Thursday 28 October 2010

The Kings of the Cats

Scottish Wild Cat
An intriguing story, one which has not only an international resonance but has subsequently become connected with the MhacMhuirch bardic family, is ‘The King of the Cats’. This particular version of the story names the king as Cugarbhat (sometimes he is called Cugrabhat), probably a corruption of a Latin name. He is said to have been slain by MacMhuirich who then proceeds to boast of his deed to the kitten by the fireside, saying that the king of the cats is dead. This enraged the kitten so much so that it grew and attacked MacMhuirich three times. He was only saved by his steel helmet. Judging from other versions of this tale it would appear that what Alexander Carmichael wrote down here was perhaps either only a mere summary, or what the reciter could remember. The tradition bearer from whom Carmichael collected this anecdote was Neil MacEachan (c. 1802–1883), a crofter from Howbeg in South Uist.

Cugarbhat was ri[gh] nan cat.
Macvurich & was sealg & his
dogs. Kil[l] Chugarbat in a cairn.
A Mhac tu tha piseag chnoc
pheal[lach] an oir na lua[tha] ag
that you abhag kil[l] chug
arvat. So he did – A phi[sea]g
chnoc ph[eallach] ? ? Kil[l] cug[arbhat]
Did m[y] dogs Kil[l]? Really she
asked the pest 3 times she sprung
coil[ed] at his throat. His clog
ada cruach saved him
He grew larger & larger ea[ch] time.

CW90/87, f. 36r.
Ó Néill, Eoghan Rua, ‘The King of the Cats’, Béaloideas, vol. 59 (1991), pp. 167–88.
Gillies, William, ‘Alexander Carmichael and Clann Mhuirich’, Scottish Gaelic Studies, vol. XX (2000), pp. 1–67.
Image: Scottish Wild Cat.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]