BtC 5/22. Off to Ireland with the Irish Churl’s story

Previously on Beware the Cat: At his printer’s house lodgings, Mr Streamer is being told stories about supernatural cats. He has already been told about the announcement of the death of the cat called Grimalkin. Now he is being told a story set in Ireland.

Layer 1: framing narrative spoken by Baldwin

Layer 2: main narrative spoken by Streamer

Layer 3: an individual recounting a story told to them by…

Layer 4: …a character in their story

Medieval Britain was dominated by local Norman aristocrats controlling their own territory. This was also true of Ireland. Ireland had been settled by Norman knights (many who had previously settled in Wales*) who had established their own areas of dominance. The English state and the central power of English kings had grown in dominance via war. By Tudor times the political struggles in England would remain violent but had already begun to split on lines of religion and social class.

Ireland was another story altogether. Nominally controlled by England, local lords retained power. For Tudor Londoners, Ireland was akin to the Wild West – perceived as dangerous, barbarous and lawless.

Of course, it was also a place were the Reformation was not taking hold and would go on to become strongly identified with Catholicism.

The story here is that of an Irish peasant that was told to the servant called Thomas. Note, Mr Streamer hasn’t named Thomas yet but he gets round to it eventually.

So off to Ireland, to discover how Grimalkin was killed!

*[i.e.Tudor Irish nobility being descended from Vikings who had settled in Northern France, invaded England, settled in Wales and then moved to Ireland.]

The Irish Churl’s Story:

“There was (not seven years past) a kern of John Butler’s dwelling in the fassock of Bantry, called Patrick Apore. He was minding to make an attack in the night upon Cager Makent, his masters enemy. He had with him his boy (as they call their horse keepers, even if they are old knaves). At night, they entered into a village of two houses and broke in and slew the people, and then took the farm animals they found (a cow and a sheep). They then departed homewards. Thinking they might be pursued (the cur dogs making such a shrill barking) Apore went into a church, hoping to hide there till midnight was past, for he was sure that no one would suspect or look for him inside a church.

The wild Irish men hold churches in such reverence (till our men taught them the contrary) that they neither would nor dare either rob or hurt any man that took sanctuary in the churchyard, even if he had killed his father.

While he was in the church, he thought it best to dine, for he had eaten little that day.He made his boy go gather sticks, and then make a fire in the church. He killed the sheep. after the Irish fashion, laid it on the fire and roasted it. When the sheep was ready, and he thought to eat it, there came into the church a cat, and she sat by him.

The cat said to him in Irish “shane foel” which means, “give me some meat,” He, amazed at this, gave her the quarter that was in his hand, which immediately she ate up. The cat then kept asking for more until she had consumed the whole sheep. But, like a cormorant, she was not satisfied asked for still more.

Apore and his boy supposed that the cat must be the devil, and therefore thought it wisdom to please him, killed the cow which they had stolen. They flayed it and gave the cat a quarter, which she immediately devoured. So then they gave her two other quarters. Meanwhile, as is the fashion in Ireland, they cut a piece of the hide and stuck it on three stakes which they set about the fire and therein they set a piece of the cow for themselves. With the rest of the hide, they made each of them bags to wear about their feet, like brogues, both to keep their feet from hurt all the next day, but also to serve for meat the next night if they could get none other, by broiling them upon coals.

By this time the cat had eaten three-quarters of the cow and was calling for more, so they gave her the rest and doubting lest when she had eaten that she would eat them as well, they got them out of the church, and rode away as fast as they could.

When they were a mile or two from the church the moon began to shine, and the boy saw the cat upon a horse behind him. The boy took his dart and turning his face towards the cat, flung it, and struck her through with it. Immediately there came such a force of cats, that after a long fight with them that the boy was killed and eaten up. Apore himself (as good and as swift as his horse was) barely managed to escape.

When he was home, he put off his corselet of mail and shirt, and his helmet covered with gilt leather and crested with other skin. All weary and hungry he set himself down by his wife and told her his adventure. As he told his story, a kitten which his wife kept, scarce half a year old, stood up and said, “Have you killed Grimalkin ?” and there and then leapt on Apore’s face, and with her teeth took him by the throat, and before she could be pulled away, she had strangled him.