Spotting the Beastie

The day that we saw the pine marten we also saw “The Beastie”. We (Mrs. Wow, older daughter, younger son and I) were holidaying in Ireland, in Sligo. We hired a couple of boats to try to catch the huge pike which lurk in the Templehouse Lake, so called because it dates back to the Knights Templar, but were caught in a squall and could not row the boats back against the wind. We drifted to the far side of the lake and were obliged to abandon the boats.

Temple House has been in the hands of the Percival family since the 17th century, and we telephoned Mrs. Percival to let her know of our predicament – being on the wrong side of an Irish lough can involve a long and difficult walk! She advised us how we should get back to the road and agreed to meet us in the car. Shortly before she arrived, we saw a pine marten cross the road in front of us. it was less than 20 feet away. I didn’t get a good view but my daughter, an accomplished artist, later painted a picture of it and there was no doubt at all.

We recounted this tale to Mrs P, clearly before we had identified our previous sighting as a pine marten, and she said “Ah! you’ve seen The Beastie.” We asked her more about this beastie and she said that in the 19th century one of her husband’s ancestors had brought some wild cats over from Scotland. These had bred, possibly cross-breeding with domestic moggies, and occasionally they could be seen. She said she hadn’t seen one for a couple of years, but had had a very good view of one down by the lake and had watched it for quite some time.

She invited us into the house to change into our dry clothes, gave us tea, and after admiring the 32lb pike in the glass case, we then went on our way. I was so intrigued by her story of the Beastie that I drove back along the road where she had met us, just in case we should see something else.

We drove slowly along the stretch in question and about 200 yards further on, we had left the woodland behind and were out into open country. I reversed the car into a field entrance to turn round and as we looked back, there, silhoutted against the green of the trees, was a large dark feline shape, I would say about the size of a greyhound. It loped across the road and disappeared into the undergrowth.

I have never seen a Scottish wild cat, but I believe them to be not much bigger than a domestic cat. Whatever it was that we saw was a good deal bigger, although of a slimmer build, than a domestic cat. However, some sources say that Scottish wild cats are generally smaller today than they were 200 years ago as a result of ruthless hunting by Victorian gamekeepers who were paid a bounty to catch and display the largest and most ferocious looking wild cats, so the gene pool became restricted to smaller specimens. Maybe the exports to Ireland were just that much bigger and survived in the wilds around Sligo?

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