When Seanchan, the renowned Bard, was made Ard-Filé, or Chief Poet of Ireland, Guaire, the king of Connaught, to do him honour, made a great feast for him and the whole Bardic Association. And all the professors and learned men went to the king’s house, the great ollaves [masters] of poetry and history and music, and of the arts and sciences; and the learned, aged females, Grug and Grag and Grangait; and all the chief poets and poetesses of Ireland, an amazing number. But Guaire the king entertained them all splendidly.
And each day he asked, “How fares it with my noble guests?” But they were all discontented, and wanted things he could not get for them. So he was very sorrowful, and prayed to God to be delivered from “the learned men and women, a vexatious class.”
Still the feast went on for three days and three nights. And they drank and made merry. And the whole Bardic Association entertained the nobles with the choicest music and professional accomplishments.
But Seanchan sulked and would neither eat nor drink, for he was jealous of the nobles of Connaught. And when he saw how much they consumed of the best meats and wine, he declared he would taste no food till they and their servants were all sent away out of the house.
And when Guaire asked him again, “How fares my noble guest, and this great and excellent people?” Seanchan answered, “I have never had worse days, nor worse nights, nor worse dinners in my life.” And he ate nothing for three whole days.
Now there was a young serving-girl there, and she said to Seanchan, “There is a hen’s egg in the place, my lord, may I bring it to thee, O Chief Bard?”
“It will suffice,” said Seanchan; “bring it that I may eat.”
But when she went to look for it, behold the egg was gone.
“Thou hast eaten it,” said the bard, in wrath.
“Not so, my lord,” she answered; “but the mice, the nimble race, have carried it away.”
“Then I will satirise them in a poem,” said Seanchan; and forthwith he chanted so bitter a satire against them that ten mice fell dead at once in his presence.
“It is well,” said Seanchan, “but the cat is the one most to blame, for it was her duty to suppress the mice. Therefore I shall satirise the tribe of the cats, and their chief lord, Irusan, son of Arusan; for I know where he lives with his wife Spit-fire, and his daughter Sharp-tooth, with her brothers the Purrer and the Growler. But I shall begin with Irusan himself, for he is king, and answerable for all the cats.”
And he said, “Irusan, monster of claws, who strikes at the mouse but lets it go; weakest of cats. The otter did well who bit off the tips of the progenitor’s ears, so that every cat since is jagged-eared. Let thy tail hang down; it is right, for the mouse jeers at thee.”
Now Irusan heard these words in his cave, and he said to his daughter Sharp-tooth: “Seanchan has satirised me, but I will be avenged.”
“Nay, father,” she said, “bring him here alive that we may all take our revenge.”
Now when it was told to Seanchan that the King of the Cats was on his way to come and kill him, he was timorous, and besought Guaire and all the nobles to stand by and protect him. And before long a vibrating, impressive, impetuous sound was heard, like a raging tempest of fire in full blaze. And when the cat appeared he seemed to them of the size of a bullock; and this was his appearance—rapacious, panting, jagged-eared, snub-nosed, sharp-toothed, nimble, angry, vindictive, glare-eyed, terrible, sharp-clawed. But he passed on amongst them, not minding till he came to Seanchan; and him he seized by the arm and jerked him up on his back, and made off the way he came before any one could touch him.
Now Seanchan, being in evil plight, had recourse to flattery. “O Irusan,” he exclaimed, “how truly splendid thou art; such running, such leaps, such strength, and such agility! But what evil have I done, O Irusan, son of Arusan? spare me, I entreat. I invoke the saints between thee and me, O great King of the Cats.”
But not a bit did the cat let go his hold for all this fine talk, but went straight on to Clonmacnoise, where there was a forge; and St. Kieran happened to be there standing at the door.
And the saint ran for a red-hot bar of iron that was in the furnace, and struck the cat on the side with it, so that the iron passed through him, and he fell down lifeless.
“Now my curse on the hand that gave that blow!” said the bard, when he got to his feet.
“And wherefore?” asked St. Kieran.
“Because,” answered Seanchan, “I would rather Irusan had killed me, and eaten me every bit, that so I might bring disgrace on Guaire for all the bad food he gave me; for it was all owing to his wretched dinners that I got into this plight.”
And when all the other kings heard of Seanchan’s misfortunes, they sent to beg he would visit their courts. But he would have neither kiss nor welcome from them. And ever after the kings were afraid to offend Seanchan.
So long as he lived he had the chief place at the feast, and all the nobles there were made to sit below him, and Seanchan was content. And in time he and Guaire were reconciled; and Seanchan and all the ollaves, and the whole Bardic Association, were feasted by the king for thirty days in noble style. And in return for his splendid hospitality the Bardic Association decreed unanimously a vote of thanks to the king. And they praised him in poems as “Guaire the Generous”, by which name he was ever known in history, for the words of the poet are immortal.
Collected by Jane Francesca Elgee “Speranza” Wilde