The animal Cath Palug is described as a gigantic cat raised on the isle of Anglesey by the sons of Palug (presumably a local king). According to the Welsh Triads, Cath Palug was born of the sow Hen Wen when she was chased across Britain by her owner, Coll ap Collfrewy. Cath Palug was not born on Anglesey, but "at Llanfair in Arfon under the Black Rock... and the Powerful Swineherd threw it from the Rock into the sea." The cat then swam ashore at Anglesey and was adopted by the sons of Palug. The cat's siblings are a wolf and an eagle, and all three are described as bringing a "great oppression" to Britain.
According to the poem "Pa Gwr," Cei went to Anglesey to fight lions, and here he was able to kill Cath Palug. Unfortunately, the poem is unfinished, so we never hear the full tale.
Cath Palug has continental versions, such as the giant cat that Arthur fought near Lake Bourget, according to one French romance. Reportedly, the battle's memory lives on in the landscape's names: Col du Chat (cat's neck), Dent du Chat (cat's tooth) and Mont du Chat (cat's mountain). Here, the animal is called Capalu
Geoffrey Ashe argued that Cath Palug was actually a leopard kept as a pet by a chieftain on Anglesey. However, I'm not sure what he bases that information on. Presumably he means a black leopard, as the cat is never described as speckled.
Big cats are not indigenous to Britain, despite persistant sightings of large, black cats, particularly in Wales, Scotland, and the Midlands. They are often described as panthers, pumas, leopards or lynxes (sp?). Though I do not claim that there is a connection between the phantom "big cats" of Britain and the Cath Palug, one does wonder if there is a connection, if Cath Palug is perhaps the earliest "sighting" of these big cats. Oddly, I've yet to see anyone make the connection between the supposed "big cats" and the story of Cath Palug. At any rate, the "big cats" of Britain still fall into the realm of cryptozoology; but then, so did the giant squid until recently. See also the Alien Big Cat.
The figure of Cath Palug likely inspired the animal Llyan, the giant cat in The Castle of Llyr, one of the books in the Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander. In that book, Llyan is given a magic potion which causes the oridinarly feral cat to grow to the size of a horse. She terrorizes the forests on Mona (modelled on Anglesey). She becomes the companion of the bard Fflewddur Fflam after his music tames her.
The Three Powerful Swineherds of the Island of Britain: The Welsh Triads in the White Book of Rhydderch, ca. 1375, and the Red Book of Hergest, ca. 1475.
Pa Gwr, or, Arthur and the Porter: in the Black Book of Carmarthen, ca. 1225.
Encyclopedia of the Celts: http://celt.net/Celtic/celtopedia/c.html
The Big Cats of Britain
- The British Big Cat Society: http://www.britishbigcats.org/
- Clive Moulding's Beastwatch: http://www.beastwatch.org.uk/
- The Rutland And Leicestershire Panther Watch: http://www.bigcats.org.uk/
- Farshores CryptoCorner British Cat Tales: http://www.100megsfree4.com/farshores/engcat.htm