It's thought some skeletons recently unearthed during excavations in London were victims of the Black Death which swept across Europe in the mid-1300's.

Because these particular remains were laid out neatly in their graves it's probable they were among the first victims to succumb...and were buried properly with due ceremony, unlike the people who died later and were put into the so-called Plague Pits...

It wasn't so much the rats who were responsible for the rapid spread of the plague...more the fleas who lived on the rats. It's thought the fleas were suffering from some form of genetic mutation which made them more susceptible to the infection which caused the plague in humans. But that's only one theory...there are many more...

Oddly enough there is very little written record of the Black Death in Ireland...as the history of Ireland was carefully recorded by the monks and scribes as it was happening so to speak...almost in the form of a daily diary...mention of the Black Death and its effects are only scanty. Though the plague decimated the numbers of monks because of their close living quarters and because they were usually the first to visit the sick...perhaps the simple explanation for a meagre number of records lies with the fact most of the scribes died...

It barely affected the Irish...they lived in the high mountains and remote areas of forest land so they escaped the worst of the devastation...it mostly affected the English and Anglo-Irish who lived in the crowded cities and in port towns. Not to say the Irish escaped completely because they didn't...those who were tenants of the landed estates a little way inland from the coast, died in their thousands and whole farms were left unattended and uncared for. The vast Oak forests which covered much of Ireland at the time, began to regenerate and grow unchecked until the end of the 1400's when the population began to increase and use was made of the wood again. To have forests regenerating because there were too few people to use the wood they provided, shows that the Black Death must have had devastating effects on the rural peoples.

Those who lived in the mountainous regions escaped purely because they were remote from towns and cities...the original mountainy men...!

And actually the mountainy men and their families probably lived in cleaner conditions than those who lived in towns. It's likely they had cross breed dog/wolves who would have acted as efficient rat catchers anyway...and it's highly unlikely the plague carrying black rats would have ever survived a virtually impossible journey into the remote regions of the countryside. It's also doubtful many towns people, if any, would have ventured into the territories of those who lived in small warring clans in the high mountains.

No-one can say with any true certainty where the Black Death originated...thoughts change rapidly with one expert saying it was the Far East and another debating whether it was from India...that it came via the traders sailing ships isn't in any doubt though. All ships had its population of black rats which jumped ship at the various ports and quickly infected their fellows who lived in and around the docks. It took no time at all for the plague to spread like wildfire among the over-crowded and stinking hovels of the dock workers...

The mediaeval people had little or no concept of the transmission of disease...the homes of the average working people were dirty and unhygienic with pigs running in and out as they pleased and straw for beds which was often left unchanged for months at a time. Not just in Ireland, but over all of Europe the life and living conditions of the mediaeval peasant was the same whatever country you happened to be in. Human waste and dead animals littered the narrow passageways between the cramped hovels the people lived in...

But they were a god-fearing people...the clergy of the time emphasised that disease and sickness came straight from God as a punishment for their sins...so there was a certain amount of acceptance and not a great deal of investigation as to the Black Deaths causes. The more learned men thought it was the fault of the Jews or a disturbance in the heavenly bodies...

It's been estimated that between 75-250 million people died from the Black Death across Europe and it took the better part of the following hundred and fifty years for the population growth to return to pre-plague days...

And I haven't told you the symptoms...nasty they were...huge boils and carbuncles in your groin and armpits for starters...when those were prodded or excised they oozed a thick black evil smelling liquid which formed a greenish scum...high fever and a desire to sleep...and blood gathering in the lungs...you'd have only lived for, at the most, four days before you succumbed.

There were treatments...dead toads ground up into a paste and rubbed into the boils...hefty doses of Valerian to help you sleep...arsenic and vinegar to wash the skin...but there was no cure which worked or was in the slightest bit effective. The valerian would at least have calmed you down and let you sleep...but the use of toad was clutching at straws.

Eventually, after two long years, the Black Death petered out. There were occasional outbreaks during the following centuries but nothing which ever compared to the sheer devastation the original had caused.

The skeletons recently unearthed are going to undergo intensive forensic examination before they are re-interred...hopefully in a proper burial ground.

Whoever thought history was boring!