12-May-1989 - 18-Feb-1993
He was born on the 12th May 1989, died on the 18th February 1993 and was the only cat I bought by accident. When I went to his breeder's house I had no intentions of buying another cat, I was just going to look at a litter of Somali kittens and there he was! He was a strange looking kitten - a Havana. With his little pinched face and huge pink-lined ears, he reminded me of a little pipistrelle bat. He was so different I had to have him and he remained different all his short life.
My other cats are Somalis and one Abyssinian and in looks and temperament they are all quite similar - Briagha was the odd one out. In many ways, as a person who had always kept dogs, he always reminded me more of a dog than a cat, particularly in his loyalty and devotion to me. His full name was Moondial Chocolate Fudge because when he was born his breeder said he look just like a little dollop of chocolate fudge. For at least a week and a half he was nameless - he was such a special little thing I wanted him to have a special name. Three days after we collected him we all set off for our annual holiday with our other 2 cats and dog, which that year was on the Isle of Arran off the west coast of Scotland and which he took all in his stride. Whilst there (and still trying to think of a name) I was looking through an English/Gaelic dictionary and found "Briagha", pronounced "Bree-yuh" which is gaelic for beautiful - that was the special name I was looking for!
When we first got him, Merlin was only 8 months old and took him under his wing, washing him and cuddling him endlessly. This went on for more than 4 months and we used to laugh and call them "the lovers" as they were always entwined when asleep. They used to have regular boxing matches after they grew up and Barry and I would laugh at what we called Briagha's "naff off" expression. His ears would go right back and his head would tilt to the side and he would look positively evil and then he and Merlin would stare each other out for what appeared to be ages before one of them (usually Briagha) would bop the other with a carefully aimed left hook.
I used to joke that he was the cat who satisfied all my maternal urges, now that my children have grown up! He loved to be cuddled and when he felt it had been too long since his last one, he would seek me out and demand in the loudest Oriental voice to jump into my arms for a cuddle, but lately he had begun to leap before I even knew he was there and I spent a lot of time yelling with pain as he appeared from no-where, clinging to my chest or arm or wherever he landed as he jumped. When he sat on Barry and Iain's knee, he would be on their knees with his back to them, but when he sat on my knee (which was very often!) he would sit up my chest, with his face inches from my face and he always slept in the bed with me. If I was on my left hand side, he would be curled up in the curve of my body, with his forelegs and head across my left arm, under the covers. If I turned over to my right hand side he always followed, but then he would lie on his right hand side, with his head on the pillow and all four feet tucked into my left hand as I cuddled him and those habits never changed throughout his life.
When he was about 6 months old he got lost! He went out to play with the other cats, but by lunchtime hadn't come back. By 4:00pm that night I was beside myself and the children and I were out in the dark calling and looking for him. One of our neighbour's children heard us and asked if we were looking for the little brown cat and when we said yes they told us that he had been in their friend's back garden just round the corner from us all afternoon, crying to be let in. We rushed down the street, dog as well, to the side of the house and called him and he came rushing to us. I made him walk home with us in case it ever happened again and he complained vociferously in best Havana-ese all the way home. He never got lost again!
On his first Christmas he managed, very cunningly, to get locked in the utility room with the defrosting turkey and caused us to be probably the only family in Britain to share a one-legged turkey for Christmas dinner! He had the strangest culinary tastes, whereas our other cats liked the usual run-of-the-mill treats, Briagha liked leeks, spring onions and chives (see left). No-one dared open a packet of Hula-Hoops when he was within hearing distance and he could find a packet of beansprouts in my shopping bag, tear open the cellophane and be eating them in minutes.
His show career was fairly short and uneventful. He won his 2 kitten classes, but unfortunately someone from Scotland was showing a Havana at the same time and the only time he was awarded a PC was when that cat wasn't there. It was short because he very soon decided showing simply wasn't his scene (I think Merlin, our Somali, had some influence here!) and began collectng CNH's instead of PC's and so he retired gracefully and became a home bird.
He was, without doubt, our most vocal cat. The Somalis and Aby have gentle chirruping voices, but Briagha's was simply loud! If we did something he disapproved of he told us loudly and vociferously that he was not impressed, sometimes we could hear him behind the front door as we were putting the key in the lock on our return home, as if to say "Hurry up and get yourselves in here and how dare you leave us all day!" Almost every visitor heard Briagha's voice long before they saw him. Usually he stood on the back of the easy chair by the living room door, demanding, very loudly, that they speak to him immediately. When they sat down on the settee he then had to climb on their knees and sniff their hair and face, which I'm sure a lot of our visitors found quite daunting.
He was the cat who comforted Sorcha as she began her kittening and was actually still in the kittening box with her when the first kitten was born and he was "Uncle Briagha" to all of them. Everytime we crept up to their bed to look at them sleeping, which was often, he would be curled up in the middle of them, fast asleep.
He was the most amazingly relaxed traveller, he adored the car and, in my pre-breeding days, when the boys had their freedom, if he came around the corner to the garage and found me getting in the car he would yell at me in his most raucous voice to wait, jump in the car, settle down on the front seat, have a quick wash and then fall asleep. When we were away on holiday (the cats and dog always come too!) Briagha quite often went out with us on our days out. Once we started breeding, the boys had to give up their freedom as we couldn't risk the possibility of infection. This also meant that they couldn't go out while we were on holiday. Somalis and Abys being great hunters, they would never have stayed within the confines of the garden of the cottages we rented, whereas Briagha never strayed far from my side. He even came along with us on picnics, sitting beside us and the dog quite happily with no intentions of straying.
The strangest quirk of his nature was that he never forgot anyone who upset him. We had friends staying one weekend and while Simon, the husband, went to the bathroom first thing in the morning, Briagha sneaked into the bedroom and sat behind the door (just beside the hot air vent which he loved). When Simon came back into the bedroom and shut the door he found Briagha hiding there and tried to get him to go out. Briagha of course was not for moving! Eventually Simon had to get our daughter to take him out. Nevertheless Briagha never forgot this slight and waited his chance. The following day, he was sitting in one of his favourite spots - on top of the microwave just at the kitchen door and when Simon walked through the door he was immediately "bopped" on the head by Briagha. That wasn't a isolated incident, many of our friends who had upset him at some time found themselves at the receiving end of an, at times, vicious left hook as they walked through the door and therefore, many of our friends treated him with a certain amount of respect, born of fear perhaps, who knows?
In January, he was on my knee and began coughing to dislodge a furball and I thought I could hear fluid rattling somewhere and took him to the vet to have her check out his chest and she discovered he had a heart murmur. An X-ray and ECG later, he was diagnosed as suffering from cardiomyopathy. I was quite shattered by this discovery - he was my very special boy. However, both the vet and I thought the prognosis was at that time quite good, as he had so far not shown any clinical signs of the disease and he was immediately put on Hills h/d low salt diet. Quite frankly I thought I still had years with him, even though I issued the instructions that he was now to be considered "delicate" and had to have lots of love and cuddles and he hadn't to be told off if he did anything wrong. At which point Barry laughed and said we couldn't possibly give him more love and cuddles than he was already getting and as far as not being told off, he was such an easy cat, who seldom did anything wrong, he hardly ever got told off anyway - and he was right! The family used to make fun of me because I always spoilt him - Barry called him my "blue-eyed boy" and he and my son Iain used to say that the day something happened to Briagha I would be a stretcher case and I laughed with them because I thought that day was still so far away.
I came home from work on that Thursday evening and found him dead at the bottom of the stairs. I knew instantly that he was dead, but something inside me found it hard to accept. The vet did a post mortem, as she simply couldn't believe that this had happened so quickly and so soon after the discovery of the cardiomyopathy, however, the post mortem revealed acute heart failure. Strangely enough, I suspect Merlin knew more than we did, because in the last two months he had begun to mother him again and when I found him that night his side was wet where someone had been licking him and I'm sure it was Merlin trying to make him better. Also Merlin is the only one of our cats whose behaviour has changed since this happened. The others appear to be behaving no differently, whereas Merlin appears to be very subdued at the moment (most un-Merlinlike!). I keep finding him sitting in Briagha's favourite spots and for the last few nights since Briagha died I have woken to find him in the bed in Briagha's place and Merlin never ever slept under the bedclothes before.
His was a short life, but friends assure me that it was a happy one and that no-one could have given him a better home and I comfort myself with the knowledge that it happened so very quickly it is unlikely he suffered and punish myself for not being there with him. I love all my pets equally and try not to have favourites, but every now and then there comes into your life one that has "the edge" - Briagha, to me, had that "edge" - he was a one-off original and his death has left a hole in my life the size of a crater and the house is so silent without him.