• Jo-Anne Blanco

Seanchán the Bard and Irusan, the King of Cats




One of the more famous Irish tales involving cats is the story of Seanchán Toirpéist, Ireland’s chief bard, and Irusan, the King of Cats. The story goes that Seanchán was at a feast held by King Guaire of Connacht, and was disgusted at the way mice ran over the table and ate one of his eggs. His disgust led him to compose a satire in which he mocked the Irish cats and their High King, Irusan, along with Irusan’s wife Spit-fire, his daughter Sharp-tooth, and his sons Purrer and Growler, for failing to keep Ireland free of mice.


In his cave-palace at Brú Na Bóinne, Irusan heard Seanchán’s satire by means of magic and swore to his daughter Sharp-tooth that he would have his revenge. Sharp-tooth urged her father to bring Seanchán back to the cave so they could all wreak vengeance upon him. Irusan used his fury to swell up to twice his normal size, bounded across the land, and grabbed Seanchán with the intention of eating him. Seanchán struggled and pleaded for mercy but to no avail. When the fighting pair reached the Abbey of Clonmacnoise, St Kieran and St Dunstan, who were working in the forge, threw some of their metal rods like javelins at Irusan. Some versions say that the metal rods went straight through the King of Cats and killed him; others say Irusan simply dropped the bard and disappeared. Given cats’ speed and agility, the latter seems more likely!

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