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Page 12 of 15
Of Cats, and Dogs, and Fish

The only other animals that shared our day-to-day lives were cats and dogs. Some houses had cats, some houses had dogs, and farmhouses had both. Depending on which houses we grew up in we became life-long dog fanciers, or humans allowed by cats to share their existence, for a truer word was never spoken--you may own a dog, and a dog is happy to be owned, but nobody really owns a cat.

Our family had a succession of cats. Two hold sway in recall. Daisy was a female, and a fertile one at that. Her great love in life was to accompany Dad or myself to our back backyard--there were two of them separated by a two-storey building, the back backyard being the actual south bank of the Erne--before we would set off to fish the evening rise.

Daisy loved fish, little fish, jenkins we called them, and no sooner did she see us lift a fishing rod in the flag-stoned hallway than she would race to the door and, with tail perpendicular, lead us to the river bank, there to wait until one of us had lured a three or four-inch jenkin to its doom. Then we could take off upriver where our serious angling was done. It may seem gruesome, but if we flipped the jenkin to her while it was still flopping, she loved it all the more. Some cats play with mice before the kill. Daisy preferred to play with fish before dining.

Daisy herself met a tragic end. Somehow she managed to fall into a huge cardboard box away up in an attic, and couldn't extricate herself. For days after she went missing we searched high and low, to no avail. Sometimes we fancied we heard plaintive little meows, but couldn't trace them. It was a year and more before her mummified body was discovered, and her death confirmed.

Daisy was a delicate-boned cat, white paws, pink nose, a mixture of light grey and black marble, friendly to people and toms.

The second was an all-black cat, and was my favourite. She lives on in the files of the now defunct "Vindicator" from which the following is taken:

"She was the most beautiful creature in the whole of creation.

Dressed in fur she sat, pensive, staring into the flickering flames.

I watched her, trying hard, desperately hard, to fathom the depths of her thought.

Her nose, one of those turned up little noses, twitched as a burning coal toppled from the pinnacle of fire and sent a jet of white gas streaking from the open grate.

As yet she gave no sign of awareness that I was present. Indeed, she held herself aloof.

On first meeting her a stranger might be forgiven if he detected a strain of conceit in her manner, but this was not so. No patrician she, but one who by virtue of her career had won a reserved niche to herself.

That career had made her a legendary figure in her own generation. It had spanned many momentous events, some of them earth-shaking incidents which even now have passed into the realm of history, but on her none had shown outward effect.

Still lithe and quick witted, in her youth she had been capable of the most fantastic, almost acrobatic, feats, and the passing years did not dull her wondrous poise and sense of timing.

Perhaps it was the eyes were the most striking feature in her finely moulded face. Dark, black, lustrous, they focused without waver on the shimmering hellish red of the fire.

They saw and did not see.

Reflections of yesterday, portents of tomorrow, but today went unnoticed.

Therein lay her secret. The present held no worries, the past no regrets, and the future she faced without care. In this immunity she was unique.

There was no noise in the room, no distraction but the even, measured ticking of the clock above us.

Curtained windows hid the magic of white snow crystals gliding to the ground. Beyond them lay the cold; inside was the warmth and that strange, uncanny, silent companionship, I watching her, she watching the fire.

Then it was broken.

The clock struck the hour and she rose to her feet. Time to go, time to meet the snow.

No goodbyes, no farewells. I opened the door and out she went.

In the morning she would return, silent as she had gone.

A saucer of milk, a careful wash, and down she would sit in front of the fire, a black cat wearing out her ninth and final life in contemplative silence, trapper turned Trappist."

Her name was Moscow.

Before the advent of the E.S.B. hydro-electric scheme the Erne was one of the best angling rivers in Ireland. Salmon, trout, and for the odd Midlands fisherman from England, more accustomed to coarse fishing on canals and God knows what other polluted waters, there were pike to be caught, a fish at which any successor to the immortal Izaak should roll eyes heavenward in disgust. He was a trout and salmon man. Anyone who doubts it has only to read the following passage from Walton's "The Compleat Angler", vol I, chap XII, page 89, published in 1653, with courage averred as true today as when penned more than three centuries ago:

"...the Trout or Salmon being in season, have at their first taking out of the water (which continues during life) their bodies adorned, the one with such red spots, and the other with such black or blackish spots, as give them such an addition of natural beauty, as I think, was never given to any woman by the Artificial Paint or Patches in which they so much pride themselves in this Age".

Artificial Paint in our Age is the multi-billion dollar cosmetics industry, not all the Patches of which can match the beauty of dappled things so lovingly limned by Hopkins and Yeats.

Just above the town, and adjacent to the ancient ford of Seanach, from which the town took its name, Beal Atha Seanaigh, the Mouth of the Ford of Seanach, stood an eelweir, picture postcard perfect with miniature turreted eelhouse at its centre. From the eelhouse downstream to Assaroe Falls fishing was strictly prohibited, except for those rich enough to buy a salmon-fishing licence, and apart from tourists there were very few of these. In fact, to wet a line from our own back backyard for any purpose was illegal and could lead to a charge of poaching. But what did Daisy, the cat, know of fishing rules and regulations, and bailiffs and prosecutions, and courts, and convictions, and sentences and all the rest that go along with human folly and human greed?

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