A Travel Tale from Ireland Concerning a Dublin Cat
By Bernd Biege
There I was, in Dublin's Glasnevin Cemetery, just after visiting the recently opened museum and looking for a certain plot. Yes, I had a map. But the gravestone I was looking for was so distinctive one could not miss it. And I had memorized the rough direction from the museum displays. And real men don't need instructions. So I set out ...
... and was soon lost. Remembering those immortal words the writer once uttered: "When I came back to Dublin I was courtmartialed in my absence and sentenced to death in my absence, so I said they could shoot me in my absence." I was indeed looking for the grave of Brendan Behan, poet and rebel, who seemed to live up to his words even in death. His grave seemed to be absent too. Or, to give the devil his due, I was simply stumbling through acres and acres of graveyard with hundreds and thousands of gravestones and could not see the wood for the trees. Mixed metaphors ... that's what you get when looking for Brendan Behan.
Anyway ... there came a certain moment when I simply had to stop, to take stock and to face the fact that I would have to get the map out at last.
And standing in the middle of nowhere, in the bright sunshine, I suddenly heard a purring. Knowing that a nearby pub had a haunted reputation (Kavanagh's, also fondly known as "The Grave Diggers"), the purring would have certainly set me on edge if it was dark or misty. But now I only became inquisitive. Looked around. And spotted a sizeable black and white cat sitting on a warm gravestone base, looking lazily at me. As they do.
Being a cat person, I naturally struck up a conversation ... strange as it may seem I do this on a regular bases with all sorts of animals. And it works. Complimenting bees out of rooms, calming down dogs, getting cats to interact. Which, in most cases, means "not running away but settling down and feigning indifference". As cats do. And as this cat did. Slyly observing me all the time. So, after a few pleasantries, I finally came to the point and asked the cat where Brendan Behan's grave was.
The cat blinked. Purred. Licked a paw. Blinked again.
I waited it out, then got out my map and tried to first find where I was, then where I had to go. You see, Glasnevin is a bit complicated and there are few distinct paths and roads. So I finally settled on a short stretch west, then a longer stretch north, then a medium stretch south-east. Not the most direct route, I hasten to add, but scrambling over graves that occasionally cave in is not the best idea.
"Right, see you then ..." I said to the cat and headed off west. The cat got up and headed sort-of-north-east. We parted ways. And when I looked back, the cat made its way across some very dodgy ground, only once glancing at me. It was, clearly, not interested in my plight, not willing to help in my search.
It took me another eight or ten minutes until I finally glimpsed Behan's distinctive gravestone. It is a boulder with a name plaque and a big hole in it. The hole riffs on the whole "in absence" theme ... there once was a sculpture of Behan's head there, but it got stolen. In stead, on some days you'll see alcoholic beverages and even pints of the black stuff left there. Offerings to the dead. Considering that Brendan Behan effectively drank himself to death ...
So, I found the grave. With a map.
And heard a purring.
Sitting next to Behan's holey gravestone was ... the black and white cat, grooming. Looking at me as if to say "What took you so long, mate?"
Which goes to show that one should neither look a gift horse in the mouth nor spurn the directions a cat is trying to give ... if us humans could only understand.
By the way ... it is not so strange that it should be a feline acting as a guide to this special grave in Glasnevin: Brendan Behan himself was very fond of cats and even trained his pet cat Beamish (named after a stout beer brewed in Cork) to give the IRA salute. Entering it in a Dublin cat show in a meat locker, in want of a proper cat carrier ...