CELT document T500000-001

Archduke Ferdinand's visit to Kinsale in Ireland, an extract from Le Premier Voyage de Charles-Quint en Espagne, de 1517 à 1518


This description of people in Kinsale in 1518 by Laurent Vital is very important, especially with regard to Irish customs and dress. Vital's account is a remarkably frank, curious and unbiased. It was done after the expedition he was on with the Archduke Ferdinand from Spain to the Low Countries in June 1518 was blown off course and had to land in Ireland. Its belated emergence is a helpful increment to our knowledge of many aspects of an otherwise hazy period.

The most obvious signifcance of Vital's account is its representation of dress and the probable influence it had on the visual portrayal of the Irish.

'These men deck themselves out in big hairy coats, over their heads in the same way as the women wear their cloaks in Brabant. 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. For sure, I have never seen anything like this before even in a painting.'

This is part of a description by Vital of 'countrymen and savages' of Ireland. His pen portrait of Irishmen — their exotic dress and the ferocious array of weaponry they carried — is almost certainly the source for the famous drawing of Irish gallowglasses done by Albrecht Dürer on or soon after his visit to Antwerp three years later. The discovery of Vital's account at last provides convincing proof in the debate about whether they were real Irish soldiers being depicted. It is clear now that Dürer's drawing is an 'artist's impression'. Dürer's 1521 drawing, particularly its central figure in the Irish mantle, is very reminescent of Irishmen's dress as described by Vital in 1518. The references to 'soldiers' and 'peasants' in the drawing's title appear to reflect Vital's own bipartite labelling process. Clearly Dürer, who had very good connections with the Habsburg court, had either read Vital's account, had the men described to him or had seen a derivative tableau vivant of Irishmen in one of the elaborate town parades held in Antwerp.

But Vital's short account is not just remarkable for his description of Irish soldiers — it is a hidden history which provides us with a whole series of fascinating, risqué and controversial scenes and stories which illuminate Ireland on the eve of the transformative Tudor Conquest as never before. Kinsale at this time was at the height of its late medieval prosperity, with Maurice Fitzgerald, the earl of Desmond having recently built a castle there to collect duties on its rich import-export trade. It may have had up to 2,000 inhabitants and Vital's account points to a strengthening Gaelic influence.

Laurent Vital was a secretary of the Burgundian state and part of the official delegation which delivered Charles of Habsburg to Spain where he was crowned king of Castile and Aragon. He was responsible afterwards for a highly-personalised manuscript record known as Le Premier Voyage de Charles-Quint en Espagne, de 1517 à 1518. Its final chapters describe the journey home in a fleet consisting of five large ships and a barque under the command of Charles's younger brother, Archduke Ferdinand. This royal fleet left Santander towards the end of May in fine weather but quickly encountered a powerful storm in the Bay of Biscay. What should have been a straightforward summer cruise to Flanders became a nightmare. Storms battered the fleet about Biscay for five days. At one point the Archduke and the rest of nobility vowed to go on pilgrimage if God spared them but with the waves getting bigger and coming over the sides, the crew was soon pumping continuously to prevent the vessels being submerged. Eventually they ended up somewhere off the coast of Brittany but the winds were still contrary. The pilots decided to head for Scilly in the hope of tacking up the more friendly English side of Channel but they missed it and were blown North-West into the Atlantic. Exhausted, hungry and thirsty, it was decided to make for Ireland and on the 11th day of the voyage — Sunday 6th June 1518 — they entered the harbour of Kinsale.

Surprised at the appearance of such large ships, a deputation came out of Kinsale and was kept entertained on board whilst Juan de Granada, an English-speaking cleric, was sent into the town to check it out. To avoid being recognised and any unnecessary fuss, the Archduke had taken off his Order of the Golden Fleece which hung on a gold chain around his neck. However by the time that Vital had found lodgings in a large house in the town, the identity of the principal visitor was known. Vital reckoned that the Spanish churchman had blabbed. Whereas the noblemen came into town to make merry during the four-day visit, the fifteen-year old Archduke remained on board ship from where he would go into the countryside to 'besport himself'. Disappointed about his failure to put in an appearance, it was agreed that the town could send an official delegation to make him welcome. What followed was a pantomime of bowing and scraping and speaking in Latin in which the town representatives greeted the prince seated in the midst of his nobles under a cloth of gold canopy. The townsmen were pleased that they had done so, because, after the Lord of Reoulx, Ferdinand's head of household, had given the response, he invited them on board to a specially prepared feast in his quarters.

Much of what Vital reported about Ireland came from the French-speaking brother of his landlady in the town. This man provided him with the usual Anglo-Irish townsman's viewpoint. Outside the towns the country was inhabited by the wild Irish whom Vital called les sauvaiges and whom his informant claimed were cave-dwellers. They lived by pillage and rapine and what law there was came from rival warlords who required passports and charged tolls on those passing through their areas. Kinsale was apparently in a particularly lawless region and had been under constant threat until in recent years the townsmen had evolved a modus vivendi with the countrypeople through a system of petty bribery. However this relationship also enabled Vital to ask for information and explanation. He could not help noticing that the wild Irish men had smeared their faces with blood and was told that, because they went bareheaded, it was done to prevent them getting freckles during the summertime. Vital was also anxious to know about St Patrick's Purgatory on Lough Derg which was famous as a pilgrimage site throughout Europe. Even though it was 180 leagues away in what was referred to as 'the Scottish quarter', it turned out that his hostess had been there as a girl, undertaking it seemingly as some form of a pre-marital penance. He was disappointed to hear that she, like a rather blasé teenager, had seen no visions. Her detailed account, albeit mediated through her brother and possibly written up by Vital as a result of further reading, is one of only two by native Irish pilgrims and the only one given by a woman.

More importantly Vital made his own observations. As a result he has left us with some of the most vivid and detailed descriptions of the dress of the Irish that we have. He was struck by the strangeness of their clothing, so much so he says that it would make you laugh. On the other hand, he had enough self-awareness to say that they must have found the dress of himself and his colleagues equally exotic. What astonished and pleased him most was that the young girls went topless until the age of marriage and 'it is as common there to see or touch the breast of a girl or woman, as it is to touch her hand'. As a result in the next passage he virtually exhausted his lexicon in describing the Irish mammary, concluding: '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 only deserve the name of flabby udders'. In spite of their state of dress, this connoisseur of the female form considered the Irish women, especially the young good-looking ones, to be completely honourable and virtuous. The mind boggles how Dürer — such a realistic draughtsman of the human form — might have portrayed them! This purple passage did however result in the only modern scholarly reference to Vital's visit to Ireland by Polish historian Antoni Maczak, in his work on international travel.

Another thing Vital witnessed was a violent incident between a young native Irishman and a beautiful girl as he waited early one morning in the churchyard for St Multose's to open. The girl was beaten and dragged to the church door on which her companion forced her to follow him in making the sign of the cross and then afterwards they went off hand in hand. Vital considered himself a coward for not stepping in but he had the archduke's injunction about not interfering with the locals as a good excuse. Basically Vital had observed a clandestine marriage. There might be any numbers of reasons for such a private contract — the lack of a dowry, church rules about consanguinity or even the ban on racial intermarriage under the Statutes of Kilkenny.

Vital also noted that the choral music he heard at the church service was different from elsewhere. Furthermore just as the fleet was about to embark, servants of a local lord — almost certainly the Earl of Desmond — arrived. While one of them presented greyhounds to the prince; another entertained the party with singing and harp music followed by an impromptu — and far better received — swimming display. The royal fleet eventually departed on Wednesday 9th June. In doing so, it left behind three crew members, whose harassment of local women had broken the prime directive, for correction by the local authorities. After more contrary winds in the Channel, the death of one of their company complaining of a surfeit of fresh salmon in Kinsale and a welcome reunion with one of their own vessels which had become separated from the main fleet in Biscay, the archduke eventually disembarked in Flushing in Zeeland on 16th June.

Unfortunately Vital never recorded the names of the people he met in Kinsale. Nor did he make a description of the town other than to say it had a great harbour overlooked by a castle. Furthermore there is no record of this unscheduled royal visit in the patchy town records of Kinsale or in the surviving state papers, though we can now assume that it was the subject of the letters Henry VIII received the following month from the earl of Desmond and the city of Cork (L & P Hen.8, ii, no. 4293). It is interesting to speculate what lasting effects the visit may have had. There is obvious correspondence between the observations made by Vital and Dürer's famous drawing of Irish soldiers, as well as possible influence on subsequent ones done by Christoph Weiditz and Lucas de Heere. More instrumentally the chance landing had announced to the Irish, notwithstanding Ferdinand's doctrine of non-interference, the emergence of a new power combining the might of Spain and the Low Countries on the Western seaboard of Europe. In which case, it might explain the speed with which the next and likewise pro-French earl of Desmond turned to Spain when Henry VIII began divorce proceedings against Catherine of Aragon ten years later. And that began a pattern of contacts eventually culminating in Spanish military intervention in Ireland, which fittingly enough happened at Kinsale in 1601-2!

Why then has this extraordinary account escaped notice for so long?  It was first published in Brussels in 1881 as the third of a four volume set entitled Collection des Voyages des Souverains des Pays-Bas.  There was a Spanish translation published in 1958 and the original was reprinted again in 1988. It has become well-known as it was a key source for the early years of Charles V in Spain. Indeed, its nineteenth-century Belgian editor had at the outset highlighted the colourful passages about Ireland as some of the most interesting in the book and he had conspicuously noted 'Quinquesalle,' as being 'Kinsale'. Maybe its content was too rude and crude; maybe it had too many 'savages' for Catholic Nationalist Ireland to contemplate. If any such evasion did happen, it's a pity because Vital's account is also a splendid example of the Céad Míle Fáilte.  More likely, with Irish historians concentrating their research efforts on the state papers in London, it remained 'hidden in plain sight'. However that has now been remedied. It was recently brought to the attention of the CELT website by Jeroen Nilis of the University of Leuven who came across it as a student in the 1980s. We have now added the original text with this accompanying translation in digital form to our extensive and freely accessible resource for Irish literature, history and politics.

Hiram Morgan, April 2012.

Laurent Vital

Archduke Ferdinand's visit to Kinsale in Ireland, an extract from Le Premier Voyage de Charles-Quint en Espagne, de 1517 à 1518

Archduke Ferdinand's visit to Kinsale in Ireland, an extract from Le Premier Voyage de Charles-Quint en Espagne, de 1517 à 1518


1. About the embarcation of my lord the Archduke Don Ferdinand to come to Flanders

On the 23rd of May, and the day of Pentecost, the wind became good; but because of it being a solemn feast embarkation was deferred until the next day; my lord the archduke and all of his company boarded towards evening with the intention of setting sail the next morning. But unfortunately while we slept overnight on the water, the wind became contrary; so the archduke disembarked, on Tuesday, except the baggage remained on the boats. The wind was then North-East, good enough to exit the harbour, but blowing the opposite direction for coming over here. The next day, Wednesday, the wind again became good, that is to say West North-West, but bad for leaving port. For this reason, my lord boarded towards the evening-time for the next morning, the last feast day of Pentecost, in order to set sail, and it then required the force of oars and pinnaces to take the big ships out of the harbour, as far as the mouth of the open sea and it took four hours until the sun was rising to make sail.

The Marquis d'Aghillar came there to take his leave, commending himself always to the good grace of the archduke and saying adieu to him, with tears in his eyes because he loved him and had been his guardian for a long time. Then he left the big ship and got into a pinnace to return to the port of St Andrew. As did the son of Mr Thierry le Begue, who was dressed and ready to put foot in stirrup, to run in post towards the king and announce the departure of my lord, his brother. Before his highness 1 left Santander, one of his corps of archers died, called little John the lackey, and also one of the lackeys of the Lord of Roeulx 2. For sure, no sooner were the sails up than with the help of God and the good wind which was then blowing, in a short  p.277 time after, we found ourselves very far from land, so that by the afternoon we had completely lost sight of the land of Castile and the high mountains there, which can sometimes be seen from a distance of forty leagues.

In the flotilla of my lord there were only five big boats and the barque. On each boat there was a chief and captain, to oversee everything, and to keep order and police those on board. His highness had given an order so that each should obey them on pain of severe punishment for acting otherwise. There was there by order of the king, a good honest old personage, to be captain general of all the ships who was called Las Cavas, and he stayed on the boat of the lord de Roeulx, a gentleman called Boubaix was its captain; the lord of Bergues was captain of another ship, which was completely full of gentlemen and other good men, and also a big party of officers and servants of my lord. And on the ship where horses were stabled, a Spanish gentleman named Escalante was captain. On the boat of the lord of Saimpy, the captain was a gentleman of Faerrette, but I do not know who was in charge of the barque, and believe that it had only sailors on it.

In the boat there was, to accompany his highness, lords of Roeulx, Saimpy and Molembais and it was full of gentlemen such as Lalaing, Croisilles, Houffalize, Ravel, Charlo d'Achey and others from various nations, so I do not remember their names. Also an honest Castilian gentleman, who was his highness's grand equerry; he was always sick during the voyage, because he could not abide the sea. Also on the archduke's boat was the son of the Marquis d'Aghillar, and it was full of other young gentlemen, Andrieu de Douvrein, his personal butler, a Spanish doctor, two chaplains, two serving valets and the previously mentioned Captain Las Cavas as well as the master of artillery, Jenet de Taremonde.

This Captain las Cavas had all the appearance of being a thoroughly good man, with very honest conversation; and because the king had been duly advised of his memorable deeds and good services which he had done for  p.278 his grandfather the King of Aragon, he ordered him to go with my lord his brother to Flanders, to assist him on his voyage if necessary. Amongst the feats of war of this captain as recounted to me, was the time when his master the king of Aragon was at war with France, in the dispute over the Kingdom of Naples. The captain was warned that a French warship, having pillaged and disarmed a Castilian ship, had put to death most of those on board, in order to make off safely towards Venice with its cargo. Recognising this, and to avenge this outrage, with due diligence he followed it closely. And the French ship was constrained to seek safety within the port and harbour of Venice, which was closed with a great chain across the water.

Thus Captain Las Cavas was minded to enter this port and seeing that the passage had been blocked at the request of the said French, went to put out his small boat and gave orders to some of his people so that they could go before the gentlemen of Venice to request them that they put outside of their port his enemy who had sought refuge inside it. And if this was not done, be knew well what he would do about it. The Venetians by response said to him that they had no war at all with the Spaniards nor the French, and had no knowledge of their disagreement, and if he had retreated into their defences against his enemy, he would have been afforded the same treatment, as the French boat that came seeking refuge. For this reason he should have patience or await its departure from there. The captain saw from this response that his enemy could not be approached. Yet considering that the wind in his sails was as good for going in as coming out and his boat was new and well equipped, he, incensed and animated by a desire to take vengeance, ordered the raising of his sails like a man possessed, and resolved to put all against all, without regard to the danger arising, came with great strength to crash into and to give the said chain such a very great daunt that he broke it and entered inside and came to grapple the boat of his enemy and tow it away with him; and those who defended themselves at the boarding he ordered to be killed. For that foolhardy enterprise, he was greatly esteemed in Castile. And although this was outrageously and madly done, it was also a courageous  p.279 expedient, because of which his fame grew throughout the kingdom of Castile. This Captain of whom we are speaking was a very good pilot, valiant in war and greatly experienced at sea. In obedience to the command of his majesty the king, he came with my lord to Flanders.

On my lord's boat were twenty-five archers and officials of all levels, such as of the chamber, wardrobe, pantry, cellar, fruiterer, saucerie, kitchen and also of others. And although I was there, it was not by necessity, but by the order of his highness, I served only to recall and put in memory what happened during the voyage and that of which I had knowledge.

2. The adventures which happened while his highness was at Sea.

In speaking of the seaborne adventures, the first day that the Archduke set sail, I aver that before evening came, he made more than twenty-five sea leagues; and about 9 o'clock in the evening, as daylight was failing, there were great gusts of wind and lightening in the air which lasted most of the night, but neither thunder nor rain. And what amazed the sailors, was that a strong and violent whirlwind suddenly arose, which with a force of its own filled the sails; because of this they feared a great storm would follow since these were obvious signs. Suspecting the aforementioned storm, with every haste they took down the sails and only left the trysail; and they worked on and on making preparations to resist the encounter with the said storm. In this fear and doubt, the whole night went on; but — God's Mercy — the weather passed graciously enough and the wind altered to West-North West, blowing instead towards Normandy, so that we had to wander about the sea from one coast to the other.

During this time on the boat, three servants of the king and of his highness died,  p.280 of whom the first was Jan Balleman, who had been ill for a long time in Castile; another was Hipolite, the sommelier of the cellar, who became ill eight or nine days before embarcation, the third was Hans, the gatekeeper's assistant, who had for a long time afflicted with pains in his legs. All three were, after their demise, thrown into the sea. I saw two of them floating on the water with the waves, having been put into barrels which went where the wind took them. On Saturday we saw two Basque fishing boats, which were going to England and they were happy to have come across the fleet of my Lord now safely on its way. On that day, about five in the evening the wind became much stronger, because of this, the sea swelled up so much, that the sailors were thrown up and hurtled down by such great waves, forcing them to fall about, so that it took great effort to hold on. The rough weather lasted all the night until morning, the fourth day of this sea voyage, which was the day of the Trinity.

On that Holy Day, because of this storm, his highness pledged that if he came through, he would go on foot from Brussels to visit Notre Dame de Halle, beseeching God that he might make his journey without accident. The lords who accompanied him made the same vow. This rough weather lasted all day and night, caused by a headwind which powerfully belaboured the ships; for the boats rose up and leapt within the big waves; and although they were pumping day and night, no matter how much water was removed by this pump in an hour, more was inside in a quarter of an hour; so that if it had lasted any longer, all was in danger of foundering and being lost at the bottom of the sea. Even the horses, that were not on the lowest deck of the boat, spent two entire days up to their hocks in water.

The next day, which was Monday, the fifth day of the voyage, there was more rough weather, with a North-East wind which lasted up to about four o'clock in the afternoon; and it took a lot of effort to hold the ship's course against the sea and wind. It seemed then, seeing the passage of the water, that the boat was flying through the waves, and thus moving us further off course; and it seemed that these waves must chop and tear everything to pieces, so rudely and impetuously were they crashing against the ships. This contrary wind  p.281 kept up for five complete days, to the great disadvantage and setback of my Lord.

On Thursday, the first day of June, the pilots used a plumb line to test the bottom of the sea, and finding it was only four score fathoms deep, they reckoned that they were at thirteen leagues from Belle-Isle, which was the nearest coastal part of Brittany. Wednesday the seventh day of the voyage, was again wild and stormy weather, and there we were near the entrance to the Channel, so that we needed a downstream wind, a south westerly, for passage to Flanders; and in short we were outside the Spanish Sea. But seeing that with this wind one could not reach England, it was concluded to take the first port which one found in the vicinity of England rather than heading towards Brittany. For this reason, the pilots steered, as much as they could to the left hand side 3, towards England. On Thursday the eighth day of the voyage, which was the feast of Corpus Christi the pilots were sure that they were off course, and now heading for Scilly and there they could put into port to replenish fresh drinking water and new fresh food, because Scilly is a little island with a good port seven leagues from Cornwall. The pilots said we were very close, as per the sand and gravel from the sea, which they brought in with their line. However they failed to reach it because they kept too far to the left, and completely passed eight or ten leagues away from the said Scilly without seeing it, because of the drizzle and obscurity of the weather, which lasted two complete days. After this they tried to test the seabed again as night was about to fall, and found their plumb was loaded with miry ground; for where they were positioned, they had shot too far to the north, and sailed so far on that they had left England, Scotland and Ireland at the good hand. So, very ashamed at having failed like this, they turned back the way they came, still hoping to make port at the said Scilly. But this contrary wind lasted eight full days, so not being able to reach this port, we remained at sea as long as we could.

On Friday, the ninth day of the voyage, there was again high wind, and thus the pilots estimated that they could return to the area of the Channel. For this reason they kept on this course, the prow of their boats always  p.282 towards Flanders waiting for a following wind. But it was for nothing. Seeing this, advice was given by his highness with the chiefs and nobles and pilots, that it was necessary to take harbour in some place, for food and fresh water which were beginning to run out. And these pilots said that they could see no more apparent way than to land in Ireland, which they estimated to be four score leagues away, or to return to Castile and await good wind. Having these opinions, my Lord the Archduke said to the Lord of Reoulx that since it was necessary to get to a port, he would prefer to go towards Ireland, because with this wind one could better go by sail. In fact they exploited this so well that on Saturday the tenth day of the trip we were getting near. The next day, eleventh of the voyage at about nine in the morning we could plainly see the country of Ireland; and we arrived there after dinner, at five o'clock, at the approach to a sea harbour near a small town called Kinsale; where from the said harbour mouth to the town there might be a good league of water. And turning into it, half hidden, there was a castle keeping guard, so that no ships could enter there without their knowledge.

When the townspeople became aware that we had arrived in this place, they were dumb-founded to see such big ships there. Because they wanted to know who we were, they sent those townspeople who knew various languages as their deputies, to find out our intentions at coming there. When they came, we permitted them to board my Lord's boat and so that they did not recognise him, his order of the golden fleece had been taken off, for we did not want him to be recognised at all. There these deputies found the nobility, and greeted them very reverently. Then their leader spoke, in English, in the belief that some of us would understand it better than his own language. When we heard that they were asking no other thing than whether we were friends or enemies of their town, we told them that we were friends and it was the lord high chamberlain of the Catholic King, who while coming from Castile to get to Flanders, had not, because of the storm and bad weather, been able to reach Flanders as quickly as expected. Because of this he arrived here to be refreshed and resupplied with fresh food, paying for it well and there to await a good wind. These deputies were happy with this news, hoping  p.283 to benefit from it and so were those of the town when they heard the truth from these people. But before they had returned to tell the news, His Highness ordered us to give them drinks and a feast, as we did. Then they returned happily to their town. And yet before these deputies returned to their town, the Lord of Reoulx had sent into the town a senior churchman who could speak good English, named Don Juan de Granada, in order that he could enquire if it was dangerous to go there, while keeping quiet the fact that my Lord the Archduke was on the boats, but that it was the lord high chamberlain of the king of Castile, who had to retire here on account of the bad weather. Now then, one does not know how the prelate of the church did it. But he did so much that by evening the townspeople knew that the Lord Don Ferdinand, brother of the king of Castile, had arrived there. And I know that because among the townspeople who spoke to me when I was in the town, was the one who spoke good French. And so by way of greeting, they bade us welcome, for the love of his highness.

3. Speaking a little of the country of Ireland

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.284 I 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.285 The 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.286 except 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.288 the 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.289 I 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.291 asking 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.292 This 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.293 which 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.

“Gentlemen,  p.294 My 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.295 This 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.296 townspeople 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.

(This translation is dedicated to the memory of Helen Davis).

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Title statement

Title (uniform): Archduke Ferdinand's visit to Kinsale in Ireland, an extract from Le Premier Voyage de Charles-Quint en Espagne, de 1517 à 1518

Author: Laurent Vital


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Translated into English and donated to CELT by: Dorothy Convery

Edition statement

1. First draft, revised and corrected.

Extent: 11545 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2012

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: T500000-001

Availability: This translation is copyrighted to Dorothy Convery. It is available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

Notes statement

We are indebted to Jeroen Nilis M.A. for bringing this text to CELT's attention. The French original is available in a separate file at www.ucc.ie/celt/published/F500000-001/ . About the author, Laurent Vital, the editors (Introduction, vi) cite Valère André: 'Laurentius Vitalis, Caroli V nobilis domesticus et in plerisque expeditionibus atque itineribus perpetuus comes, scripsit gallice sermone: Diarium ejusdem Caesaris ab anno 1517 usque ad 1550, quod apud Alexandrum ducem Croyum et Havraeum ms. extare solet et in bibliotheca Hieronymi Winghii, canonici Tornacensis, quae hodie publica est ejusdem ecclesiae.'

Source description


  1. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, no. 10220. An extract of the autograph made in 1618.
  2. Bruxelles/Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, no. 14523. Acquired in 1835, formerly at the Library of Tournai Cathedral. This manuscript was formerly in the possession of, and had been annotated by Jérôme van Winghe, canon of the chapter at Tournai, a noted bibliophile who left all he owned, including his collection of 6000 voumes, in 1637 to the chapter on condition that a library be built with the funds and his books housed in it.

Internet Sources

  • Volume III of Gachard and Piot's Collection des Voyages des Souverains des Pays-Bas is available at www.archive.org.

Select bibliography

  1. Valère André, Bibliotheca Belgica (Louvain 1643) p. 623.
  2. Louis Prosper Gachard & Charles Piot, Collection des Voyages des Souverains des Pays-Bas (4 Vols., Brussels, 1874–82) III, 1881, 276–296.
  3. Bernabé Herrero, Relación de Primer Viaje de Carlos V a España (1517–1518) por Lorenzo Vital (Madrid 1958).
  4. Antoni Maczak, Travel in Early Modern Europe (London 1995).

The edition used in the digital edition

Convery, Dorothy, ed. (2012). Archduke Ferdinand’s visit to Kinsale in Ireland, an extract from Le Premier Voyage de Charles-Quint en Espagne, de 1517 à 1518‍. Cork: CELT Project.

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  title 	 = {Archduke Ferdinand's visit to Kinsale in Ireland, an extract from Le Premier Voyage de Charles-Quint en Espagne, de 1517 à 1518},
  editor 	 = {Dorothy Convery},
  edition 	 = {0},
  publisher 	 = {CELT Project},
  address 	 = {Cork},
  date 	 = {2012}


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The present text covers pages 276–296 of the description.

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Creation: Translation by Dorothy Convery

Date: February 2012

Language usage

  • The translation is in English. (en)
  • Some words are in French. (fr)
  • A phrase in latin occurs in the introduction. (la)

Keywords: travel description; prose; 16c; Archduke Ferdinand of Austria (1521); Ireland; Kinsale; customs; Irish dress and costume

Revision description

(Most recent first)

  1. 2012-05-01: SGML and HTML versions created. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2012-04: Corrections and suggestions supplied. (ed. Mary Raines and Brendan Morgan)
  3. 2012-03-23: Word file converted to XML; header created; file encoded in line with French original. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2012-03-15: Bibliographic items and Introduction compiled. (ed. Hiram Morgan)
  5. 2012-03-15: Laurent Vital's account translated (p. 276–296). (ed. Dorothy Convery)

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F500000-001: Premier Voyage de Charles-Quint en Espagne, de 1517 à 1518 [extrait] (in )

E500000-001: A View of the present State of Ireland (in English Translation)

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  1. 'Mon Dict Seigneur' has been translated throughout as 'his highness' rather than the rather awkward 'My Said Lord'. 🢀

  2. Ferry de Croy, Seigneur de Roeulx (c1450–1524), Chamberlain and High Steward, and himself a holder of the golden fleece since 1505. 🢀

  3. Vital was a secretary not a sailor; therefore his 'left', 'right and 'the good hand' have been retained in the English translation instead of the nautical terms 'port' and 'starboard'. 🢀

  4. à patelette— literally “little feet”; perhaps this might also be rendered as toggles, hooks or even lucky charms as “rabbit's foot”, also perhaps little maltese-style crosses as derived from croix patelette🢀

  5. Dictionary definitions vary: axe, arrow, dagger or more generally ballistic weapon. 🢀


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