Seanchan The Bard And The King Of The Cats

: Irish Fairy Tales


When Seanchan, the renowned Bard, was made Ard-File 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 of poetry

and history and music, and of the arts and sciences; and the learned,

aged females, Grug and Grag a
d Grangait; and all the chief poets and

poetesses of Ireland, an amazing number. But Guaire the king

entertained them all splendidly, so that the ancient pathway to his

palace is still called 'The Road of the Dishes.'

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


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.

Then the king was sorely grieved that the whole Bardic Association

should be feasting and drinking while Seanchan, the chief poet of

Erin, was fasting and weak. So he sent his favourite serving-man, a

person of mild manners and cleanliness, to offer special dishes to the


'Take them away,' said Seanchan; 'I'll have none of them.'

'And why, O Royal Bard?' asked the servitor.

'Because thou art an uncomely youth,' answered Seanchan. 'Thy

grandfather was chip-nailed--I have seen him; I shall eat no food from

thy hands.'

Then the king called a beautiful maiden to him, his foster-daughter,

and said, 'Lady, bring thou this wheaten cake and this dish of salmon

to the illustrious poet, and serve him thyself.' So the maiden went.

But when Seanchan saw her he asked: 'Who sent thee hither, and why

hast thou brought me food?'

'My lord the king sent me, O Royal Bard,' she answered, 'because I am

comely to look upon, and he bade me serve thee with food myself.'

'Take it away,' said Seanchan, 'thou art an unseemly girl, I know of

none more ugly. I have seen thy grandmother; she sat on a wall one day

and pointed out the way with her hand to some travelling lepers. How

could I touch thy food?' So the maiden went away in sorrow.

And then Guaire the king was indeed angry, and he exclaimed, 'My

malediction on the mouth that uttered that! May the kiss of a leper

be on Seanchan's lips before he dies!'

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.

''Tis 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


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 thy 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.'

'I shall go then and bring him,' said Irusan; 'so send thy brothers

after me.

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. Such was his similitude. 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; for he had no other object

in view but to get hold of the poet.

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.

'What!' exclaimed the saint; 'is that the Chief Bard of Erin on the

back of a cat? Has Guaire's hospitality ended in this?' And he 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 upon 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

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 went on his way to the bardic mansion,

where the best of good living was always to be had. And ever after the

kings were afraid to offend Seanchan.

So as 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 had the choicest of viands and

the best of French wines to drink, served in goblets of silver. 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 after known

in history, for the words of the poet are immortal.