Ireland has no Venomous Reptiles

Patrick Weston Joyce

It is very well known that Ireland has no toads, and no venomous reptiles of any kind.

There are some small lizards indeed, but they are quite harmless; and though we have now plenty of frogs, it is only within the last few hundred years they have been introduced.

Perhaps this is the best known and most widely spread of all the legends of Ireland; and it may be interesting to bring together all the available information regarding it, whether from written or oral, ancient or modern, tradition.

Besides the testimonies on this point given below there is a note in a very ancient Irish manuscript now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, in which Ireland is compared to Paradise.

For each is situated at the extremity of the world; Paradise at “the extreme east,” and Ireland at “the extreme west”: and as “Paradise has no savage beasts, no serpents, nor lions, nor dragons, nor scorpions, nor mice [nor rats], nor frogs”; so it is also with Ireland as regards all these animals.[1]

As to frogs, Giraldus Cambrensis tells the story—indeed he devotes an entire chapter to it with the heading “Of a Frog lately seen in Ireland”—that soon after the Anglo-Norman invasion, while Robert le Poer was governor of Waterford, a live frog was brought one day to his court, which had been found in one of the meadows round the city.

It was viewed with great astonishment, especially by the Irish; and when Donall Mac Gilla Patrick, the native Prince of Ossory, saw it, he beat his head with grief, saying that the reptile was an omen of woe to Ireland, and that it plainly foreboded the conquest of the Irish nation by the English.

Probably this story has a foundation in fact; but it is pretty certain that Giraldus gave it a twist of his own in favour of the Anglo-Norman invaders—as he did in many others of his stories—to make the natives believe that the conquest was inevitable.

It seems however that our present day Irish naturalists have discovered a species of native frog in Kerry, which they say must have been there from the beginning. If this be so we must conclude that these cute Kerry frogs, getting early intelligence of St. Patrick’s intentions (see below), betook them to remote hiding places, where they lay low till the storm blew over, and thus evaded the saint’s sentence of banishment.

The reader will find Ireland's exemption from all these noxious and venomous creatures fully explained in the following legend of St. Patrick and the Reptiles.


[1] Stokes: Trip. Life, xxix., where the original Irish text is given.