Kilkenny is home to the most famous cats in the world. For over two hundred years, people everywhere have heard of the fierce Kilkenny Cats. They are part of our history; part of our DNA. They reflect Kilkenny in all its glorious past, its developing present and exciting future.
In week four, local author Donal Cadogan and illustrator Gemma Aloisi share their unique view of Kilkenny’s history and culture, as seen and told by its magnificent and ever-present Kilkenny Cats.
This week we meet Ragu, Ruthie and Wally
These are taken from their recent illustrated children’s book We are Kilkenny Cats!
Wally – A Lazy Cat
As Kilkenny grew bigger, it became an important place for merchants and farmers to come to buy and sell their goods. Markets were held at set times during the year, so people would know when to come. People who wanted to sell goods in the town were charged a small fee. But not everyone was happy to pay this and some tried to sneak in.
So the people decided to build a large wall around the town. Those coming to market would have to enter through gates where their goods would be checked and they would be charged. The money collected went to build more wall. The wall also protected the people inside from attacks by bandits and small armies that passed by from time to time.
I would like to say that my ancestor Wally helped to build the walls, but he didn’t. Instead, he took every opportunity to lie out on the top of the wall whenever there was a ﬁne day, as the sun heated the stones. Sadly, other cats did help in building the wall but not in a nice way.
The taxes on the goods sold at the market were on many different things that people wanted; wool, timber, cloth, ﬁsh, horses, cattle, in fact anything you could think of. In 1420, the king allowed the people of Kilkenny charge one half penny for every 100 cat skins sold. As a result of this, the cats of Kilkenny can say they had a very deﬁnite part in paying for the walls of Kilkenny.
Today, only part of the walls are still standing and I can tell from experience that on a hot day they are as nice to lie on for a rest as in the days of my lazy ancestor Wally.
Ruthie – A Merchant’s Cat
In 1594, William Shakespeare was beginning to make a name for himself in London for writing plays. In Kilkenny, John Rothe had already made his name as a rich businessman and began to build a new house for himself and his new wife Rose Archer. Rose was also from a wealthy family in Kilkenny. She came to John with a big dowry and a cat called Ruthie.
The Rothes already had a growing family when they started to build and they eventually had 12 children. The big stone house they built still has their name on it. They built large rooms upstairs and had a shop on the ground ﬂoor where John displayed the goods he had for sale.
Ten years later, as his wealth and family grew, John and Rose decided to build a second house behind the ﬁrst one. To get to it from the street you went through the courtyard of the ﬁrst house. For good measure, they dug a well. By now, Ruthie’s kittens had grown up and had taken over the cat end of the family business.
In 1609, the King of England decided that Kilkenny was so important he would make it a city, therefore he issued a charter to make it so. This allowed Kilkenny to have a mayor and aldermen. John was one of the ﬁrst aldermen and a few years later he was elected mayor. In 1610 their eldest son got married, so they gave him the middle house to live in and he had use of the family cats.
And still the business grew. John and Rose decided to add a third building behind the second one. Here they put the brew house, the kitchens and the servants. Sadly, John died a few years later and Rose followed him. The Rothes lasted in Kilkenny until 1650, when they were exiled from the city.
Their cats went with them.
Ragù – A Stylish Cat
Sometimes the Kilkenny cat family welcomed new members. In 1645 a cat called Ragù joined. She came from Italy.
The English parliament was at war with its king and the Pope wanted the king to win. The Irish lords, who were on the king’s side, met in Kilkenny to build a new army. The pope sent them a cardinal with guns and a large amount of money. He sent a cat called Ragù to protect it all.
When Ragù and the cardinal, Rinuccini, arrived in Kilkenny, the people were delighted to see them. Everyone marched out of town to meet them. In the city, large crowds cheered them through the streets. The lords were delighted to see the guns and the money and were almost as glad to see the cardinal. The cats carefully welcomed Ragù. She brought Italian charm and style which was very new to Kilkenny.
While the Cardinal was in Kilkenny, he was busy talking with important people and he visited the sights. He liked one big window in the Cathedral so much, he tried to buy it.
Meanwhile, the pope’s money and guns helped the Irish win some battles. For a while all was well, but then the cardinal started to disagree with some of the Irish lords. While they wanted to agree a peace with the English, the cardinal did not. So, he banned them from the church. This made him very unpopular.
He saw that he was going to lose so he decided to return to sunny Italy. Ragù decided to stay with her many new Kilkenny friends and add a little extra style to the Kilkenny cat family tree.