The Devil Is A Cat Called Pasta

“I was hell
Sarcastic silver swell
That day it rained
Tough spun, hard won, no
Ocean flower aquarium
Badlands, give a hand
Honey dip, flim flam
Hey hey, hey hey
That cat can walk like a big bad man”

(Peter Buck/Michael Stipe/Michael Mills – Lotus)

In the olden, olden days before the internet, smart phones, DVDs and God fearing respectable licensing laws it was not unusual for a bar to have a video player and on quiet afternoons to play some bootleg film so that the tired patrons didn’t have to talk to each other.

In those days, pre-2000, and probably more importantly pre-Sky Sports, it was also the tradition  that bars and pubs all across Ireland closed on Sunday afternoons between 2-4pm. This was dubbed ‘Holy Hour’.
In , I think, 1982, I was 14 and my pal Adrian’s family owned Rice’s bar on Clanbrassil St. in Dundalk and we went down into the bar on one such Sunday afternoon to gorge on Tayto Pub Crisps and pints of Coke and Club Rock Shandy’s. Adrian set up the video machine and popped in The Exorcist. I didn’t finish my crisps.

To say that I was freaked out by that film would be an understatement. It terrified me for months…and months…and a few more months.

A few years later I ended up joining the Holy Ghost Fathers, this was just a coincidence, honestly. We spent a few wonderful weeks in the old Novitiate in Kilshane House in Co. Tipperary. Oddly that old Novitiate is now a very popular wedding hotel. I almost burnt it to the ground when we spent Christmas there in 1984, but that’s a story for another day. After three weeks of confinement in Tipperary we moved to the new, smaller, Novitiate in Kimmage in Dublin and settled into a routine of prayer, study at the International Missionary Institute, more prayer, community work with the Simon Community, and a bit more prayer.

 I hadn’t thought of The Exorcist in ages and then one idle Sunday afternoon, after we’d used up our weekly three-hour allowance of TV on Fab Vinny’s MTUSA, I was looking for something to read in the Novitiate’s library and there it was. An old paperback version of The Exorcist. I took it down rather confidently from the shelf and thought, ‘I’m older, wiser, safer, holier…on hallowed ground. I think I’ll have a read, a laugh, and banish it from my system forever.’

I think I got as far as the bit where the priest falls down the steps and, with trembling hands put the damn book back on the shelf and went to bed…leaving the lights on. It troubled me that I was troubled by this story, but fortunately a few weeks later we had a retreat, led by a retired missionary priest and I took the chance to have a word with him about my misguided and irrational fears. He was a grumpy old soul, who we knew was kind behind it all, but always looked as if it caused him physical pain to smile.

We sat together in Fr. Boyle’s office in the Novitiate, in Cypress Downs. Again, oddly this building is no longer a Novitiate, or owned by the Holy Ghost Fathers, I believe that it’s a close of semi-detached houses now, it’s destruction was again simply a coincidence of my one time residency, not a direct result of it. And yes it does seem uncanny that both buddings no longer serve their original purpose…shortly after my departure…but there were other forces at work…common sense being the strongest amongst them.

Where were we?

Oh, yes, we sat together in Fr. Boyle’s office in the Novitiate in armchairs, either side of the fire. After a few forced pleasantries I eventually got to my crisis of faith.

“Are you familiar with The Exorcist, Father?”

“Book or film?” he asked.

“Both, either, I guess.”

“Yes”, he answered, “like most of these things the book was much better than the film, but both had their flaws.”
“Of course”, I said “but what did you think of the subject matter itself?” This was where I desperately wanted him to say that it was complete rubbish and that Jaws, now there was the type of film we should be worried about.

“Again, the writing was quite good in the book, and the exorcisms were realistically portrayed, the make up put me off in the movie.”

I went pale. He asked if I was OK?

“Not really” I eventually replied,” what do you mean realistic?”

“Well, in my experience, the ceremony itself was accurate and the conversation, or interaction, wasn’t a surprise…” He stopped, he’d noticed the look of terror on my face. ”What ?”

“What do you mean ‘in your experience’?”

“I’ve performed an exorcism, several in fact.”


“That’s the spirit!” he said, laughing.

“I really wanted you to say that the whole thing was a load of rubbish.”

“Listen, they took place a long time ago. They rarely take place at all now, and any that do are perhaps more of a mental condition. Electricity has chased out a lot of shadows.” He smiled.

“Is there anything I can do to protect myself?”

“Yes, you can get a cat.”

“A cat ???”

“Yes, a cat. If you want to know what real evil is, get a cat. Everyone can put up with a cat. And I can’t ever recall a case of demonic possession when there was a cat in the vicinity.”


“I’m not entirely sure, professional etiquette, I imagine.”

And with that he stood up, gave me a blessing, and I left. I slept that night, and most nights since, never thinking of The Exorcist.

I left the Holy Ghost Fathers long before ordination, but 10 years after I left, the group of us that had started out in that Novitiate together had a small reunion in the St. Helen’s Hotel in Stillorgan. Only three out of the 15 of us had made it the whole way to ordination. Over dinner I relayed the story about The Exorcist and Ray, one of the priests, burst out laughing.

“That was you?” he blurted out.

“How do you mean?”

He went on to say that about five years after I’d left Ray had attended a lecture on exorcisms given by my very own Fr. Grumpy. At the end of the lecture someone in the audience asked him what would he advise someone to say to a parishioner who was afraid or terrified of the idea of exorcisms. Fr. Grumpy smiled and said that you tell them anything that will take their mind off it and calm them down. He then told them from the stage of a young novitiate that he’d once counselled about that very irrational fear, and that he’d simply told him to get a cat, that there was a professional etiquette between the devil and cats that only one of them could torture a household at any one time. The audience had laughed.

The whole table of my former confreres were now laughing. Bastards.

Eventually Ray dabbed the tears from his eyes and stopped laughing long enough to ask
“Did you ever get a cat?”

“Two” I answered and the table erupted in laughter once more.

Happy Halloween!


P.S. There is a next chapter. It’s very detailed. You’re not ready for it. Yes, I agree , you think you are. But yoy aren’t. Honestly. It’s almost identical to the chapter before last , but it’s written from the other character’s point of view, and … you’ll see ..

Author: paul

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