Clan Kerr – A Sinister Bunch
Clan Kerr is a Scottish Clan which comes from the Scottish Borders. The family originally came to Scotland, like so many other Scottish Clans, from Normandy in France before settling in the Jedburgh area of the Borders. The Clan has been prominent in the history of the Borders with many castles and grand houses, noblemen and Reivers to their name. So far, so normal, right? Well, what if I told you there was something sinister about this clan, would that grab your attention?
I thought it might, good. Unfortunately I’m not using the word sinister in an Edgar Allen Poe or Hammer Horror way, I’m using it in the Latin sense to mean left-handed. It has been suggested that there is a higher incidence of left-handedness among those who carry the surname Kerr (or Carr in England). Left-handedness exists in about 10% of the general population however, there have been studies which suggest that the incidence of left-handedness among Kerr family members could be as high as 30%! This claim has been widely disputed but there is, at the very least, strong anecdotal evidence from history to support this claim.
Clan Kerr – Scottish South Paws
James Hogg’s The Raid of the Kerrs uses the lines The Kerrs 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. There is also a poem by Walter Laidlaw which contains the lines 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. So it is clear to see that the Kerrs reputation for left-handedness has a reasonably long history. This history is supported by the fact that Ferniehirst Castle (one of Clan Kerr’s castles) is home to a spiral staircase that, instead of having a clockwise spiral, has an anti-clockwise spiral which would favour a left-handed swordsman.
Clan Kerr and the Jeburgh Hand Ba’
The aforementioned poem by Walter Laidlaw describes John Kerr’s successful attempt to reclaim his castle from the English. Apparently, once the battle was over, the Scottish warriors stood surrounded by the corpses of fallen Englishmen and decided that it would be rather fun to get up a game of handball with their enemies’ heads. This rather grizzly game caught the public imagination in Jedburgh and has been played there ever since. Obviously the game has had to adapt and change with the times as, although Englishmen’s heads are in bountiful supply, removing them from the Englishmen’s shoulders is usually frowned upon. These days the game of Hand Ba’ in Jedburgh is played with leather balls with ribbons attached to symbolise the hair on the head. If you’d like to witness this game for yourself, the annual game takes place on the Thursday after Shrove Tuesday, which this year is the 2nd of March.