An illustration from a manuscript of
Topographia Hibernica
(The Topography of Ireland)
written in 1187
by Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales)

British Library Ms. Royal 13 B VIII
This copy made in 1196-1198 or 1207-1208

An Irish king bathes in a stew of mare's meat

Illustration from the bottom margin of folio 28v (Topographia Hibernica)

Click for a larger image.

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Another picture of An Irish king bathes in a stew of mare's meat in National Library of Ireland Ms. 700
Another picture of An axeman slays a white mare in Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 720, pt.II.
Another picture of An Irish king bathes in a stew of mare's meat in Bodleian Library MS. Laud Misc. 720, pt.II.

Source: British Library Ms. Royal 13 B VIII

Chapter XXV: Of a new and monstrous way of inaugurating their kings.

From 'The Topography of Ireland' by Sylvester Giraldus Cambrensis, 1187
Edited by Thomas Wright, 1863


     There are some things which would prevent my relating, unless the course of my subject required it. For a filthy story seems to reflect a stain on the author, although it may display his skill. But the severity of history does not allow us either to sacrifice truth or affect modesty; and what is shameful in itself may be related by pure lips in decent words. There is, then, in the northern and most remote part of Ulster, namely Kenel Cunil, a nation which practises a most barbarous and abominable rite in creating their king. The whole people of that country being gathered in one place, a white mare is led into the midst of them, and he is to be inaugurated, not as a prince but as a brute, not as a king but as an outlaw, comes before the people on all fours, confessing himself a beast with no less impudence than imprudence. The mare being immediately killed, and cut in pieces and boiled, a bath is prepared for him from the broth. Sitting in this, he eats of the flesh which is brought to him, the people standing round and partaking of it also. He is required to drink of the broth in which he is bathed, not drawing it in any vessel, nor even in his hand, but lapping it with his mouth. These unrighteous rites being duly accomplished, his royal authority and dominion are ratified.

The translated text of Topographia Hibernica PDF

Gerald's depiction of the Irish as savage and primitive was challenged and refuted by a number of Irish writers.
See the The Totem Horse and the Holy Kettle at Tara section in Celtic Cauldrons at the Wake by George Cinclair Gibson for a possible origin of this story.




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