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.
The Kilkenny Observer has invited local author Donal Cadogan and illustrator Gemma Aloisi to share their unique view of Kilkenny’s history and culture, as seen and told by its magnificent and ever-present Kilkenny Cats.
These are taken from their recent illustrated children’s book We are Kilkenny Cats!
It is proving to be a great way to get children to learn about the story of where they are from.
Martin Luther King once said “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” Over the coming weeks the cats that saw our history being made, will help us understand what history has made us.
Up the cats!
Nora – A Kilkenny Cat
Hello. My name is Nora and I am a Kilkenny Cat. I am named after the mighty River Nore which travels through the county of Kilkenny from top to bottom. Like the Nore, I can be strong and ﬁerce when I need to be, yet gentle and peaceful at other times. The river looks after the people of Kilkenny, as do I.
I will tell you what it means to be a Kilkenny Cat and let you meet other cats from my family tree, which stretches back before written history began. I like to think there is a little of each of these cats in me. You will ﬁnd magical cats, holy cats, ﬁghting cats, rich cats and poor cats. Some are mean but most are kind.
Most cats had a human owner. They minded and protected each other. Over time, they began to look and act like each other which is why their stories are the same as the humans’ history of Kilkenny.
At the end of our journey, when you understand better how my family has made me the proud cat I am, I will tell you the legend of how Kilkenny Cats got their name.
Welcome to my family. They are the cat’s meow.
Bawny – The Legendary Cat
Long, long ago, long before your time, there lived a mouse in a cave in a place called Derc Ferna. Today it is known as Dunmore. This was before a place called Kilkenny even existed. His name was Luchtigern, an old Irish name. In Irish luch means ‘mouse’ and tigern meant ‘lord’, for Luchtigern was the mouse-lord of all the lands around Dunmore and far across Ireland.
But my ancestor Bawny, a fearless warrior cat, came and a mighty battle followed. His real name was Banghaisgidheach*, but we all called him Bawny for short. He was one cat against an army of mice. He should never have had a chance but he was huge and a hellcat and, with sharp tooth and pointy claws, he killed mice in their thousands until only he and Luchtigern were left. They fought each other for a day and a night but in the end, Bawny won, and the mighty reign of the Kilkenny Cat started.
Bawny’s story was so famous it was recorded in the Book of Leinster in the 12th century.
You can still visit the cave today. It is the darkest place in Ireland. If you go there, into the deepest part of the cave, some cats still say you can see two bright shining lights in the dark. Are they Bawny’s eyes?
He hasn’t gone away, you know.
Ossie The Chieftain’s Cat
Nearly two thousand years ago there were two big kingdoms in Ireland, Leinster and Munster. They were next door neighbours and were always ﬁnding reasons to ﬁght. In between were lands with large forests around the river Nore. The people living there became very annoyed at armies always running across their ﬁelds chasing each other. These people called themselves the Osraige, which means People of the Deer, and their Kingdom was called Ossory.
They decided to elect a king to keep the armies out so that they could live in peace and quiet for a few years. His name was Aengus. But Aengus needed help in his great task. Did he look for help from a deer? No! He needed someone who wouldn’t pussyfoot around. He turned to a fearless royal cat who he called Ossie. She was also my ancestor.
Together, Ossie and Aengus kept the two other armies (and their mice) apart and the people of Osraige settled down. For nearly a thousand years they called the lands along the river Nore their home. In fact their descendants were still powerful in the land until the 16th century, when they were pushed aside. But by then, my family had added many more famous cats to the Kilkenny story.
‘We are Kilkenny Cats’ is available in Kilkenny bookshops