LITTLE KNOWN CAT BREEDS #1: INDIGENOUS CATS OF THE BRITISH ISLES
Just as the Isle of Man has the Manx and Scotland has the Scottish Fold (most of whom live in exile due to the vagaries of the British Cat Fancy), so too do other areas of the British Isles have their indigenous felines, as peculiar to their area as National Costume.
THE IRISH BOG CAT
Many years ago in the lush green fields of Ireland were beautiful felines who were under the protection of St Brendan. These cats, it is said, arrived on the Emerald Isle with the sidhe, which is why their descendants can see the little people. Their lush coats, magnificent size and extraordinary good health placed them in great demand throughout the world. St Brendan took the finest of these cats on his voyages to present as gifts to the Lords of the lands he visited. The praises of these handsome cats were related far and wide by bards.
Then the "bad times" arrived and foreigners arrived, destroying everything in their path. Because of their size the Irish Bog Cats were valued for their fur and tender meat. Driven to the verge of extinction, these beautiful native cats retreated into the Bogs. There they remained until their rediscovery in recent years when kind-hearted and serious breeders undertook the task of breeding these once honoured and lovely animals. Their popularity as friendly intelligent felines has again spread throughout their native land, but it must be remembered that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that what St Brendan considered beautiful, might today be considered coarse and lumpish (centuries of inbreeding has also had a somewhat detrimental effect).
Unlike many traditional breeds where the modern show cat barely resembles its working class ancestors, the Irish Bog Cat is a sturdy, working class of cat found in almost every Irish household. All are pot-bellied from their diet of corned beef, boiled cabbage and "champ" (a traditional dish of potatoes and onions which accounts for their astonishing turn of speed due to a unique form of jet propulsion). Besides the boiled dinners, they also enjoy a bowl of Guinness Stout, Murphy's or uisge beatha (Whiskey) daily and soda bread.
The show-quality Irish Bog Cat has a round thick head with cauliflower ears. One ear is folded and the other curled. Chin is very weak, no chin is preferred. Nose is a Tip O'Neil with a definite break, several breaks are preferred, it is black, turning red after a few Jamiesons. Eyes are green, bloodshot and swollen in proportion with the nose. Muzzle is somewhat long in proportion to breadth, with freckles on the whisker pads. (The long muzzle is necessary for sticking noses in Irish coffee glasses.)
The legs are longer in front than in back for climbing out of the peat bogs. There is no tufting on their paws but claws are strong and curved for digging potatoes. All tails are kinked and two kinks are desirable but not required. The kink is necessary for pulling out peat from the bogs. The cat has a very thin main coat with a thick woolly, waterproof undercoat. Hair grows from back to front and the only acceptable colour is red tabby with markings shaped like shamrocks. This coat turns white with age.
All Irish Bog Cats are born on St. Patrick's Day; those that are born on other days are considered "variants" and may not be bred. A note from St Brendan is necessary for authenticity of pedigree. A tonsure is also required and they all have great step-dancing ability (best known Irish Bog Cat step-dancer being Michael Catley whose "Ridfurdance" performed to great acclaim at the Purrovision Song Contest - he has since gone on to have his own show named "Clawed of the Dance"). Bog Cats born in odd years have names starting with an "O", those born in even years start with "Mac".
THE SCOTTISH MCCAT
These unique felines have existed in Scotland since the time of myth. So fearsome are they in battle that Hadrian's Wall was, in fact, built to keep out not the barbarous Scots, but the fiercely territorial McCats who fought in battle alongside their clans. The bagpipe is believed to have been based upon the skirling war cried of McCats. They have a complex history, being derived from centuries of hybridization between the ginger cats of the Viking settlers, the now extinct Woad Blue Cats of ancient tribes and the Scottish Wild Cat (although some authorities claim that the Scottish Wild Cat is a partially domesticated form of the Scottish McCat and this is borne out to some extent by a comparison of their temperaments).
These cats have split into a number of sub-breeds to suit local conditions although all have the distinctive "och-aye the noo" call. Highland McCats have longer, woollier fur and have evolved to hunt in highly efficient packs capable of bringing down a Highland Cow. They have harsh voices and impenetrable accents. Lowland McCats can be differentiated by their gentler lilting accents. Shetland cats are small, due to the harsh living condition, but powerful and a pack of Shetland McCats can easily bring down a Shetland pony. Orkney McCats are rugged with gale-proof fur.
All McCats have long hair, and frequently beards and sideburns as well. Facial hair is bright ginger in the Celtic and Viking sub-breeds, black in the Gaelic varieties. The rest of the coat is any of a variety of hunting tartans depending on clan allegiance. Those cats born outside of clan lines are usually Black Watch. The breeding of designer-tartan cats to suit overseas buyers is frowned upon.
Eyes are watery blue, bloodshot, bulbous and usually point in different directions, while ears exhibit uniform thickening and extreme hairiness. The muzzle is short and broad with a fine set of ginger whiskers either side of a squashed and flattened nose which is mauve-red in colour. Many McCats have particularly long canines, which enable them to tackle larger prey and which, according to myth, are inherited from the ancient sabre-tooth cats which once roamed the area.
The legs of Highland McCats are longer on one side than on the other to enable them to chase their prey along hillsides. Some authorities claim that the reason Highland McCats have legs of different lengths is for hunting wild Haggis (most modern Haggis are intensively farmed). Like Haggis, McCats come in right handed and left handed varieties and amorous mismatched pairs, as with Haggis, have problems. Hunting their favourite prey is simpler though as, if they miss the Haggis the first time around, they can have another go on the other side of the hill. In all varieties, the tail is bushy and the same colour as the facial hair and there is a pronounced sporran, especially in male McCats. Although they have long, scythe-like claws for bringing down unwary Sassenachs, many McCats also have a skein dhu or traditional small dirk strapped to one leg, those lacking a dirk are pretty handy with broken McEwans lager bottles.
The staple diet of these cats is Highland beef, Salmon (generally poached), grouse, bashed neeps and boiled thistle-tips. Sightings of Nessie are generally put down to sightings of particularly large McCats swimming after salmon in Loch Ness.
Though born at any time of year, McCats born after a Scotland victory over England in a Rugby or Soccer final are most highly regarded. All McCat names are prefixed by Mc.
THE IECHYD-DA CAT
Indigenous to Wales, the Iechyd-da is best known for its fine singing voice. Male Iechyd-das often form choirs and compared to the caterwauling of their feline brethren worldwide, the sound of Iechyd-das competing for the attentions of a female is deeply moving. Careful selective breeding has fixed this trait into modern Iechyd-das. Each year these cats compete at a three day festival to find the best singer and this cat is highly sought after for stud services (which is why the contest is held annually since most winning cats drop through exhaustion after eight months of intensive breeding).
In appearance, the Iechyd-da is unremarkable. Males tend to be especially well-built and athletic, perhaps due to having to sing while in full flight from a thrown rugby boot in days gone by. Black and white is the preferred colour and the sight of a show hall full of identical black-and-white Iechyd-das in full song has moved many a judge to tears. Those that aren't black and white are generally a sooty, grey colour due to natural selection favouring those cats which blended in with coal mines and slag heaps. All have exceptional sight and a remarkable sense of navigation underground. Songs are still sung to the honour of Black Aled, the cat who led a hundred and thirty trapped miners to safety after a cave-in. For three days the miners followed this cat's singing until they finally reached daylight. Admittedly Black Aled went the roundabout route out of sheer curiosity, but he did lead the miners to safety nonetheless. Black Aled never sang another note from that day till the day he died.
The preferred diet of the Iechyd-da is Welsh Rarebit and leek-and-mutton broth. Their long association with mines has led many to develop a strange habit known as coal-eating which is a form of pica found only in the Iechyd-da breed. This could also account for the tendency of many cats to develop a peculiar cough which sounds like the Welsh "ll" (as in Llanelli) or "ch" (as in bach).
Traditional names for these cats include Dai, Dafydd and Jones although more ambitious cats go by the name of Llanfairpwll...gogogoch
THE ENGLISH IMPERIAL CAT
Despite European efforts to standardise English felines into a single homogeneous Euro-compliant cat, these cats (which have accompanied explorers to all corners of the world where they rapidly subdued native cat breeds and enforced Imperial manners upon them) remain stubbornly split into a host of local variants. Occasional, woad-colored cats appear in these local variants, this is due to recombination of genes inherited from the ancestral English feline.
Perhaps the best known are the Manx, Cornish Rex and Devon Rex, although there are lesser known variants. The "Cockney" is noted for its black coat and contrasting white pearl-effect speckles and a preference for cock linnet and jellied eels. The "Geordie" has a peculiar dialect understood only by other Geordie cats; they tend to be tough with a high degree of differentiation between the genders - males are rough, ready, rampant and lack finesse while females are perpetually on call - and a staple diet of mushy peas and Newcastle Brown Ale. The "Lancashire" has an outgrowth on its head which resembles a flat cap; it is excessively fond of pigeon, black pudding and a pint of Mild. The "Glassy-Eyed Suburban Commuter Cat" is a highly evolved local subspecies which occurs only in black-pinstripe-and-white and is highly adept at crowding large numbers of cats into small spaces during its two main activity periods (morning and afternoon "rush" hours) although it spends much of the intervening time slumbering over a newspaper.
The heyday of the English Imperial Cat was between the Elizabethan and Victorian eras, after that it was all downhill as the cats were repelled from their annexed territories by native felines battling for independence. Sadly little effort has gone into the Imperial Cat during the twentieth century and breeders tend to reminisce about past glories rather than actually trying to reclaim any of that glory. Even in International competition these cats, which once dominated the show benches of the world, are sinking further towards obscurity. English Imperial Cats enjoyed a brief revival during the two World Wars, though for very much the wrong reasons. Being one of the few creatures that could thrive in bombed out areas by subsisting on rats and mice, they were frequently "befriended" by butchers and found themselves being sold to unsuspecting buyers as "roof rabbit" and "genuine 100% coney".
Nowadays, the diet of the English Imperial Cat is far more diverse. From a traditional diet of fish and chips (which is why the best specimens can still be found close to Harry Ramsden's) or chip-butties it has moved on to curry and chips, fried rice, pizza, burgers and in fact anything served in a foil or styrofoam takeaway carton requiring the bare minimum of preparation.
A cautionary note about the much-maligned "Essex" variety - due to their indiscriminate breeding habits, it is almost impossible to trace the pedigree of an Essex cat with any degree of accuracy or certainty. Essex cats will mate with anything - other Essex cats, pet rabbits or small dogs - much to the despair of the hard-working breeder who has carefully matched up two Essex cats only to find her prize stud bonking next-door's Dobermann with fatal results. Essex cats rarely mate with other variants of the English Imperial (to be truthful, no other cat would ever consider mating with an Essex cat) and are therefore dangerously inbred leading to a high concentration of "Sharons", "Traceys" and "Waynes". Most Essex cats are deaf and have poor colour vision due to their tendency to hang around noisy nightclubs with high intensity light shows.
THE ENGLISH CHAV CAT
Found only in Burberry pattern with optional gold necklaces and bracelets, the English Chav cat emerged relatively recently in the Chatham area of Kent and has spread to all areas of the country. Males have short, spiky fur on the head and back while females sport scraped-back fur. They can subsist entirely on junk food and alcohol. Both sexes are notoriously aggressive and have a reputation for promiscuity and kleptomania. They are very vocal and constantly spit, swear and curse.