Monthly Archives: May 2014

Seagulls (Larus argentatus?) in ‘Canu Taliesin’ (The Singing of Taliesin)

Herring Gulls

Herring gulls drinking, picture taken by John Haslam and licensed for use under CC 2.0.

Species Mentioned: A group of  less than stellar warriors are compared with a flock of mewling seagulls (Larus argentatus). Sorry guys.

Source: A poem by the historical Taliesin, one of the most famous Welsh bards ever to live. This is impressive since (i) he may not have been Welsh (ii) he would have taken offence at the term ‘bard’ (iii) he may never have existed.

Date of Source: Traditionally c.550-600, but perhaps centuries later.

Highlights: The comparison with seagulls is not a flattering one for the Cumbrian heroes but Taliesin tells it like it is: ‘They didn’t fight well, there’s no point denying it’. Ouch.

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The Eildon Tree in ‘The Romance of Thomas of Erceldoune’ (Thomas the Rhymer)

La Belle Dame sans Merci

Patron’s La Belle Dame sans Merci painting, photo taken by Sofi.

Species mentioned: One tree, not a hawthorn (mayflower; Crataegus sp.) as commonly thought. Possibly oak (Q. robur).

Source: The medieval ‘Romance of Thomas of Erceldoune’, not to be confused with the later ‘Ballad of True Thomas’.

Date of Source: c.1350-1400.

Highlights: The shining lady that slimy Thomas of Erceldoune seduced under the Eildon tree turned out to be the Fairy Queen. She apparently took him seriously when he offered to stay with her forever, and drags him to her Otherworld realm as a paramour. Oops.

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The harvest mice (Micromys Minutus) in ‘Manawydan’ (the ‘Third Branch of the Mabinogi’)


Harvest mouse nest by kind courtesy of Derek Crawly from the Mammal Society.

Harvest mouse nest by kind courtesy of Derek Crawley from the Mammal Society.

Species mentioned: A swarm of very hungry harvest mice.

Source: ‘Manawydan’ the ‘Third Branch of the Mabinogi’.

Date of Source: c.1000-1250.

Highlights: An angry sorcerer takes revenge by turning his whole family into harvest mice to try and eat his enemy’s crops. Amazingly this doesn’t work out as he planned, and one harvest mouse is sentenced to be hanged as a thief.

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The otter (Lutra lutra) and raven (Corvus corax) in ‘Aided Con Chulainn’ (The Death of Cú Chulainn)

Raven at Tower of London, Image ©Lee Raye, 2012.

Raven at Tower of London, Image ©Lee Raye, 2012.


Species mentioned: One poor excuse for a water-dog (Lutra lutra); one not-quite god among ravens (Corvus corax).

Source:  ‘Aided Con Chulainn’ (The Death of Cú Chulainn). The story of a hero who nearly broke death.

Date of Source: Existing story sixteenth century, but probably first told in the eighth century. Some fragments in a twelfth century manuscript.

Highlights: Two animals try to eat the dying hero. Cú Chulainn won’t accept that, even when he’s dying. The otter shares his name, so should have known better. The raven is an immortal, but still gets mocked, even whilst the hero dies of his wounds.

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