Yeats' FAIRY AND FOLK
TALES OF THE IRISH PEASANTRY
THE DEMON CAT1
There was a woman in Connemara,
the wife of a fisherman; as he had always
good luck, she had plenty of fish at all times stored away in the house ready
for market. But, to her great annoyance, she found that a great cat used to come
in at night and devour all the best and finest fish. So she kept a big stick by
her, and determined to watch.
One day, as she and a woman were spinning together, the house suddenly became
quite dark; and the door was burst open as if by the blast of the tempest, when
in walked a huge black cat, who went straight up to the fire, then turned round
and growled at them.
"Why, surely this is the devil," said a young girl, who was by, sorting
"I'll teach you how to call me names," said the cat; and, jumping at her, he
scratched her arm till the blood came. "There, now," he said, "you will be more
civil another time when a gentleman comes to see you." And with that he walked
over to the door and shut it close, to prevent any of them going out, for the
poor young girl, while crying loudly from fright and pain, had made a desperate
rush to get away.
Just then a man was going by, and hearing the cries, he pushed open the door
and tried to get in; but the cat stood on the threshold, and would let no
one pass. On this the man attacked him
with his stick, and gave him a sound blow; the cat, however, was more than a
match in the fight, for it flew at him and tore his face and hands so badly that
the man at last took to his heels and ran away as fast as he could.
"Now, it's time for my dinner," said the cat, going up to examine the fish
that was laid out on the tables. "I hope the fish is good today. Now, don't
disturb me, nor make a fuss; I can help myself." With that he jumped up, and
began to devour all the best fish, while he growled at the woman.
"Away, out of this, you wicked beast," she cried, giving it a blow with the
tongs that would have broken its back only it was a devil; "out of this, no fish
you have today."
But the cat only grinned at her, and went on tearing and spoiling and
devouring the fish, evidently not a bit the worse for the blow. On this, both
the women attacked it with sticks, and struck hard blows enough to kill it, on
which the cat glared at them, and spit fire; then, making a leap, it tore their
heads and arms till the blood came, and the frightened women rushed shrieking
from the house.
But presently the mistress returned, carrying with her a bottle of holy
water; and, looking in, she saw the cat still devouring the fish, and not
minding. So she crept over quietly and threw holy water on it without a word. No
sooner was this done than a dense black smoke filled the place, through which
nothing was seen but the two red eyes of the cat, burning like coals of fire.
Then the smoke gradually cleared away, and she saw the body of the creature
burning slowly till it became shrivelled and black like a cinder, and finally
disappeared. And from that time the fish remained untouched and safe from harm,
for the power of the evil one was broken, and the demon cat was seen no
1. Ancient Legends of Ireland.
In Ireland one hears much of Demon
Cats. The father of one of the present
editors of the Fortnightly had such a cat, say county Dublin peasantry.
One day the priest dined with him, and objecting to see a cat fed before
Christians, said something over it that made it go up the chimney in a flame of
fire. "I will have the law on you for doing such a thing to my cat," said the
father of the editor. "Would you like to see your cat?" said the priest. "I
would," said he, and the priest brought it up, covered with chains, through the
hearth-rug, straight out of hell. The Irish devil does not object to these
undignified shapes. The Irish devil is not a dignified person. He has no whiff
of sulphureous majesty about him. A centaur of the ragamuffin, jeering and
shaking his tatters, at once the butt and terror of the saints!