Zero tolerance in old Kilkenny



Part 2

Another headache for the 14th century civic authorities in Kilkenny was the straying of pigs into St. Mary’s churchyard. The animals were forever turning up in the churchyard, causing damage to gravestones and consternation among churchgoers.

Priests found it impossible to say mass with the grunting and squealing of pigs outside. Pigs that broke into the House of God occasionally interrupted worship. “You detestable swine, get behind me Satan!” one cleric shouted at them in anger when they ran up the aisle in the middle of a wedding ceremony, soiling the bride’s dress before storming the altar.

To counteract these porcine invasions of St. Mary’s, the Corporation clamped down big time on pig owners who allowed their herds to stray, or run amok, in the churchyard. The owners were subjected to the pillory. This was a wooden framework with holes through which the offender’s neck and hands protruded.

The miscreant would remain in this position in a public place to enable passers-by to pelt him or her with rotten fruit or vegetables. If unlucky, the pilloried person might be urinated upon, though the Corporation discouraged this latter act.

In addition to applying the pillory, the Corporation ordained that any person who found a pig in St. Mary’s Churchyard was entitled to kill the animal on the spot. The reward for this service was to keep the pig’s head. Many “head hunters” availed of this law to acquire free meals of succulent bacon for themselves or to sell the pigs’ heads on the open market.

There were some peculiar by-laws governing the sale of meat and fish. It was an offence for a citizen of Kilkenny to buy sea-fish from anyone selling it on the roads leading into the town. A first offence merited a heavy fine; a second incurred expulsion from Kilkenny.

Fish mongers were obliged to sell their product at the market place, and not privately. Any fish remaining at the end of market day had to be on sale the following day until somebody bought it.

One by-law was certainly quite shocking from a 21st century perspective. It declared: “Should any butcher sell tainted flesh or such as has died of the Murrain, or buy flesh from Jews and sell it to Christians, he shall suffer the punishment of the Tumbrel.”

Bakers and brewers had to abide by strict regulations. The size of a loaf of bread was regulated by the price of corn. The civic authorities carefully monitored weights and measures to ensure that customers were not being diddled. Offending bakers were conveyed to the tumbrel to face public wrath.

Vintners were subject to equal scrutiny. Anyone caught selling sour wine, poor quality ale or spirits, or overcharging for drink, suffered the indignity of the tumbrel. The whipping post was deemed appropriate for vintners found to have been ripping off customers over a lengthy period of time. The offender was strapped to the post and flogged by one or two whip men.

The vexed issue of alleged “gossipy women” was still very much in evidence throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. In January 1570, the Corporation of Irishtown passed a by-law aimed at clamping down on women who became too merry when celebrating the birth of children: a most unfair and oppressive measure.

The civic authorities felt that women both overindulged themselves and spoke far too much at these events. To avoid what it described as the “gross enormity and harm” that such women caused, the Irishtown leaders imposed heavy fines on all “excessive gossips” within their jurisdiction. This could prove a financial burden for the offenders, but at least it was more humane than the scold’s bridle or ducking stool. Spies were sent to report back to the Corporation on over-talkative women.

Kilkenny Corporation also took a dislike to the practise of women keening at funerals. In February 1609, it decreed that “no outcries be made on the streets at funerals, on pain of six pence.” Ladies were frequently arrested and either fined or imprisoned for what the Corporation called “that pernicious howling” in the streets.

So it paid to stay on the straight and narrow in Old Kilkenny.


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