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  • Writer's pictureJeanette Baker

Ciotogs/Left-handed People

Left-handed people, or ciotógs as the Irish call them, comprise about 10% of the world’s population. In medieval society they were considered evil, sinister, carrying the mark of the devil, the left hand of God theory. The inaccurate and antiquated belief that right-handed was better carried us well into the 20th century where left-handed children, particularly in European countries, were ridiculed and considered awkward and slow.

Today we know better. The practice of encouraging left-handers to use their right hands has virtually disappeared. Handedness is determined in the womb, runs in families, cannot be changed and gives children an advantage when it comes to spatial relationships although the tie to mathematics, musical ability and art has not been verified. Due to the fact that most of the world is right-handed, ciotógs have developed their own ways of using right-handed accouterments.

In the days of the sword and shield, left-handed mercenaries called gallowglass were considered more valuable than right-handed ones. The typical castle staircase was built in a spiral clockwise design for the purpose of repelling right-handed invaders giving the defenders an advantage. In Scotland, the Kerr clan circumvented this practice by training all their warriors to fight with their left hands. Whether the Kerr family actually had a predisposition to fight in ciotóg fashion is unknown.

As for my own interest in the subject, I am completely and irrevocably right-handed to the degree that I can’t even pull into a parking space with my non-dominant hand. Left-handed people fascinate me, especially those who have developed their own ways of manipulating right-handed scissors, can openers and screwdrivers. Even more interesting are those from past centuries forced to hide what their world thought of as a disability. One such person was Aoife MacMurrough, princess of Leinster born in 1145.

Creating the personality and appearance of a person who actually lived is always a challenge. History tells us very little about Aoife beyond the years of her birth and death, the name of her father and her marriage to an Englishman. A blank slate is a gift for a historical fiction writer attempting to bring to life a person and the world she lived in. My own attempt to create Aoife MacMurrough begins with her gift for healing and the so-called curse of her left-handed dominance, both fictitious circumstances.

Moving forward with this book has become a challenge. Due to Covid, restricted plane travel, isolation requirements and strict quarantines out of Ireland, my story will have to wait. Meanwhile, there are plenty of left-handed people among my own family and friends. My father was left-handed, as was my late husband, my current husband, my closest friend, my brother-in-law and the newest lefty in the family, my granddaughter.

Interesting new developments pop up frequently from the medical community regarding hand dominance. Apparently, left-handed people recover from strokes more quickly and they manipulate with their right hand much better than right-handers do with their left. This hasn’t actually been verified, however, one claim to fame that I’ve seen first hand. Lefties play a mean game of baseball.

My own little lefty turned 5 yesterday.

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