‘An Ceann Cait’ – ‘The Cat Head’ owl – is an intriguing part of the Irish landscape, particularly as its ‘working hours’ and natural camouflage make it extremely hard to see. That visual rarity give the bird a bit of a ‘mysterious’ reputation and, hence, there’s been a lot of mythology or folklore ascribed to it. Unfortunately, like much ‘Irish mythology’ out there on the internet, it tends to be more recently invented or the result of contemporary interpretations on topics that aren’t fully understood. To be honest, in its natural environment, the bird’s behaviour is fascinating enough and it doesn’t really need a whole bunch of fantasy background or meaning (or worse, the term ‘Celtic’) applied to make it more interesting.
I was lucky enough to see An Ceann Cait once a few years back, and although the feline ears, facial disc and broad eyes gives the animal a ‘stunned’ expression that looks quite comical, it’s actually a ruthless little predator (mostly preying on mice and other rodents but they take down small birds as well).
I ended up using the animal in the first chapter of ‘Liath Luachra: The Seeking’ (which is also the short story ‘The Winter Cave’) as it served to present the protagonist with an effective foil for self-reflection. I intentionally kept away from any supernatural or mythological leanings, though. As mentioned earlier, the animal’s already interesting enough in its own right and like most of the ‘magic’ or ‘meaning’ modern-day spiritualists seem so desperate to find, its often sitting directly in front of you.
Potentially on a branch.