Pangur Bán

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The page of the Reichenau Primer on which Pangur Bán is written

"Pangur Bán" is an Old Irish poem, written in about the 9th century at or near Reichenau Abbey, in what is now Germany, by an Irish monk about his cat. Pangur Bán, 'White Pangur', is the cat's name, Pangur possibly meaning 'a fuller'. Although the poem is anonymous, it bears similarities to the poetry of Sedulius Scottus, prompting speculation that he is the author.[1] In eight verses of four lines each, the author compares the cat's happy hunting with his own scholarly pursuits.

The poem is preserved in the Reichenau Primer (Stift St. Paul Cod. 86b/1 fol 1v) and now kept in St. Paul's Abbey in the Lavanttal.


The poem is found in only one manuscript, the Reichenauer Schulheft or Reichenau Primer. The primer appears to be the notebook of an Irish monk based in Reichenau Abbey. The contents of the primer are diverse, it also contains "notes from a commentary of the Aeneid, some hymns, a brief glossary of Greek words, some Greek declension, notes on biblical places, a tract on the nature of angels, and some astronomy".[2]


Original Old Irish version English Translation by Robin Flower (1912, The Poem-Book of the Gael[3])
1. Messe ocus Pangur Bán,

  cechtar nathar fria saindan

  bíth a menmasam fri seilgg

  mu menma céin im saincheirdd.

2. Caraimse fos ferr cach clú

  oc mu lebran leir ingnu

  ni foirmtech frimm Pangur Bán

  caraid cesin a maccdán.

3. Orubiam scél cen scís

  innar tegdais ar noendís

  taithiunn dichrichide clius

  ni fristarddam arnáthius.

4. Gnáth huaraib ar gressaib gal

  glenaid luch inna línsam

  os mé dufuit im lín chéin

  dliged ndoraid cu ndronchéill.

5. Fuachaidsem fri frega fál

  a rosc anglése comlán

  fuachimm chein fri fegi fis

  mu rosc reil cesu imdis.

6. Faelidsem cu ndene dul

  hinglen luch inna gerchrub

  hi tucu cheist ndoraid ndil

  os me chene am faelid.

7. Cia beimmi amin nach ré,

  ni derban cách a chele

  maith la cechtar nár a dán,

  subaigthius a óenurán.

8. He fesin as choimsid dáu

  in muid dungní cach oenláu

  du thabairt doraid du glé

  for mu mud cein am messe.

1. I and Pangur Bán, my cat,

  'Tis a like task we are at;

  Hunting mice is his delight,

  Hunting words I sit all night.

2. Better far than praise of men

  'Tis to sit with book and pen;

  Pangur bears me no ill-will,

  He, too, plies his simple skill.

3. 'Tis a merry thing to see

  At our tasks how glad are we,

  When at home we sit and find

  Entertainment to our mind.

4. Oftentimes a mouse will stray

  In the hero Pangur's way;

  Oftentimes my keen thought set

  Takes a meaning in its net.

5. 'Gainst the wall he sets his eye

  Full and fierce and sharp and sly;

  'Gainst the wall of knowledge I

  All my little wisdom try.

6. When a mouse darts from its den,

  O! how glad is Pangur then;

  O! what gladness do I prove

  When I solve the doubts I love.

7. So in peace our task we ply,

  Pangur Bán, my cat, and I;

  In our arts we find our bliss,

  I have mine, and he has his.

8. Practice every day has made

  Pangur perfect in his trade;

  I get wisdom day and night,

  Turning darkness into light.

Modern use[edit]

A critical edition of the poem was published in 1903 by Whitley Stokes and John Strachan in the second volume of the Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus.[4] Among modern writers to have translated the poem are Robin Flower, W. H. Auden, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and Eavan Boland. In Auden's translation, the poem was set by Samuel Barber as the eighth of his ten Hermit Songs (1952–53).

Fay Sampson wrote a series of books based on the poem. They follow the adventures of Pangur Bán, his friend, Niall the monk, and Finnglas, a Welsh princess.

In the 2009 animated movie The Secret of Kells, which is heavily inspired by Irish mythology, one of the supporting characters is a white cat named Pangur Bán who arrives in the company of a monk. A paraphrase of the poem in modern Irish is read out during the credit roll by actor and Irish speaker, Mick Lally.[5]

Irish-language singer Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin recorded the poem in her 2011 studio album Songs of the Scribe, featuring both the original text and a translation by Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. The poem was read, first in Irish then in Heaney's translation into English, by Tomás Ó Cathasaigh at the memorial service held for Heaney at the Memorial Church, Harvard University on 7 November 2013.[6]

In 2016, Jo Ellen Bogart and Sydney Smith published a picture book called The White Cat and the Monk based on the poem.[7]

In 2018, Eddi Reader adapted the words in "Pangur Bán And The Primrose Lass", on her album "Cavalier".[8]

Dutch band Twigs & Twine used parts of the poem in their song "Messe ocus Pangur Bán".[9]

In 2022, Irish writer Colm Tóibín published his own version of the poem in a collection titled Vinegar Hill.[10]

First described in 2022, Pangurban, a genus of nimravid from Eocene California, is named for the cat in the poem.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Greene and O'Connor, 1967
  2. ^ Toner (2007), pp. 1-2
  3. ^ "The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Poem-book of the Gael, by Eleanor Hull". Retrieved 13 November 2023.
  4. ^ Stokes and Strachan, 1904, pp. 293–294
  5. ^ "The Secret of Kells (2009) - IMDb". IMDb.
  6. ^ "Seamus Heaney: A Memorial Celebration, "Pangur Bán"". YouTube. 7 November 2013. Retrieved 4 November 2022.
  7. ^ Kilidatis, Rosemary. "The White Cat and the Monk". The Children's Writer's Guild.
  8. ^ "ALBUM REVIEW: Cavalier". Spalding Today. 3 September 2018. Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  9. ^ "Messe ocus Pangur Bán". Spotify. 13 July 2019.
  10. ^ Colm Tóibín (2022). Vinegar Hill. Boston: Beacon Press.
  11. ^ Poust, Ashley W.; Barrett, Paul Z.; Tomiya, Susumu (12 October 2022). "An early nimravid from California and the rise of hypercarnivorous mammals after the middle Eocene climatic optimum". Biology Letters. 18 (10). Royal Society. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2022.0291. ISSN 1744-957X. PMC 9554728.


  • Greene, David; Frank O'Connor (1967). A Golden Treasury of Irish Poetry, AD 600–1200. London: Macmillan. Reprinted 1990, Dingle: Brandon. ISBN 0-86322-113-0.
  • Stokes, Whitley; John Strachan (1904). Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus: A Collection of Old-Irish Glosses, Scholia, Prose and Verse. Vol. II. Cambridge University Press.
  • Toner, Gregory (Summer 2009). "'Messe ocus Pangur Bán': Structure and Cosmology". Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies. 57: 1–22.
  • Tristram, Hildegard L. C. (1999). "Die irischen Gedichte im Reichenauer Schulheft". In Peter Anreiter; Erzsebet Jerem (eds.). Studia Celtica et Indogermanica: Festschrift für Wolfgang Meid zum 70. Geburtstag. Budapest: Archaeolingua. pp. 503–29. ISBN 963-8046-28-7.
  • "Irish - Pangur Bán". Department of Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 28 February 2020.

External links[edit]