Posted in Posts and podcasts

Senchan, Guaire and the mice of Gort -1853

J. H. Todd and Eugene Curry

Field Mouse
Photo: Reg McKenna
Wikimedia Common

Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (1836 – 1869), Vol.5 (1850-1853), pp. 355-366;
(abridged excerpt from On Rhyming Rats to Death )

On the death of Dallan Forgaill, the chief ollave, or poet of Erinn, about A.D. 600, Senchan Torpest, a distinguished poet of Connacht, was selected to pronounce the defunct bard’s funeral oration, and was subsequently elected to his place. Senchan formed his establishment of bardic officers and pupils on a larger scale than had been known since the revision of the bardic institution at the great meeting of Dromceat, some twenty years previously. As chief poet, he was entitled to make visitation with his retinue, of any of the provinces and to be entertained at the court of the provincial kings. The honour of being so visited was sought for with pride and satisfaction by the kings of Ireland.
Senchan, having consulted with his people, decided on giving the distinguished preference of their first visitation to his own provincial king, Guaire the Hospitable, king of Connacht. They were received hospitably and joyfully at the king’s palace, at the place now called Gort, in the county of Galway. During the sojourn of Senchan at Gort, his wife, Bridget, on one occasion, sent him a portion of a certain favourite dish. Senchan was not in his apartment when the servant arrived there; but the dish was left there, and the servant returned to her mistress. On Senchan’s return, he found the dish and, eagerly examining it, was sadly disappointed at seeing it contained nothing but a few fragments of gnawed bones.

Shortly after, the same servant returned for the dish, and Senchan asked what its contents had been. The maid explained it to him, and the angry poet threw an unmistakeable glance of suspicion on her. She, under his gaze, at once asserted her own innocence, stating that as no person could have entered the apartment from the time she left until he returned to it, the dish must have been emptied by mice.
Senchan believed the girl’s account and vowed that he would make the mice pay for their depredations, and he composted a metrical satire on them;

Mice, though sharp their snouts,
Are not powerful in battles;
I will bring death on the party
For having eaten Bridget’s present.

Small was the present she made us,
Its loss to her was not great,
Let her have payment from us in a poem,
Let her not refuse the poet’s gratitude!

You mice, which are in the roof of the house,
Arise all of you and fall down.

And thereupon ten mice fell dead on the floor from the roof of the house, in Senchan’s presence. And Senchan said to them: “It was not you that should have been satirized, but the race of cats, and I will satirize them.” And Senchan then pronounced a satire, but not a deadly one, on the chief of the cats of Erinn, who kept his princely residence in the cave of Knowth, near Slane, n the County of Meath.



B.A., M.A.(Archaeology); Regional Tour Guide; Dip. Radio Media Tech; H.Dip. Computer Science.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s