A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. She receives creative input from the Real Cats and clerical assistance from She of Little Talent (old SoLT, a.k.a. Roby Sweet). Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to old SoLt (Ms. Sweet). Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Cats in Early Irish Law: Types of Cats

Cats and legal tracts go together like, um… Okay, I can’t even finish that sentence because, you know, cats are not the first thing you think of when you think of laws. But cats do show up in legal codes (think licensing, anti-cruelty measures, and so on), and they have been showing up in the law since at least the tenth century. Cat laws from back then were not quite the same as modern cat laws, though.

© Celticlit
Today we’re taking a look at something called the Catṡlechta, or “Cat-sections.” This tract on cats is part of an Old Irish legal compilation known as Senchas Már. How old, you ask? Well, it seems that the grouping of texts was compiled in the eighth century, “though individual tracts vary by date,” at least according to Wikipedia. Scholars have translated the fragmentary texts of the Catṡlechta that still exist, giving us some idea of how the law dealt with cats a thousand years ago (give or take a century or two).  One interesting thing is that the law recognized several different types of cats, which I conveniently list for you below.

Types of cats in the Catṡlechta

  • Baircne (barcne or bairccni), “a cat which is on a pillow beside women always,” “a ship-warrior…a strong one, it was brought from the ship of Bresal Brecc in which are white-breasted black cats.” (Sitting on a pillow next to a woman and being a strong ship-warrior don’t seem to go together, at least not to us. In any case, Bresal Brecc may have been a historical figure who was known for overseas raids. Maybe.)
  •  Breoinne, “a wonderful flame in its essence, purring in its essence.” Breoinne may have been an onomatopoeic name, as it sort of sounds like a cat’s purr.
  •  Crúibne, “a cat of barn and mill…a warrior…a strong one, strong from its paw.” Haven’t we all known cats like this, “strong from its paw”?
  •  Folum, “a cat who herds…who is kept with the cows in the enclosure.” In other words, a cowherd’s cat.
  •  Glas Nenta, “a cat…which merits a sét [about half an ounce of silver] for its penalty-fine.” The name also has something to do with green nettle (“under the green nettle”; “from the nettle”). Perhaps this was a cat that crept about in the weedy places, on the hunt for its dinner. Or perhaps a cat with a nettlesome personality.
  •  Íach, “a cat…which is paid half penalty-fine, i.e. a cat which is brought, i.e. from mousing.” A mousing cat that is worth half a penalty fine?
  •  Meoinne, “a pantry cat, i.e. a mew in its essence, or a little mew in its essence, i.e. purring in its essence.” This, we think, would be the friendly little cat who keeps vermin out of the people’s food.
  •  Rincne, “a children’s cat, i.e. for the reason that it torments the small children, or the children torment it.” Poor rincne, unless “torment” in some way means “play in such a way that both parties have fun.”  

Is it our imagination, or would some of these terms make great names for cats? Just think of having a Breoinne by your side, “a wonderful flame, purring in its essence…”


Murray, Kevin. “Catṡlechta and other medieval legal material relating to cats.” Celtica 25 (2007): 143–159.


For more on cats in early law, see:

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