The true origins of this Irish text are lost in the mists of time although it is generally agreed to date from around the 9th century. Amongst the various stories of its origins are that it was written by an Irish monk in Austria (or maybe Switzerland), in the margin of a manuscript (or maybe on the back of a page), and in Irish. One story even suggests it was written while the monk was working on the Book of Kells (almost certainly false though).
The poem was originally in a form of Gaelic and the generally acknowledged best translation is by the scholar Robin Flower (1881-1946) – an English poet and translator from the Irish language. The name of the cat, Pangur Ban, simply means ‘white Pangur’ or ‘white cat’, Pangur being a common name for a cat. In translation the cat is referred to as male – a talented tomcat!
One source sums up the poem this way:
Sometimes called ‘The Monk and his Cat’, the poem Pangur Ban was written by an Irish monk, in the 9th century. It details the similarities between the scribe hunting appropriate words and solutions, and his pet cat hunting mice.
Pangur Ban was written at the request of conductor Jane Money for Boston City Singers in the USA.
9th century Irish (translation by Robin Flower)
For the Boston City Singers and conductor Jane Money
21 May 2006
Performed by Boston City Singers cond. Jane Money; Boston, USA