Sabby is my first inspiration for the character of Galway O’Toot the magical Irish lepremogg.

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Cold and hungry, pressed hopelessly against a locked door that never opened, his moth-eaten ginger fur barely covering the sharp angles of his stiff old bones – this was Sabby as we found him.

A neighbour thought his name was Sab or Saboo, or something like that and said the house had been empty for months, the previous tenants having packed up, leaving the cat and a load of debts and disappearing into the night. A practical woman, she had fed the poor stray scraps, not wanting, as she said, to find a dead cat on her doorstep.

sabby-the-brave-old-manWe moved in to the property on a freezing winter’s day, a family of five in a transit van bursting at the seams with second-hand furniture and a few precious possessions. Our new home was cold and smelled of mildew and damp. The plumbing was doubtful and the electrics dodgy to say the least. Added to that, the locals said it was haunted. When we finally managed to turn the key in the rusted lock and shove the stubborn back door open, in with a blast of cold air had fallen Sabby. Breathing heavily the sad stray was too weak to walk.

Gathering round, we murmured words of comfort to the dear old soul. With gentle caresses, small mouthfuls of food and warmth from the cold, a glimmer of hope flickered in his sad, watery eyes. And suddenly, to our delight, a tiny unexpected miracle, as a faint purr struggled, shivering and spluttering in his throat.

But there was work to do if we humans were to be settled before dark, so leaving him in a corner, an empty cardboard box for a bed, a full tummy and a hastily made fire in the hearth to warm his tired old bones, Sabby slept.

Early next morning, the dear old fellow greeted us with a loud, rasping meow. Rubbing his thin body round our legs, he lifted his heavy head, his faded green eyes filled with thanks and love.

Over the next few weeks, Sabby’s breathing grew stronger, his body filled out and his ginger fur, though thin, took on a healthy glow. Sabby was content.

Spending his last winter days curled by the fireside and the early days of spring sitting in the sunbeams from the windows, he never did see the glories of summer that year. Passing peacefully away in his box, Sabby, wrapped in a candy stripped towel, was buried with simple ceremony beneath a blossoming apple tree at the end of our garden.