The Dame, the Black Death and the statutes of Kilkenny


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 three, 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 Malice,Ratty, and Statia.
These are taken from their recent illustrated children’s book We are Kilkenny Cats!

Malice – The Witch’s Familiar
One of the richest women in Kilkenny, in its early years, was Dame Alice Kyteler. She was the daughter of a banker and, when he died, Alice inherited all of his wealth. She liked her pleasures and she found herself a black cat, which she called Malice.
Alice married a rich man and he died. She inherited his money also. She married another rich man… and he died. She married a third and fourth rich man. They all died. Each time Alice inherited her late husband’s fortune. People began to think Alice might have had a hand in seeing her four husbands out of this world.
Suspicion arose that she had used magic. Because she had a black cat many people thought she was a witch. But it was only Malice, the cat. They asked the bishop of Ossory to investigate and he was sure that Alice was the head of a group of witches in Kilkenny. He held a trial, which Alice did not attend. He found her guilty. Wisely, Alice and Malice fled in the night and left for England.
Sadly, her maid Petronella was not so lucky. She was tortured and confessed to being a witch and said that Malice was not a cat but a devil in disguise. Now all our family are little devils from time to time but nothing more than that. Petronella was dragged to the middle of the town where a pole was driven into the ground. She was tied to it and bundles of dry sticks were built up around her feet. The sticks were set alight and poor Petronella was burnt as a witch.
We never saw Malice again and to this day no one knows where she might be. Alice Kyteler’s house is still in Kilkenny today and has a statue to Alice inside for all to see. Sadly, Malice has been forgotten. Such is a cat’s fate in life.

Ratty – The Plague Cat
In 1348 people began to get very sick in Kilkenny and across Europe and Asia. Boils would appear on the bodies and these oozed blood. Also the sufferer would have splitting headaches. After a few days of agony, the person would die but by that time other people in the house would have started to get the boils. This plague became known as the Black Death.
One of the few records, from someone alive at the time, is a book written by Friar John Clyn in St Francis Abbey in Kilkenny. People thought the disease travelled in the air. Some people went on pilgrimages to pray to be saved but this just meant they were with large groups of people for long periods and many caught the disease while praying.
Friar John noticed that people could catch the plague just by touching someone. It actually travelled by fleas brought into the house on the back of rats. At that time, my ancestor Ratty was the best rat catcher in Leinster and he lived in Kilkenny. But no one asked him to deal with the problem. Thus he missed his opportunity to save many lives. Had people known that the rats were the source of the problem, then
Ratty would have become the most famous cat ever in Kilkenny.
The rats lived in the stone and wooden houses of those who lived in the towns. The native Irish lived in sod huts that they rebuilt every few years. Thus the people in the towns died in much bigger numbers that those in the country.
The plague lasted over three years and almost 200 million people across the world died during it. Whole families and towns were wiped out and the world would never be the same again. And all because they never asked Ratty.

Statia – A Legal Cat
Kilkenny was an important place in Ireland to the Normans, or English as they were now known. They held their parliaments here many times to set laws. Unlike today, only lords, knights and bishops sat in parliament. No Irish, no ordinary people, no ladies and no cats.
The Gaelic Irish had different laws and customs. As time went on, the Normans in Ireland began to live more like the Irish. They married Irish girls and spoke Irish. It was just easier and the king was in England, far away.
Eventually, he noticed that his Irish subjects were less and less English. They had become more Irish than the Irish themselves. As a result they were paying less attention to him. He sent his son Lionel, the Duke of Clarence, to put an end to this sort of thing.
Lionel came to Kilkenny with a set of laws and a cat called Statia. The laws became known as the Statutes of Kilkenny and were to put an end to the English becoming Irish. Statia was to help him see that the laws were followed.
In 1367, Lionel called a big parliament in Kilkenny and had all the lords agree to the new laws. These were very strict. No English could marry an Irish person. If they did, they would lose their lands and rank. They were not to speak Irish and not use Irish names. Horses were to be ridden and clothes were to be worn the English way. Irish Brehon Law was no longer to be followed and only laws from England mattered. Most shockingly, hurling, which the Irish played, was to stop immediately and everyone was to learn archery, as the king needed archers in his armies.
Everyone ignored the new laws. The English went on marrying into the Irish families,
becoming less English and playing hurling. Poor Statia died soon after. She did not like being ignored. Cats like attention, even Kilkenny ones.

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