Dogs, Fools and Female Scolds

Care of the poor, sick and feeble has long been the realm of the Christian church. This has continued longer in Scotland and especially Ireland, than the rest of the UK Across Ireland can be found references to hospitals – such as Hospital, Spital and Spiddel. Each hospital had its own territory, so was called a ‘forus tuarthe’, or house of the territory. .

This is from a fine book, ‘Almshouses: A Social and Architectural History’ by Brian Howson.

“The Brehon Laws provided that the hospital ‘shall be free from debt, shall have four doors and should have a stream of water running through the middle of the floor’, and that ‘Dogs, fools and female scolds must be kept away from the inmates, lest they be worried.’”

This item throws up all sorts of questions for me. Scolds are always specified as being female, which means they are not necessarily female per se. So whey don’t male scolds ever get a mention? It seems that male scolds are acceptable. Why?

I am also intrigued by this notion of keeping fools away. Surely a hospital would care for at least some people with mental health problems, so would be more likely to be inmates than worriers of them.

And the stream of water running through it is also a strange one. I have found references to mills having a stream running beneath the house, which makes sense, as a source of power, but there are also many towns in England such as Cheltenham, Bristol and Salisbury that had a nearby river diverted to flow through the main streets to flush away the filth that collected, so I suspect this is what is being referred to here, though it would make the place incredibly damp and possibly prone to flooding.

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