Sunday, 3 July 2016

Wrath of the Weasels

As we now know, weasels [1] have funerals for their dead (see ‘A Weasel Funeral’). In 1953, Irish Times columnist J. Ashton Freeman asked readers if they had witnessed this phenomenon. The following letter came from Mary McAuliffe, of Newmarket, County Cork.
“Dear Sir, Myself and my sisters go every evening for the cow, about ten minutes’ walk, and near a gate leading to a cornfield. We used to sit down near the gate and listen to the birds singing. As we were nearing the place last Sunday we saw a dead weasel on the road.
“We were getting a stick to turn him over to examine him, when out came five big weasels, and dragged the dead weasel into the hedge. We stood, and as we passed the weasels followed us a few yards. So we ran.
“Daddy said he thought the weasels must have thought that we had killed the other weasel, but it must be that a car killed him. We got a great fright, but saw no weasels since on our way for the cow.”
And what did Ashton Freeman make of Mary’s story?
“I believe every word of this, and I’ll tell you why. No child who was inventing a story, and had heard of the so-called weasel’s funeral would have stopped at the point where the letter does. No, a false account would have finished off with full funeral rites.”
But are weasels really capable of vengeance. Mrs Clark of Ballina, County Mayo, believed so. According to her letter:
“… some men were cutting a meadow one day when they found some young stoats and killed them. Some time later, one of the men observed an old stoat come up and spit into a can of buttermilk the men had for drinking. The man at once threw away all the buttermilk. He said that had he not seen the stoat spitting into it, and had they drank the milk, they all would have been poisoned.”
Ashton Freeman received a number of letters from children who had received more direct retribution.  In each case, the child had saved a rabbit from a weasel, only for the weasel to return with a gang and set about the child.
But what should you do if you find yourself on a weasel hit list? Strangely, we must turn to Oscar Wilde’s mother (aka Lady Jane Francesca Wilde) for advice.
“Weasels are spiteful and malignant, and old withered witches sometimes take this form. It is extremely unlucky to meet a weasel the first thing in the morning; still it would be hazardous to kill it, for it might be a witch and take revenge. Indeed one should be very cautious about killing a weasel at any time, for all the other weasels will resent your audacity, and kill your chickens when an opportunity offers. The only remedy is to kill one chicken yourself, make the sign of the cross solemnly three times over it, then tie it to a stick hung up in the yard, and the weasels will have no more power for evil, nor the witches who take their form, at least during the year, if the stick is left standing; but the chicken may be eaten when the sun goes down.”
Notes
1. It should be noted that - to the best of my knowledge - there are no weasels in Ireland. However, in many parts of the country, particularly in rural areas, stoats were - and still are - referred to as weasels.
Sources:
1. The Irish Times, 11 July 1953
2. Lady Wilde, Legends, Charms and Superstitions of Ireland, (Dover, New York, 2006)

4 comments:

  1. Hi this is very interesting.I have written about mystery animals in Ireland in Chad Arment`s Bio Fortean Notes.If you are interested in finding out more,I can be contacted at muirhead@richardmuirhead4.orangehome.co.uk Richard Muirhead

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi this is very interesting.I have written about mystery animals in Ireland in Chad Arment`s Bio Fortean Notes.If you are interested in finding out more,I can be contacted at muirhead@richardmuirhead4.orangehome.co.uk Richard Muirhead

    ReplyDelete
  3. There are no weasels in Ireland and the animals here are undoubtedly stoats. There are several different words in the Irish language meaning a stoat and this may have added to the confusion. Irish words I can supply signifying "stoat" are: easóg, eas, neas, easín mín, blathnaid, flannóg. These in early dictionaries were rendered as weasel rather than stoat.

    ReplyDelete