Chatting with my friend Tim from Senchus about plague and its companion rodents, Tim brought an unusual entry in the Annals Cambriae to my attention:
|896||‡Bread failed in Ireland. Vermin like moles with two teeth fell from the air and ate everything up; they were driven out by fasting and prayer.‡|
Good thing the plague was over by 896! So what does this mean? Well, my take on it, is that it is probably referring to a plague of mice. Falling from the air is just a literary way of saying they seemed to come from nowhere. “Vermin like moles with two teeth” could be any small rodent. All rodents have to prominent incisors that are all that is visible. The rest of their teeth are tucked away further back in the jaw, unseen unless you see the skull without flesh. Like moles suggests to me that they were the size of moles, and so not rats.
As for the bread failing in Ireland, the Annals of Ulster records “A heavy snowfall and great scarcity” in 895. The Irish annals don’t appear to record the rodents at all. We are left to wonder if the rodents invaded settlements due to famine or whether the rodents caused the famine. The clip below records a mouse invasion in Australia during a year when the crops were predicted to be especially good. They had a heavy rainfall that spring and were expecting a bumper crop. It appears the mice couldn’t wait for the crops to appear to explode. This clip is not for those who can’t stand mice! In late 9th century Ireland the hardship would have been far worse without outside food sources or rodent poison.