28 Sept 2022

Outrageous words - and a cask of wine!

Gerry Moran Kilkenny

The ‘Liber Primus Kilkenniensis’ (1231 – 1537) is the oldest town record, a diary of sorts, offering invaluable information on everything and anything that went on in our city

Well, well, well, who’d have thought it? The Dean of St Canice’s Cathedral hauled before the court for using ‘many outrageous, rough and sharp words’ regarding a certain John Chamberlain.

Oh, dear. What’s the world coming to? But fair play to the Dean he pleaded (pled?) guilty, promised to behave himself and not use ‘outrageous, rough and sharp words’ again under threat of having to pay a fine of a cask of wine, valued at 10 marks. MARKS!

This is Kilkenny, not Berlin, Gerry.

Bear with me. Firstly this is a true story, secondly it happened 630 years ago and I am simply quoting what is recorded in black and white. Ten marks was the value of the wine. Case closed. I’ll get back to this. Mark my words!

The above vignette came to light because of a wonderful article on the back page of last week’s Kilkenny People regarding the recently deceased Anthony Cains, a world-famous book binder, and his contribution to Kilkenny City’s heritage during the mid-1970s, not least his meticulous work in restoring our ‘Liber Primus Kilkenniensis’ (from the Latin meaning Kilkenny’s First Book, and written, of course, in Latin).

The ‘Liber Primus Kilkenniensis’ (1231 – 1537) is the oldest town record, a diary of sorts, offering invaluable information on everything and anything that went on in our city, including the above shenanigans concerning the Dean of St Canice’s Cathedral.

I can relate the above event because the aforementioned article in the Kilkenny People sent me searching for my own copy of the ‘Liber Primus’ – one of the best book investments I ever made.

I purchased my second-hand copy of the ‘Liber Primus’, in Don Robert’s book shop in Kieran Street back in the day. What I paid for it I have no idea but whatever I paid it was worth every penny of it.

The original copy cost five shillings and was printed by the Kilkenny Journal Ltd, Patrick Street.

The foreword by Walter Smithwick, KM, Kilcreene Lodge, 1961, offers the following: ‘When I mentioned to Senator Professor Stanford of Trinity College, Dublin, (where Anthony Cains carried out his meticulous work on the book) our desire to have translated the ‘Liber Primus Kilkenniensis’ he immediately suggested Professor Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven.

‘And what a wonderful result! Not only has Professor Otway-Ruthven given us a splendid English rendering of the ‘Liber Primus’, but she also put the book into chronological order and added a glossary to assist the reader’.

Later in the foreword Walter refers to the Kilkenny diet, as sourced from the ‘Liber Primus’. The diet, he wrote, ‘was quite liberal: ale, wine, wheat, barley, rye, oats, malt, peas, beans, herrings, sea fish, salmon, great fish, eels, pigs, hens, capons, cheese, cows, sheep, goats, deer, doe, buck, rabbits, apples, pears and other fruit, honey, figs, raisins and gardens of herbs, and the herb Madder (Rubia Tinctorum), no doubt used as a dyestuff.’ No change there then!’

The ‘Liber Primus Kilkenniensis’ (1231 – 1537) is the oldest town record, a diary of sorts, offering invaluable information on everything and anything that went on in our city

Walter continues: ‘Ale and the brewing thereof is frequently mentioned.’ A craft Mr Smithwick was well acquainted with.
What made last week’s article in the People equally interesting were the adventures of Pat Nolan (the newly appointed Tourism Development Officer for the South East Region at the time) as he tried to collect the restored ‘Liber Primus’ from Trinity College. A simple task you might think, but not in bureaucratic Trinity College Dublin, where ‘you can’t park in here, mate, don’t care if it’s the Holy Grail you’re collecting’. Or words to that effect.

But fair dues to Pat, thanks to some lateral thinking he got the precious cargo home, safe and sound - and without incurring a parking fine. Belated thanks to you, Pat.

There was a follow-up to the ‘Liber Primus’ – the ‘Liber Secundus’ which, regretfully, went missing many moons ago and has yet to be found. Time perhaps to put up a substantial reward for its recovery – 10,000 marks maybe!

And thanks to Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven’s glossary in the translated ‘Liber Primus’ I can explain the mark business:
‘Mark: The sum of 13s 4d. No such coin ever existed, the mark was merely money of account’ which I don’t quite understand except to say that 10 marks ie 10 by 13s 4d, is a hell of a fine for ‘outrageous, rough and sharp words’!

And a serious price for a cask of wine!

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