‘The Wild Cats Of Kilkenny’ appeared on The Pogues’ epic 1985 album Rum, Sodomy And The Lash. The instrumental track was written by the dentally-challenged frontman Shane McGowan, whom everybody knows, and the band’s multi-instrumentalist Jem Finer, who is rather more obscure. Still, every Christmas you’ll hear one of his songs…
Kilkenny is, of course, a town in Ireland that also lends its name to the county in which it is located (we could also make up, if we so wished, an urban legend that the name also served to inspire the makers of South Park). There is a poem about the cats of Kilkenny, titled without much prevarication “The Cats of Kilkenny”:
There once were two cats of Kilkenny
Each thought there was one cat too many
So they fought and they fit,
And they scratched and they bit,
Till excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats, there weren't any.
The Pogues in the title of their song probably referred to the epic cat fight of the poem (for there is no doubt that the two protagonist felines were indeed of wild temperament), which is believed to be an allegory for a bloody and self-destructive territorial dispute between Kilkenny and Irishtown. That conflict gave rise to the phrase “Kilkenny cats”, to describe, as wordsmith.org puts it, “people who fight relentlessly till their end”.
Mutual destruction seems to be a badge of honour in some quarters: Kilkenny’s local hurling team (that’s the sport, not the post-drinking activity) is dubbed “The Cats”.