Monday, September 01, 2008

Why the Irish Hate Cats.

Oweynagat: Home of the psychotic cats.
Most of my ancestry -- just short of 100% -- can be traced back to the land most commonly associated with leprechauns and fairies. Although very proud of my heritage, I've always felt the Irish are/were more susceptible to mental "illness" than any other ethnicity. My suspicions, based solely on speculation, may originate from the more than a few colorful characters that dot the branches of my genealogical /ancestral tree, past and present.

Patrick Tracey confirms those suspicions in his book Stalking Irish Madness Searching for the Roots of My Family's Schizophrenia.

There are a couple of different explanations for "Irish Madness". The first one is located in County Roscommon's beautiful lush green valley, in the cave, Oweynagat, better known to the Irish as "Cave of the Cats" or "Ireland's entrance to Hell". Ancient folklore tells tales of a cave that possess the minds of the insane. Beings from hell emerge from this cave, oftentimes as cats, and wither away anything they came into contact. Those touched by these psychotic cats are/were carried "away with the fairies" thus offering the first explanation as to why, up until the 1960s, Ireland had the world's highest rate of institutionalization for mental illness in the world.

Although not as enchanting as the tale of psychotic cats, Patrick Tracey offers another explanation...what he calls the three-legged stool, a trifecta of factors that include famine, alcoholism, and advanced age of paternity. In 1850, the "three-legged stool" stood firm in Irish culture when the Irish filled asylums on both sides of the Atlantic.

Although, watered down in the last 150 years, there is no doubt an elevated level of "lunacy" still circulates throughout the blood of the Irish. However, this "curse" of what appears to be instability masks a rich assortment of blessings.

Firstly, let's take a look at the "stable" American or stereotypical WASP family. For all practical purposes they do appear "stable". Everyone maintains the status quo. Calm, level-heads prevail. No one dares to do anything to upset the apple cart. Appearances and etiquette rule. "Love" is dependent on whether you "deserve" it or not. Not a bad thing, if you happen to be created from a one-shape fits all cookie-cutter.

On the other hand, the Irish, all too familiar with our own demons, realize that none of us "deserve" love, and because of that fact, paradoxically, we all deserve love. Conditions are not ours to place. Is this true of all the Irish? Of course not, however, just as the "Cave of Cats" provided the Irish with a way to evaluate, and interpret insanity...through affliction and hard times, the concept of unconditional love has provided the Irish with a way to evaluate and interpret humanity -- the good, the bad and the ugly.

In the words of a man who was tending the tombstones.

“The thing about the Irish,” he said, “is that we have always been there for the little guy. We go through life as underdogs. We die as underdogs. There is no other way for the Irish.”
Unless you're Bill O'Reilly, of course.


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