying to them:
"My friends in Jesus Christ, I pray with my religious brothers to God, that he should help you and give you grace to return to your salvation. On entering there you bless yourself with the sign of the cross, and tomorrow at this time you will be allowed out; for the custom is to stay in this place for twenty-four hours; during this time you will pray to God for mercy, that he gives you his grace and keeps you safe, for whatever should appear to you say nothing except Jesus, Mary whilst making the sign of the cross. And at this time tomorrow I will come to release you." And so it was.
Then everyone went outside; there were about twelve people. Our hostess had often heard tell of the marvels to be seen in this place, and because of that had so wanted to go there, but nevertheless she saw neither saw nor heard anything. For after she had kept vigil for a long time in contemplation, and prayed devotedly to God as she had been exhorted, finally she fell asleep, and remained asleep for a long time, thanking God that she had neither seen nor heard anything. But she has a good memory about what she heard said, and recounted by some others of that company, who said that they had visions and heard wonders of hideous and frightening things there. She has forgotten of what they were. And although she was young, she still had a good memory of the layout of this place which is called St Patrick's Cave. She said that it is a little place, low and dark, in order to go in there you have to bend down a little and it is such a low ceiling that one cannot remain standing; and there must not be more than twenty persons to fill this place.
p.292This seems to be a little cellar, through which passes a small stream of sweet water which is only half a foot wide. When first she entered there she thought she would find a wide, extensive place, where she could go from one place to another as she had heard spoken of and to find there marvellous apparitions, and to finally find herself in a beautiful orchard. From this it would seem that none there were speaking of seeing wonders, only visions in dreams, which they remembered from their dormitions. As to whether this place had been bigger heretofore and that it had since been closed and shut down, she knew nothing, other than the time she was there and spoke about. This place is in the church, behind the choir, beneath an altar where mass is said. I believe that the good old lady, our hostess was speaking the truth, although at other times it has been written that there were marvels there. If one wants to learn more, one should read the legend of St Patrick, in which one could hear about the visions, which with divine permission happen to some, because reading these would give fear and terror to bad Christians so that they would mend their ways. I will leave these visions and get back to speaking of the coming of his highness Don Ferdinand to Ireland.
While being there, to wit from Sunday to Wednesday, the lords of Saimpy, Reoulx and Montembais along with others, left the boats several times and went off to have good cheer by relaxing and refreshing themselves in the town of Kinsale; of course they took it in turns so that my Lord was always accompanied by one of them. In the same way, the gentlemen went, and all those who were in the boats. Some people took refreshments with good wines and new meats; and others with lovely girls; and others did as each one of them intended. My Lord did not go, when he left his ship it was to besport himself in the fields. In this country there are many beasts like ewes, goats and cows. Because of this there are many dairies, which they use because there is no other beverage in abundance. In the place of Kinsale I went to hear a High Mass sung, and there to make divine service very devotionally and honourably. And it was sung counterpoint,
p.293which is neither descant nor plainsong, but they have a completely different manner of singing than from over here.
The next day which was Monday, the townspeople became absolutely certain that Don Ferdinand, brother of the Catholic King, had arrived there. Because of this the town dignitaries were praying him whether it was his pleasure to come into the town, or if they would go to see him and pay him reverence. It was conceded that they might come to see him. Those who came there were a handsome company, some of them spoke a little French, and others English. They found his highness with his lords and barons beneath a canopy of cloth of gold against the heat of the sun. When they had arrived, they were bade approach and there, immediately on seeing him, they went down on their knees to make reverence to him, and coming closer bowed again, up to three times. When they were very close to him, the one amongst them who was charged with speaking, said in Latin these words, in substance.
Very high, very illustrious, very powerful prince, the deputies and wardens of the town of Kinsale, together with all the notables, also the burgesses, merchants and all the inhabitants, have charged us to come to make reverence, by placing our bodies and goods at your service, and pray that you will pardon us for being so late in doing so. The reason is that it is only since yesterday that we knew of the arrival of the boats, and in truth not that your person was there. And yet if it is your pleasure to come into the town, you will be welcomed, and all of your people; and we pray that you might pardon our error; it was not through malice, only through ignorance. As to the king, your brother, and to you, we only want to be of service, according to our ability. May God by His grace grant you health, honour and prosperity.
In truth if you could observe the good grace and countenance with which my Lord held them, you would take pleasure in it, because of the joyful greeting which he gave them, as if by this he wanted to give recognition that their arrival and visitation was agreeable to him, and he expressed gratitude. When this speech was over, the prince turned to his nobles to advise what response should be made. When this was concluded, the Lord of Reoulx took the words and said to them with his head uncovered in honour of his highness, who several times told and advised him to don his hat.
p.294My Lord our master has ordained that I speak to you and thank you greatly for your visit and the good will towards the king, his brother, and to him, as well as the service you present to him. For this reason, if there is some matter in which he may please you, you will find him well-disposed thereto.
After this they were withdrawing and thanking him very humbly, but the Lord of Reoulx had made ready a banquet in his chamber, where they feasted so well and so much that when they returned to town God knows the good report they made, such was the good grace of his highness for which they esteemed him very much as well as the good reception which was given to them on the boats. Our intermediary told us about it he had heard them converse about how, having made reverence, they were feasted by order of the aforementioned lord. For sure the townspeople, as long as we were there, showed us great friendship and said that they had never seen so gracious a young prince, nor one so assured; nor such courteous lords as those around him, nor who paid so generously.
Tuesday, the thirteenth day of the voyage, the wind set fair. For this reason they hastened to take on board fresh foods, which had been bought there to revictual the boats. The wind was south-westerly. The next day, the fourteenth of the voyage the wind continued, but before setting sail, some great lord of Ireland, informed that my lord had arrived there, sent a few couples of fine dogs and very powerful greyhounds. At which the prince was very happy, and by way of thanks he offered that he would do likewise once he arrived home. He ordered wine be given to the servant. Yet it was four o'clock after dinner before we were ready set sail, since the supplies could not be boarded more quickly. During this time there came into the presence of His Highness, in a boat, a young savage, bearded, shorn and armed like the others; he was a servant of the lord of this country who liked him very much because of the graces and talents he had. And he had come there to make some entertainment for his highness before his departure, with a harp his servant carried for him. On which the savage played extremely gorgeously and sang on and on. I asked the intermediary what he was singing. He said it was a very devout and piteous song, on the mystery of the passion of our saviour Jesus Christ.
p.295This man recounted marvellous things about the savage, saying he had three particular talents, for which his master liked him so much; he said that the first was that he was without equal in courage and boldness, and his master would prefer to have him at his side than six others if he was among enemies. Also this man is so fleet of foot that he runs like a horse and almost as quick. And besides, he swims in all sorts of water like a fish, so that, on his lord's command he had often jumped into open sea and brought him back a fish, when the sea was calm and peaceful. On account of this, they asked him if, for the love of my lord, he would jump into the sea. He replied that he would be willing if my Lord commanded him, although the sea was then rough. By this he was giving us to understand that he was not accustomed to throw himself into the sea in such rough weather. Anyhow, since the pilots were not hastening the departure so much, he was commanded to jump in on account of the desire that some of the lords had to see him swim.
And he had this knack of being underwater for a long time without being seen, so that if you saw him disappear for so long beneath the waves you would have thought he had drowned. Notwithstanding, he returned being none the worse for wear. So, it was as they said a very singular thing and worthy of great admiration, and I would say that he was engendered and reared by marine people and had their nature. All this undertaking had to break up, for the pilots, who said and signified that all those aboard who were not my Lord's should depart the ship as it was going to set sail. So the savage humbly took leave of my Lord and his nobles. His highness ordered he be given wine.
As he, with others, were about to leave the ships, a small boat came towards his highness' boat, in which were four of our companions who were in bad condition and bad boys, who had made several affrays and insolences, such altercations as harassing girls and some other rowdiness about which the Lord of Reoulx informed my Lord the archduke. These ones had come to ask mercy of his highness so that he would pardon them. But the said Lord of Reoulx told my Lord that since he had issued his edict, he must not allow them to enter the boats, but leave them in the hands of the
p.296townspeople to see to their correction, or let them come back by land at their own peril and fortune. To which his highness replied that it was right to do so; but before this would be done it was good to let the townspeople know about it, and to tell them that these fellows are habitual troublemakers, and then to do with them as was stated. And because of their poor behaviour we did not receive them onto the boats, but sent them back to the town. In any case, at the request of the Lord of Saimpy, a drummer boy was granted grace and allowed to board his highness' boat, and the other three returned to Kinsale to learn Irish. According to the drummer boy, one of them was a native of Lille. As soon as the strangers were out of the boat of my lord, we set sail for Flanders.