Monstrous Women and Irish Beards

If one were to trust the Welsh cleric and writer Giraldus Cambrensis’ view of the Irish people the impression would seldom be positive.  In his twelfth-century History and Topography of Ireland Giraldus outlines some of the curiosities of Ireland and her people, and devotes a section of his work to one Irishwoman in Limerick who was particularly strange.

This woman, he explains, was covered in hair and possessed a long beard.  Beards were often determined as physical indicators of a wild and barbarous nature and, although generally associated with Irishmen, it appears that some rare unfortunate Irishwoman sported equally threatening hair.

Royal 13 B.VIII, f.19

(British Library, MS Royal 13 B viii, fol. 19)

§53 “A woman with a beard and a mane on her back”

Duvenaldus, the king of Limerick, had a woman that had a beard down to her waist.  She had also a crest from her neck down along her spine, like a one-year-old foal.  It was covered with hair.  This woman in spite of these two enormities was, nevertheless, not hermaphrodite, and was in other respects sufficiently feminine.  She followed the court wherever it went, provoking laughs as well as wonder.  She followed neither fatherland nor nature in having a hairy spine; but in wearing her beard long, she was following the custom of her fatherland, not of her nature.’

Giraldus Cambrensis, The History and Topography of Ireland tr. John O’Meara pp72-3.