Black Cat Appreciation Day

Black cats feature heavily in stories all around the world, and it is safe to say they are badly in need of the PR boost from their very own day of celebration. Internationally, black cats are seen as sidekicks to witches, signs of bad luck and even omens of death. And Irish folklore is no different…

Cats generally don’t have a good time of it in our stories, but black cats are considered especially powerful, and often thought to be associated with the devil. This connection to the devil was the result of an announcement by Pope Gregory IX in the tenth century, and our feline friends have had a hard time shaking that belief. Then, with the ever increasing number of witchcraft trials from the 1300s onward, black cats became even more demonised. Dame Alice Kyteler, Ireland’s most famous convicted witch, was thought to have a demon lover who would take the shape of a black cat to visit her.Black cats are a blessing for those suffering certain illnesses – but it usually wasn’t so lucky for the cat. The skin disease known as ‘wildfire’ caused an unpleasant and painful red rash, and the cure was just as unpleasant. You place a black cat up your sleeve, and whatever bit of the tail is sticking out, is cut off. The blood that pours out will cure the rash. Though you might argue it just leaves you a whole new set of problems…Here at the museum, we are all too aware of how excellent the leprechaun is at protecting hidden crocks of gold – the ways he can trick and outsmart any human that dares to try his luck. All across the country, there are said to be hoards of gold guarded not by a leprechaun, but by killer black cats. This story is echoed all around Ireland, especially throughout Connacht and Ulster. For instance, in Co. Donegal, one story explains the exact spot were the gold can be found: “About two miles from Bundoran there is a big field… In this field there is a big stone sunk six feet in the earth. The old people say if you dug up this stone there is a pot of gold under it. If anyone goes to dig it up a black cat will appear to him and if he gets a scratch from the cat he will die. Two men went to dig up the gold. The cat appeared and scratched one of the men’s face [sic] and he died. If anyone goes to get the gold he will see the black cat and get scratched. The gold is still there with the big stone over it and the black cat guarding it forever.” Find the original version here

However they weren’t always a bad thing – Christmas is a good time for the black cat, for to have one enter a house at this time meant good luck for all in the home. To have a black cat cross your path on New Year’s Day was a sure sign the year would be good to you – but the rest of the year, this wasn’t so promising. To protect yourself, you could hold your thumb and forefingers together in the shape of a triangle, and spit through it at the cat. A bride was sure of a long and happy marriage if a black cat rubbed against her on her wedding day.