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Old Cat Stories

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A very interesting story found throughout most of Europe since mediaeval times and popular throughout Ireland concerns the death of the "King of the Cats". The story goes along the lines of: A man once met a huge cat, which attacks him and which he with difficulty managed to slay. Before it died, the fierce animal told him that it was the "King of the Cats". On his return home, the man told his wife that the King of the Cats was dead and, hearing this, the old domestic cat that was sleeping by the fireside jumped up and left the house. Some versions have a more macabre ending, with the domestic cat leaping at the man's throat and killing him as the bearer of bad tidings.

Another story popular in Ireland, tells of an argument long ago between a cat and a dog regarding which of them should live inside the house. To settle the question they decided to have a race, and the one that reached the house first should have that privilege. The dog was winning the race, but stopped to attack a poor beggarman whom he did not recognise, and so the cat reached the house first.

A more widespread tale describes how a cat is destined to always behave according to its nature. A certain man has his cat so well trained that it holds a candle for him while he reads. However, a visitor (in Irish versions usually a poor travelling scholar) bets that he can make the cat drop the candle, and accordingly releases a mouse from his pocket. The mouse races across the table, with the eyes of the cat riveted on it. When a second mouse is released, the cat can no longer control its nature, and flings the candle aside and gives chase.

Rats were the principle pest-creatures in Irish life; since they stole and dirtied the grain they were therefore believed to be vile and vengeful creatures. The mouse however, had a more variable image. It was said that mice first came into existence due to a miracle of St. Martin, who once placed some food under a tub and warned his companions to leave it there until-the-morrow. An inquisitive person lifted the tub during the night, and a plague of mice rushed forth. In order to control them, Martin threw his glove after them and it turned into a cat. This derives from an international legend, which has mice and rats created by the devil and sent into Noah's Ark. Noticing them, however, Noah threw his glove at them and it became a cat. The legend in its international form is told in a 14th-century Irish text.

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