Left Handers Day
"But the Kers were aye the deadliest foes That e’er to Englishmen were known For they were all bred left handed men And fence against them there was none." ~ James Hogg, 1770-1835, "The Raid of the Kers"
Are you left-handed? Are you a left-handed Kerr? Well then, as one "corrie-fisted" you're no doubt adept at sword fighting on reverse spiral staircases such as the famous one in Ferniehirst Castle – seat of Clan Kerr – built spiraling in the opposite direction to favour a left-handed Kerr defending against a right-handed foe! The left-handedness of the Kerr Clan, statistically significant or not, lives on in some of the legacy terms for lefties including: Kerry Kittaghy, Kerr-handed, Kerry-fisted, Corrie-fisted, Corrie-pawed, as well as Southpaw, Lefty, Ballock-handed, Cuddy-wifter, Hooker, Buck-fisted, Cack-handed, Caggy, Clicky, Cow-pawed, Dolly-pawed, Gar-pawed, Gibble-fisted, Golly-handed, Kay-neived, Keggy-handed, Left-kelly, Left-plug, Scoochy, Scrammy-handed, Skiffle-handed, Spuddy-handed, Squiffy, and Bambino!
August 13, Left Handers Day, has an interesting association with Clan Kerr!
Lefties are stilled called "ker-handed" or "corrie-fistit" in Scotland.
During the Middle Ages, Clan Kerr was one of the prominent border reiver clans along the present-day Anglo-Scottish border.
The name Kerr is rendered in various forms such as Kerr, Ker, Carr and Carre, and stems from the Old Norse kjrr which means marsh dweller, and came to Scotland through Normandy, the French settlement of the Norsemen. Another variant of the name is found on the west coast of Scotland, particularly on the Isle of Arran, and is taken from the Gaelic ciar, meaning dusky.
The Kerrs have typically been associated with left-handedness, and the well known Ferniehirst Castle, near Jedburgh, with its unusual left-handed spiral staircase, is allegedly designed with this handedness in mind.
Spiral staircases were a clever defense in medieval castles. They were almost always built with the spiral in the same direction (clockwise, when looking up from the bottom) so that the defending swordsman, who would either be coming down the stairs or backing up in reverse, could freely swing his sword.
Conversely, the attacking swordsman (ascending the stairs) would have his swing blocked by the wall. This, of course, assumed that both attacker an defender were right-handed.
Left-handed swordsman, though rare, had the advantage of surprise when attacking in the open in that they had generally trained and fought against more right-handed opponents than their adversary had fought left-handed opponents. Their attack when ascending a standard spiral staircases was also not blocked by the wall.
Scottish Poet James Hogg (1770-1835) wrote, in The Raid of the Kerrs:
But the Kerrs were aye the deadliest foes
That e’er to Englishmen were known
For they were all bred left handed men
And fence [defence] against them there was none
and Walter Laidlaw wrote, in The Reprisal (1900), celebrating the storming of Ferniehirst castle:
So well the Kerrs their left-hands ply,
The dead and dying round them lie,
the castle gained, the battle won,
Revenge and slaughter are begun.
Despite this anecdotal link between the Kerrs , though a 1972 article in the British Medical Journal confirmed that about 30% of those with the surname Kerr were left-handed as opposed to a background 10% of the population, a subsequent study in 1993 study found no statistically significant increase in left-handedness among people with the family name Kerr or Carr.
Regardless, if you are a Kerr, we salute you (left-handedly and respectfully, of course).
For more on the left-handed spiral staircase and left-handed fighting in general, click the vintage Clan Kerr illustration.