Ass's Complaint, The
DESCRIPTION: Singer meets a Catholic ass with the mark of the cross on his back complaining about having been sold to a Brunswicker. His MP master has turned on the ass for supporting Repeal. The singer wishes the ass may soon be stabled in College Green
EARLIEST DATE: c.1830 (Zimmermann)
KEYWORDS: Ireland political talltale animal
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Zimmermann 46A, "The Ass's Complaint of the Union" (2 texts)
LOCSinging, as110720[some words are illegible], "The Papist Ass," unknown, 19C
Bodleian, Harding B 26(495)[some words are illegible], "The Papist Ass," P. Brereton (Dublin), n.d.
NOTES [375 words]: Zimmermann, commenting on the last lines, "May he shortly be able in comfort to be seen, Placed in that splendid stable at home in College Green": "The Irish Parliament House ... stood on the N. side of College Green, Dublin."
Zimmermann 35: "'Brunswicker' was then more or less synonymous with 'Orangeman' or simply 'Protestant'."
Donkeys have a cross-shaped patch of dark hair on their back. In this broadside the ass claims it as a sign bestowed at the birth of Jesus that can not be claimed by any "Brunswicker."
Broadsides LOCSinging as110720 and Bodleian Harding B 26(495) are duplicates. - BS
Zimmermann's dating for this piece seems to be based on the internal evidence: It clearly reflects the conditions in the years from about 1828 to 1832, as Daniel O'Connell (whose basic issue was "Repeal" of the Uninon between Britain and Ireland) and his supporters worked their way into parliament.
For more on this situation, see the notes to "Fergus O'Connor and Independence."
The theme of the donkey and the cross (and the presence of animals at the birth of Jesus) is common enough to have its own number in the Aarne-Thompson type index; it is A.2221.1. There are several Irish songs on the theme; see "The Ass and the Orangeman's Daughter" and "Dicky in the Yeomen." It also occurs in folk tales such as "Jubillee Jonah," for which see Briggs, volume A.1, pp. 343-344. An even clearer version is "The Liddle Dunk Foal or Why the Donkey is Safe," on pp. 377-378 of Briggs.
The ass's cross is said in some sources to be because it was present at Jesus's birth, or carried Mary to Bethlehem. Another version has it that the sign was bestowed because Jesus rode a donkey during the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, just a week before Easter; it is thus the LAST animal to be associated with Jesus (Binney, p. 26).
The belief became widespread enough that the donkey's cross became associated with medicine. The hair of a donkey's cross were sometimes mixed with other materials and eaten, or worn as a sort of amulet (Opie/Tatem, p. 122), e.g. as a cure for whooping cough, measles, or a child's teething pains. Pp. 122-123 tell of passing under a donkey as a cure; .p. 122 says that seating a child on the donkey's cross might be restorative. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.7
- Binney: Ruth Binney, Nature's Way: lore, legend, fact and fiction, David and Charles, 2006
- Briggs: Katherine Briggs, A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language, Part A: Folk Narratives, 1970 (I use the 1971 Routledge paperback that combines volumes A.1 and A.2)
- Opie/Tatem: Iona Opie and Moira Tatem, editors, A Dictionary of Superstitions, 1989 (I use the 1999 Barnes & Noble edition)
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