Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Tauntaun of Fermanagh. 17th Century Cryptids in West Ulster

It’s no secret that many denizens of east Ulster regard anywhere ‘West of the Bann’ as a wild, lawless frontier populated with teuchters. I’m sure that it goes the other way too and those folks look east and judge us just as harshly. potayto/potahto.

The Ferman-o-Monster (© Trustees of the British Museum)

However, as part of my research on artefacts of Irish origin in the British Museum (here) I was surprised to come across evidence of how far back this kind of geographical sectarianism goes. The image above was published by Elias Bäck in Augsburg, Germany, around 1740. It is a satire on the alleged savagery of the native Irish as claimed by Scottish planters in the 1690s. I’m not entirely sure why it took 50 years for the Scot’s tales of wild goings on in darkest Fermanagh to be ridiculed in Germany, but that’s another story.

In the foreground we see one of these fearless Scots, having managed to fit a bridle on the man-eating creature, displaying the beast for the patient artist. Obviously, it’s not to be trusted, as he’s still got a fair grip on that long spiky-hook implement in his right hand. It is truly a fearsome beast, apparently composed of a camel’s head and neck incongruously attached to a set of human legs. Albeit with a surprisingly well-turned ankle. It’s hard to tell the scale, but it would, at a guess, appear that the dangling gonads are Camelid in origin (rather than Homo Sapiens) as each would appear to be about the size of a man’s fist. For further commentary, I can only direct you, gentle reader, to Vyvian Withnail’s comments on ‘33-year-old shotputter Geoff Woade’: ‘Imagine the size of his balls. Imagine getting into a fight with the f***er!’

If proof were needed of this creature’s ferocity, one need only look to the left and right margins where background scenes show other creatures attacking a group of men (left) and a single man on horseback (right). In this latter case, the beast appears to be going for the head, though our hapless rider seems more inclined to save his hat over preserving himself. I’m a lifelong believer in the redeeming quality of good millinery, but this may be stretching the point – There’s little to recommend having a great hat if you don’t have enough cranium left to wear it!

The space between the main beast and his Scottish captor is taken up with a scene of yet another tethered monster, this time surrounded by a large crowd of onlookers and a baying hound. The way it’s head is raised and angled to one side would seem to suggest that it is in significant distress. The apparent depiction of a pudenda, or at least the lack of an obvious penis, could indicate that this specimen is biologically female. It might also explain the large group of pervy onlookers.

The collection of bones in the lower left-hand portion of the image (skull, mandible, ribs, a collection of smashed long bones, and what may be a pelvis) raises the fascinating possibility of new and exciting finds awaiting the lucky archaeologist digging out west! I wonder if there will be in the animal bone assemblage from Drumclay crannog?

Technically, Tauntauns are snow lizards native to Hoth (© Disney)

I’m also struck by the similarities between this Ferman-o-Monster and the Tauntauns of Hoth. Even with the latter’s addition of horns and a tail, there may still be a case to be made for Lucasfilm having borrowed their inspiration from Fermanagh’s Lakelands. Seeing as other locations on this island are jumping on the Star Wars and Game of Thrones bandwagons, Fermanagh & Omagh District Council might well be advised to try the same, no matter how tenuous the link. Alternatively, there is the lucrative cryptozoological world to be tapped. Scotland has turned the Lough Ness Monster (Nessiteras rhombopteryx) into a veritable industry while Sasquatch and the Yeti are perennial favourites. It’s all a matter of seizing the marketing opportunity! Though, any soft toy manufacturer may wish to ‘de-emphasise’ the mighty knackers on this prize specimen.

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