Giraldus Cambrensis, or Gerald of Wales, was to become one of the most prolific writers of the 13th century. His debut work, The History and Topography of Ireland is endlessly fascinating – and still selling.
Sent across the sea by England’s Henry II in 1185, he came across many a tall tale and a myth. And set them down. His account of the island’s wildlife is fantastical and engaging. When discussing ‘the badger and its nature’, he had this to say on their tunnelling technique:
Some of them are born to serve by nature. Lying on their backs, they pile on their bellies soil that has been dug by others. Then clutching it with their four feet, and holding a piece of wood across their mouths, they are dragged out of the holes with their burden by others who pull backwards while holding on here and there to the wood with their teeth. Anyone that sees them is astonished.
No doubt, I am sure. The beaver is similar, “… they use their own kind as carts.” Both unfortunates “are distinguished by a certain uncertainty of shape and a worn bare patch upon their backs.”
Gerald of Wales is the principal source for what is known of Ireland during the Middle Ages.