Pangur Bán and the Legacy of Ballinskelligs Abbey

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By jeroen

Ballinskelligs Abbey

We had almost visited everything we wanted to see that day and unfortunately arrived at our last sightseeing destination, Ballinskelligs Beach with a stunning view of Ballinskelligs Abbey. It was a beautiful warm spring day, and as someone who is particularly fond of everything that can be licked, I couldn’t ignore the ice cream bar. While we were ordering our ice cream, we struck up a conversation with a Dutch couple who were standing next to a Swedish bench, to put it mildly… they were well-built. It was a pleasant conversation and we sat down on the Swedish bench, we exchanged our Ireland experiences that we had discovered so far. It went on for so long that the manager came to tell us that they were closing.

The couple still needed to pay for their ice cream, and when my girlfriend and I stood up,…. something unexpected happened. The couple was so heavy that the Swedish bench on which he was sitting flipped over, and they rolled over the grass of the establishment. Although we tried to hold it in, we couldn’t help but burst out laughing. After these events, we said goodbye warmly and went to visit the beach and the abbey.

Exploring the History and Folklore of a Legendary Irish Monastery

Ballinskelligs Abbey is a former Irish monastery and an important historical and cultural location. The monastery is located on the west coast of Ireland, in County Kerry. The original monastic settlement at Ballinskelligs was built by the Irish monk St. Fionán in the 6th century.

The monastery was built in a secluded location on the Atlantic Ocean, making it difficult for invaders to reach. This made the monastery a safe place for monks to pray and study. The monastery had a library and was known for its scholars and manuscripts, including the Book of Leinster, an important medieval manuscript that is now housed in the library of Trinity College Dublin.

Although the monastery was destroyed by the Vikings in the 9th century, it was later rebuilt in the 12th century and was built by Augustinian monks. It remained an important center of spiritual life until the 16th century when it was abandoned due to the English Reformation. Today, there are still ruins of the abbey to be seen, including the remains of a round tower, a church, and several other buildings.

Ballinskelligs Abbey is an important tourist attraction in Ireland and attracts visitors from all over the world due to its rich history and beautiful coastal location. According to legend, there was once a monastery cat named Pangur Bán who lived in the monastery and lived there with a monk named Seamus. Pangur Bán is said to have helped  Sedulius Scottus (speculation)catch mice and other small animals that entered the monastery.

This legend was immortalized in an Irish poem called “Pangur Bán” dating back to the 9th century.

The poem “Pangur Bán” describes the relationship between a monk and his cat. The monk, who writes the poem, compares the hunting instincts of his cat Pangur Bán to his own search for knowledge and wisdom. The poem is an allegory for the search for knowledge and the effort it takes to find it. 

The legend of Pangur Bán has also found its way into modern culture, with references to the poem and the cat in films, books, and music. The cat itself is also a popular inspiration for artists and poets around the world.

So that’s the story of Pangur Bán! A legendary Irish cat who has gained fame as a symbol for the pursuit of knowledge and the hunt for mice.

The Poem
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.
Translation of the Poem
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.

(Robin Flower
1912, The Poem-Book of the Gael)

This poem was originally written in Old Irish, and this is a modern Irish translation.

IMPORTANT FACTS:

There is a connection between Ballinskelligs Abbey and the abbey on Skellig Michael. It is known that the monks from Ballinskelligs Abbey traveled to Skellig Michael to pray and meditate there. It is also possible that some monks from Skellig Michael traveled to Ballinskelligs Abbey to study and work there. Therefore, it is likely that an exchange of knowledge and ideas took place between the two abbeys. Both abbeys were inhabited by Augustinian canons and shared a common religious and cultural background. There are tourboats to this location : http://skelligislands.com/

I haven’t visited this location, but here are some photos from heritageireland.ie

SOME FUN FACTS ABOUT BALLINSKELLIGS BEACH:

In the 1980s and 1990s, the beach was used as a filming location for some popular movies, including “Far and Away” (1992) starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and “The Playboys” (1992) starring Aidan Quinn and Robin Wright.

The beach is not only popular among people, but also among seals! There are often seals spotted basking on the rocks along the coast.

If you walk west from Ballinskelligs Beach, you’ll come to a small cove called “St. Finian’s Bay.” There’s a small chapel dedicated to St. Finian and a beautiful view of the ocean and surrounding mountains. This spot is less visited, but we didn’t get a chance to go on this walk because it was getting late.

There are also some hidden facts about Skellig Michael!

In addition to the well-known round stone huts and the hexagonal chapel, there are more undiscovered structures on the island. Archaeologists have used drones to discover over 600 individual structures on the island, including walls, paths, wells, and terraces.

Skellig Michael is also home to rare flora and fauna, including some endangered species such as the Northern Fulmar and the Atlantic Puffin.

The island has also served as a backdrop for other film productions. In addition to Star Wars, a scene from “The Last Jedi” was also filmed on Skellig Michael. Moreover, the island was used as a location for the 1980 film “The Island,” which tells the story of a group of monks who flee from Ireland to a remote island in the 6th century AD to escape Viking invasions.

Skellig Michael is not the only island in the area with a rich history and archaeological value. The nearby Little Skellig is home to the second-largest colony of gannets in the world, with over 60,000 breeding pairs. The island is therefore protected as a nature reserve and is not accessible to visitors.

FOR CAMPERS AND OVERLANDERS

It is important to know that you can easily park there. The parking area may seem small, but it actually consists of two sections, and there is a public toilet in the second section. However, it is not allowed to stay overnight. As some people do not adhere to this rule, the local government is considering implementing a height restriction to completely prevent campers from parking there in the future. Please be courteous and follow the rules so that future campers can also easily visit this location.

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