Thursday, February 19, 2009

Kilkenny cats; a naisaiku

Image of a small deity in a street side altar in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong. The central figure consists of a rock that looks like a stone, with divine ears added on and a silk ribbon that could be a tail.Dear Gentle Reader,

Kilkenny cats are mythical cats of Kilkenny, Ireland.

They fought so fiercely, and so long, that all that was left were their tails.

And the tale of their tails.

Beware, this tale is gruesome, no matter how you slice it.

Sensitive readers (all of you) are advised to click away...

Well, for the one person remaining, one theory as to the origins of Kilkenny cats relates to quite horrific cat-fights, fights to the death, in Kilkenny during the English Civil Wars (1642-1651).

This apocryphal tale states that Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) who conquered England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland to turn them all into a republic, briefly, (it ended two years after Cromwell's death) had all the cats of Kilkenny tied by their tails, when he occupied Kilkenny.

The cats were then hung over a line, to fight to their deaths.

Finally, the last surviving cat was beheaded. This was meant to strike fear into the local population; if you yowled or protested, you'd end up like the cats.

Another origin tale, which doubtless builds upon the last, states that Hessian (now German) mercenaries fighting for England's King George III (1738-1820) during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 were gambling, contrary to their military/mercenary regulations.

The Hessians, when stationed in Kilkenny to put and keep down unrest, would, allegedly, tie cats by their tails and sling them over a line to fight to the death.


To gamble upon which cat would be the winner.

One day, mid-gamble, mid-fight, the soldiers heard the crisp footsteps of an approaching officer.

A quick-thinking soldier freed the cats by slicing off their tails, and then sliced through the tie that had bound them.

When asked, by the officer, to explain the tails and blood on the ground the soldier spun a tale of two street cats who had fought so viciously that their tails were all that was left of them.

In Hong Kong, where gambling is worshipped, this gambling would lead to taels for tails, which is where the idea for today's poem, a naisaiku, sprung.

(A tael is not only a measure of weight in Hong Kong. When a tael was related to the weight of silver or gold, it was also a financial instrument in Hong Kong and China.)

A naisaiku is a duplicated, reversing haiku with a title in the middle. My naisaiku, below, has a duplicated, reversing title in the middle, too. This is for the Naisaiku Challenge, SweetTalkingGuy's dulcet invitation swept me in, this once.

tails twitch, shudder, drop
'till nothing's left at all, see
Kilkenny cats fight


Kilkenny cats fight
'till nothing's left at all, see
tails twitch, shudder, drop



No actual cats were harmed in the creation of this posting; your scribe does not advocate the mistreatment of any animal.

Your Hero, Pommes, nods vociferously; your scribe rescued him from certain death.


Cloudia said...

An interesting tail, er tale;
an impressive mirror-haiku, Chris!
It doesn;t surprise me that our fave scribe rescued Pommes. No doubt from dragons, super-mosquitoes or Chinese BigFoot. . . .Please tell us THAT (Embellished) er, tale. . .

Heidelweiss said...

You can't be serious! Did this really happen? I know this must make me sick, but animal abuse gets me angrier than full grown human abuse (as opposed to child abuse). I cannot wrap my head around why anyone would want to do such a hideous thing. Did Pommes have to listen to this story being told? How horrifying for him. Please put ear muffs on him next time (he can't do it himself, you know)!

Stan Ski said...

Cat fights - I'm not going there - great NaisaiKu!

Sepiru Chris said...


Thanks, we'll see.

The muse strikes in strange ways. The Wild Cats of Kilkenny was playing on the ipod when I read SweetTalkingGuy's invite to Naisaiku; that was the genesis here.


These are apocryphal stories, so they are not utterly confirmed.

Just now I googled Kilkenny to see what I could find, and the same two stories show up on Wikipedia, as well as one regarding the two subtowns, Irishtown and Englishtown, that beggared each other in Kilkenny.

I don't know where I first read the stories, but I would not be surprised in the slightest to find out that they were true.

The idea of valuing life, animal life or even human life, is recent, at best, and is certainly not universal. It is not even Western.

The Elizabethan Era (1558-1603) was not only the pinnacle of England's cultural flowering in the Renaissance, but it was also a time of great savagery.

Dog fights, cock fights, and bear baiting (if you don't know, you don't want to) were all terribly common.

The groundlngs who paid a penny to watch Shakespeare's and Marlowe's works from the Pit (the standing room only cheap seats in the theatre) are widely regarded as more coarse than couth and wicked than cultured. They came for the blood and the bawdy jokes in the Bard's plays.

I do not condone the behaviour in the apocryphal tales in the slightest; I find it revolting. But, it was a fact of life; and still is, in many parts of the world. Truth should never be avoided just because it is unpleasant.

If we allowed ourselves to do that, we could try to justify avoiding the truth on the grounds that it is unseemly. Like not disclosing the serious photos of abuse at Abu Gharaib because their disclosure would shock the public; oh wait, that already happened...

I also want to be clear that I am not poking fun at your comments or belittling your reaction in the slightest.

I completely agree with you.

Well, almost.

All abuse makes me sick. I suspect the same is true with you.

I suspect that the division you draw is assuming that human adults have the ability to fight back.

Sometimes this is true. Sometimes it is not.

I appreciate where you are coming from.

As I mentioned to Cloudia, the genesis of this post came from some music, and the history of the expression was well-known to me because learning the etymologies of words and expressions is something I enjoy. And it seemed natural to share it without censoring the history.

(For example, who would have guessed that President Woodrow Wilson re-segregated some federal offices in Washington, after they had been desegregated, to make Southern Cabinet appointees happy during the long years of the Jim Crow laws? I only recently read that, and the Heroine and I were both shocked that Mr. Idealist, Mr. League of Nations would allow and promote this. The truth had been filtered in the texts which I had read growing up...)

Pommes did not listen to the posting, though he did read. He shook his head, gazed at me hard, and then went to one of the fishtanks to look at some goldfish to point out that would not be fooled by Atropos.

Oops. Long response.

Stan Ski,

Wisest to set them free...

Tschuess to you all,

Haiku Poems said...

I drank nine lattes.
I could bench press a tractor.
I must tinkle. Now.

SweetTalkingGuy said...

Fantastic! Chris this is a wonderful response to the challenge. You tell a great tale or should that read tail or tael perhaps? Whatever, this was/is FUN!!!

Wendy Naisa said...

Hi Chris, thanks for taking The Naisaiku..Challenge!

Bet not many people know about the wild cats of Kilkenny, mythical or not... until NOW!

The Weaver of Grass said...

That is a horrible gruesome story, reminded me somewhat of the Hartlepool monkey - do you know that story?

bindu said...

Such an awful story! Humans are capable of so much sadism. You might want to watch your back (though you have no tail). Pommes has read this story and might plan a preemptive strike. Your naisaiku captures the gruesomeness well.

Both Sides of Ben Marlan said...

hopefully those people came back as gazelles on the african plains soon to be torn to shreds by a pride of lions.

HeidiBean said...

Human adults do not always have the ability to fight back. They usually have a better chance at fighting back than children and animals (there are some really mean children). Thus the division. I am not in the dark as to what other countries (and my own) have done to prove how they value life. It makes me sick. I'm heading to the toilet to puke now.

Heidelweiss said...

Oh for crying out loud. Heidibean is me.

Sepiru Chris said...

Haiku poems,

Your haiku cracked me up, I don't know if it was randomly generated from the site or what, but fine, fine work.

Sweet Talking Guy,

Cheers. I am glad you enjoyed; 'twas all for you.

Wendy Naisa,

It was fun to join. I have heard the phrase used in such a tortured ways before. For example, by an animal lover referring to what she thought was a particularly beautiful cat as "as beautiful as a wild cat of Kilkenny". Imagine her surprise when I explained the meaning to her. That was decades ago; she was appalled--and she still remembers.

Weaver of Grass,

Yes, it is a horrible, gruesome story. I cannot agree more. Of course I know the Hartlepool Monkey Myth (I play rugby!). But, that story has always struck me as pure myth, while this story seems very believable. I have seen what people in difficult circumstances do when they are inured to suffering. Those stories I would never tell indiscriminately. And the Hessian troop story has every ring of truth about it when I compare it with things I have witnessed or intervened in...



What makes this story, and some things we as a genus and species capable of be so rotten, is that some acts are not perceived by the perpetrators as being sadistic. A true sadist knows they are inflecting pain. I have had the misfortune of being in situations where people have done horrific things without thinking about it. I have almost always tried to intervene, usually to great personal detriment.

Some things don't bear thinking about.

Both Sides of Ben Marlan,

Gazelles live pretty buoyant lives, apart from the rending at the end... I would hope the wheel of life could place them more precisely than that...


I know you know that stuff. I agree. That was entirely my presumption about your thinking and your knowledge.

My little statement was just to be sure that everyone else knew where I was coming from. I don't want to have people think I am sadistic, myself.

(Assuming anyone reads the comments, besides you. That could be a big assumption...)

Sorry to send you off. That was, of course, not my intention.

And I would have known that Heidibean was you. You have your own style, as do most regular commentators. Fairly obvious and endearing.


Anonymous said...

thanks for this interesting post !! wonder how my such tales exist in nooks of each city !!

!nversed Poignancy! said...

I loved the thought flow here and more beautiful and adroit is they way you've turned an haiku into a tale!-Thats really really impressive!

I felt that penning down emotion with steeples around is a real challenge and the way thoughts explicated in this write just echoes about the true dexterity of the poet..:)

Barbara Martin said...

All myth is based on some truth, no matter how distant it may be.

spacedlaw said...

Interesting post. Poor cats.

Sepiru Chris said...

Pretty Me,

I am always looking and am always surprised by what I find. Many tales, too many for one to find or collect. Even if your last name is Opie.

(The husband and wife team of Iona and Peter (Opie) wrote the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes and delved into the history of children's lore and British folk lore. I haven't seen my copies of any of their works in over a decade... one more set of works I have to replace. One day I have to keep track of what I lend to who...)

!nversed Poignancy!

Why thank you so much. I thought the backstory to the haiku might be important to understand it, and I love telling stories. Especially ones based on facts or myths.

Barbara Martin,

I agree completely.


Thank you, and yes, miserable cats.

Unlucky to be them.