Seanchan The Bard And The King Of The Cats
Source: Irish Fairy Tales
BY LADY WILDE
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 and 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
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
'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
'I shall go then and bring him,' said Irusan; 'so send thy brothers
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
'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.
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