Kilts? Irish Tartans?
‘ancestor’ of the modern Kilt first appeared in Hibernia (Ireland) … it
was originally the Gaelic-Irish Brat (cloak) ... known as the ‘great
was a full length garment whose upper half could be worn as a cloak draped over
the shoulders, or brought up over head as a cloak. (One of the original ‘manufacturing
businesses’ of pre-Norman Gaelic-Ireland was in exporting these hardy Irish
cloaks all over Europe during the ‘Early Middle Ages’ and the ‘High Middle
title Feileadh Mor refers to the ‘great kilt’. The ‘great kilt’ is an
untailored garment, gathered up into pleats by hand and draped over the wearer,
secured by a wide belt.
word Kilt comes from the Gaelic word meaning to tuck up the clothes
around the body; although the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica
(vol. 15, p. 798) says the word is Scandinavian in origin. The Gaelic
word derives from the Old Norse Kjalta, from the Viking settlers in
Ireland who wore a similar, pleated garment.
was it the Vikings who also brought the early Tartans with them to
‘digs’ in Denmark during the late 18th Century and first half of the 20th
Century have uncovered a number of human bodies buried in peat bogs that have
been remarkably well preserved from the Iron Age period (1200 BC). Some of
these Iron Age bodies were discovered complete with well-preserved and
surprisingly intact clothing of that period.
most complete woman’s costume of Iron Age date that has been preserved came
from Huldre Fen, at Ramten in Djursland, the broad peninsula which
projects east from the mainland of Jutland (in Denmark), and was discovered
Huldre Fen woman wore a lambskin cape next to the skin, and she wore
another over the upper part of her body as an outer garment. A Tartan
skirt was fastened to the body with a leather strap and a head-scarf or
kerchief of the same material, fastened by a bird-bone pin, covered her head
and neck. (The cloth has a neat squared pattern that was obtained by the
alteration of two yarns of different colour: two natural wool colours, a
golden brown and a very dark brown, being used.) A leather strap, four feet
ten inches in length, and a woolen hair-band were packed inside a bladder.
In a pocket was a horn comb of unusual shape probably of the beginning of the
early Iron Age, and so dating the discovery as a whole. Also found were
woolen strings, one plaited from two threads twisted together, the other
drawn through two amber beads.
Clothing from Huldre
woman and the clothing were sent to the National Museum of Denmark for
study. The surviving items of dress are exhibited there now. (On a later occasion
a further garment was recovered from the bog close to the spot where the
woman was found.)
discovery made in June 1942, in peat-cutting at Bred Fen, Storarden
(Arden forest) is from the same district. As often happens in such cases
the local police were first called in, and the body was dug up and laid out
in the nearest barn. It was only later that the local archaeologist, the
curator of the Museum in Aalborg, Peter Riismoller, was told. He vetted the
find at the spot with a meeting with the chief of police and the district
medical officer, and it was subsequently sent for further investigation to
the Danish National Museum.
investigation at the National Museum showed that the dead woman’s hair was of
a darkish blonde colour and of luxuriant growth and plaited into two
pig-tails which were coiled up into a crown on top of the head and bound with
woolen yarn. Over the hair was a skillfully made little bonnet or cap of
wool yarn, held by two fastening-strings. This is made by means of a
special technique known as Sprung (sprang) and is a charming net-like
head covering. Underneath her lay a coarse woolen cloth consisting of two
pieces sewn together; a long piece of cloth of a finer weave, and, at the
head, a decomposed scarf or kerchief.
The Huldre Fen woman’s
dress is far-less well-represented in the Danish bog finds; what there is
seems to give an incomplete picture of it, for it consists of practically
nothing but skin shoulder-capes which could only have covered a very small
area of the upper body. Roman accounts of their military encounters with Germani
warriors describe the universal dress amongst them as a cape fastened by a
brooch (the safety pin of the time) or for those who lacked a brooch, a
the Danes/ Vikings had a form of Tartan cloth long before the Viking Age
in Ireland and ‘Scot-land’ is an historical fact.
question is, to what extent did the Vikings use of Tartan influence
the native Celts of Hibernia (Ireland) and Alba (Scot-land), after Viking
settlements were established in those lands ?
Credit: ‘The Bog People’, P.V. Glob (Danish), Translated
to English by R.L.S. Bruce Mitford
in modern Lowland ‘Scot-land’, * the local woolen-mills have a thriving
export-business selling invented-Tartan all over the world … which is a very
curious turn of events considering that historically, the Lowlanders
of ‘Scot-land’ (the Lowland-North-Britons) never used Tartan or Kilts,
and they actually despised the ‘lawless’ Gaelic-speaking Roman-Catholic
Jacobite “Wild Irish” mountain-men of the ‘Scot-tish’ high-country (the
ancestors of today’s North-Briton ‘lowlanders’ actively participated in
England’s ethnically-cleansing and genocide of the “Wild Irish” of the high-country
* Scoti or Scotti
was a name used by Late Roman authors to describe the Gaels.
An early use of the
word can be found in the Nomina Provinciarum Omnium (Names of All the
Provinces), which dates to about 312 AD. This is a short list of the names
and provinces of the Roman Empire. At the end of this list is a brief list of
tribes deemed to be a growing-threat to the Empire, which included the Scoti.
There is also a reference to the word in St Prosper’s chronicle of 431 AD where
he describes Pope Celestine sending St Palladius to Ireland to preach “ad
Scotti in Christum” (“to the Irish who believed in Christ”). Thereafter,
periodic raids by Scoti are reported by several later 4th and early 5th
century Latin writers, namely Pacatus, Ammianus Marcellinus, Claudian,
and the Chronica Gallica of 452 AD. Two references to Scoti
have been identified in Greek literature (as Σκόττοι), in the
works of Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, writing in the 370s. The
fragmentary evidence suggests an intensification of Scoti raiding from
the early 360s, culminating in the so-called ‘barbarian conspiracy’ of 367-8,
and continuing up to and beyond the end of Roman rule c.410. The location and
frequency of attacks by Scoti remain unclear, as do the origin and
identity of the Gaelic population-groups who participated in these raids. By
the 5th century AD, the Gaelic-Irish kingdom of Dál Riata had emerged on the
west coast of Scotland. As this Gaelic-Irish kingdom grew in size and
influence, the name was applied to all its subjects – hence the modern terms Scot,
Scottish and Scotland.
Satellite image of Alba
(‘Scot-land’) and Hibernia (Ireland),
showing the approximate
area of Dál Riata (shaded)
the Middle Ages*, the common clothing amongst the Gaelic-Irish consisted of a Brat
cloak) worn over a Léine (a loose-fitting, long-sleeved tunic made of
wool or linen).
Middle Ages, or Medieval period, lasted from the 5th to the 15th
century AD. It began with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and merged
into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle
period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: Antiquity;
Medieval period; and Modern period. The Medieval period
is itself subdivided into the Early, the High, and the Late
Modern Ireland still
exports a high-fashion version of the ancient Gaelic Brat
not just to Europe, but
now worldwide …
as per the above ladies’
high-fashion Irish Wool & Cashmere Cape
men, the Léine went down to the thighs or knees; and for women they
were longer. Men sometimes wore tight-fitting ‘truis’ on the legs, but
otherwise went bare-legged.
Brat was usually fastened with a Crios (belt) and Dealg
(brooch), with men usually wearing the Dealg at their shoulders and
women at their chests.
the Ionar (a short, tight-fitting jacket) became popular.
Brat being worn
over a Léine
Ionar being worn
over a Léine
Front figure: Ionar
being worn over a Léine
Rear figure: Brat
being worn over a Léine
Topographia Hibernica, * written during the 1180s, Gerald de Barri wrote
that the Irish commonly wore hoods at that time (perhaps forming part of the Brat),
while Edmund Spenser wrote in the 1580s that the Brat was (in general)
their main item of clothing. However, it is uncertain if Medieval Irish
clothing fashions were influenced by other cultures they came in contact with,
such as the Angles, the Viking-Norse, or the Romans.
discovery of the bog-body in Gallagh indicates that during the Iron Age,
wearing of animal skins was common. According to Gerald de Barri, most of the
Irish he saw wore clothes made of black-wool, apparently because most of the
sheep in Ireland were black at that time. The number of colours worn came to
be a token the rank or wealth of the wearer; the wealthy often wore cloth of
many colours while the poor only wore cloth of one colour.
* Topographia Hibernica (English: ‘Topography of Ireland’), also known as Topographia Hiberniae, is an
account of the landscape and people of Ireland written by Gerald
of Wales around 1188 AD, soon after the Norman invasion of Ireland. It was the longest and most influential literary work
regarding Ireland that was circulating in the Middle Ages,
and its direct influence endured into
the Early Modern period.
An Irish kingship ritual, from British Library Royal MS 13
B VIII, c. 1220
Topographia Hibernica is generally acknowledged to have played a key role in
shaping English anti-Irish ‘colonial attitudes’. Gerald’s depiction of the
Irish as savage and primitive was challenged and refuted by a number of Irish
writers from earlier eras. The seventeenth century saw the production of
several prominent attacks on Gerald including Cambrensis
Eversus (1662) by John
works by Geoffrey Keating, Philip
O’Sullivan Beare, and Stephen White.
women invariably grew their hair long and, as in other European cultures, this
custom was also common among the Irish men. The Gaelic-Irish took great pride
in their long hair — for example, a person could be forced to pay the heavy
fine of two cows for shaving a man’s head against his will. For women, very
long hair was seen as a mark of beauty. Sometimes, both men and women would
braid their hair and fasten hollow golden-balls to the braids. Another hair-style
that was popular among some medieval Gaelic men was the Glib (short all
over except for a long, thick lock of hair towards the front of the head). A
band or ribbon around the forehead was the typical way of holding one’s hair in
place. For the wealthy, this band was often a thin and bendy strip/ribbon of
burnished gold, silver or Findrinny. When the Anglo-Normans and the
English colonised Ireland, hair-length came to signify one’s allegiances. Irishmen
who cut their hair short were deemed to be forsaking their Irish heritage. Likewise,
English colonists who grew their hair long at the back were deemed to be ‘going
native’ and assimilating with the Gaelic-Irish.
men typically let their facial hair grow into a beard and mustache, and it was
often seen as dishonourable for a Gaelic man to have no facial hair. Beard
styles varied – the long forked beard and the rectangular Mesopotamian-style
beard were fashionable at times.
the course of the 16th century, with the increasing availability of wool, the
cloak had grown to such a size that it began to be gathered up and belted.
The belted cloak was originally a length of thick woolen cloth made up from two
loom widths sewn together to give a total width of 54 to 60 inches, and up
to 7 yards (6.4 metres) in length. This garment, also known as the ‘great
kilt’, was gathered up into pleats by hand and secured by a wide belt. The
upper-half could be worn as a cloak draped over the shoulder, hung down over
the belt and gathered up at the front, or brought up over the shoulders or head
for protection against weather. It was worn over a Léine (a
full-sleeved garment stopping below the waist) and could also serve as a
description from 1746 states:
garb is certainly very loose, and fits men inured to it to go through great
fatigues, to make very quick marches, to bear out against the inclemency of the
weather, to wade through rivers, and shelter in huts, woods, and rocks upon
occasion; which men dressed in the low country garb could not possibly
battle it was customary to take off the ‘kilt’ beforehand and set it aside, as the
“Wild Irish Charge” (known in Lowland north-Brit ‘Scot-land’ today, as the ‘Highland
Charge’) was made while wearing only the Léine or ‘war shirt’.
Alastair Mac Colla has been credited with inventing the tactic of
the ‘Highland charge’ during the English Civil Wars in Ireland and ‘Scot-land’
... although at that time in history, it was universally known as the “Irish
charge” ... Mac Colla’s tactic was for his Irish soldiers to run at enemy
infantry, fire a volley from muskets into the enemy at close range, and then
close-with the enemy for hand-to-hand combat. This proved remarkably
effective in both Ireland and ‘Scot-land’, due to the musket’s slow reloading
time and to the poor discipline and training of many of the enemy troops Mac
Colla’s Irishmen faced.
Colla was born into Clan Donald, on the Inner Hebridean Isle of Colonsay during
the early seventeenth century. His early life encompassed both Gaelic-Ireland
and the Gaelic-Western-Highlands of ‘Scot-land’ ... as MacDonald territory
encompased both countries. Like his father, Colla, Alasdair Mac Colla (“son
of Colla”) made his name as a soldier, being particularly noted for his use of
a Gaelic broadsword called the Claymore. In his young days, he saw
fighting against the Campbell clan, with whom the MacDonalds had a long running
feud over territory and power. This enmity was deepened by religious
factors. The Campbells were Presbyterians, whereas the MacDonalds, among whom
a Franciscan mission had settled, were Catholics.
Engraving of a Claymore broadsword and armour, at Dunvegan
a ruined MacDonald
castle on the Isle of Skye
MacDonald castle on the Isle of Arran
was selected by the Supreme Council of Catholic Confederate Ireland to lead an
expedition to ‘Scot-land’ to aid the Royalists there in their war against the Lowland
Covenanters *. He was given a command of 2,000 Irish professional
* The Covenanters were a north-Briton
Lowland Presbyterian movement during the 17th century in ‘Scot-land’. The Covenanters
derived their name from the term covenant, after the covenant sworn by
Israel in the Old Testament. There were two important covenants in Scottish
history, the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant.
Irish professionals, in
in ‘Scot-land’, Mac Colla linked up with the Royalist leader, James Graham, 1st
Marquess of Montrose. Mac Colla was also able to raise men among his
MacDonald clansmen of the Western Isles, and fro other anti-Campbell clans.
In the subsequent ‘Scot-tish’ Civil War, Mac Colla and Montrose won a series of
victories at the battles of Tippermuir, Aberdeen, Inverlochy, Auldearn, Alford and
Kilsyth, Montrose conferred knighthood on Mac Colla. Mac Colla also took the
opportunity to pillage the Campbell lands, killing all the men he could find
there. In an alleged incident in Argyllshire, Mac Colla is said to have
burned down a building full of Campbell women and children, it becoming known
as the “Barn of Bones”.
Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll
(does he look a little dour/‘sour’ ?)
The on-going significant loyalty and support
that Lowland Campbell Covenanters
gave to the English government brought the Campbells big rewards: in 1607
Arhibald Campbell, 7th Earl of Argyll was granted the former MacDonald lands of
Kintyre, and in 1615 Campbell of Cawdor was allowed to purchase the Isle of Islay which had previously belonged to the
Macleans of Duart.
At the Battle
of Inverlochy (1645), the Lowland Argyll Covenanter forces of
Clan Campbell led by Archibald
Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll were
defeated by the Royalist forces of James
Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose …
Montrose’s victorious Royalist army was built around a hard-core of Irish professional soldiers commanded by Alastair
Mac Colla, as well as ‘irregulars’ (often unreliable) from Clan
MacDonald, Clan MacLean, as well as other MacDonald allies from
Ireland (the O’Donnells, the MacDonnells, etc).
Inverlochy Castle, showing ‘Ben Nevis’ mountain in the
Ionar being worn
over a Léine
illustration of the
‘costume’ of the “Wild Irish” of the Scottish Highlands,
prior to the
introduction of the English military ‘small-kilt’
In the wake of the Battle of Inverlochy the Clan Lamont * took the opportunity to
raid the Campbell lands. However
in 1646 the Clan Campbell responded and massacred the Clan Lamont in what
became known as the ‘Dunoon
Lamont is said to descend from Ánrothán Ua
Néill, an Irish prince of the O’Neill
dynasty. As a part of this lineage, the clan claims descent from the
legendary Niall Noígíallach, High King of Ireland. Clan Ewen of Otter, Clan MacNeil of Barra, Clan MacLachlan, and Clan Sweeney are also descendants of Anrothan, and
thus are kin to Clan Lamont. Lamont and their associated
kinsmen are thus descendants of the
legendary Irish hero, Conn Cétchathach.
“Irish charge” was a tactic where the Irish troops
would line up across from the north-Briton Covenanters (Lowland
Presbyterians), and then both sides would fire a volley of musket rounds at
each other in the true fashion of early modern warfare.
But, when the Covenanters went to reload their muskets (a
process that could take anywhere from 20 to 40 seconds depending on how skilled
the musketeer is) the Irish would drop their guns, unsheathe their swords, and
run full-speed at the enemy, to get at them, and butcher them, before they
could get their weapons reloaded.
This tactic proved to be very effective. In one of his first
battles alongside Lord Montrose, Mac Colla didn’t have enough muskets to
provide for all of his Irish troops, so he had the Irishmen without uskets charge
the Covenanter enemy, armed only with large rocks and swords – when the
Irish smashed into the enemy lines, they brained the first Covenanter
they could find with the rock, then they took their victim’s weapon and used it
against the other Covenanters for the rest of the battle. Using this
tactic of fear, terror, and blunt-force trauma, Mac Colla’s 2,000 Irishmen
routed and annihilated a Covenanter force that outnumbered them three-to-one.
At the Battle of Kilsyth he charged uphill against orders,
and ended-up breaking the enemy formation with a perfectly-timed “Irish
At Auldearn, a unit of 500 of MacColla’s Irishmen were
surprise-attacked by a coordinated assault from four full regiments of Covenanter
musketeers … but Mac Colla’s Irish somehow managed to hold-off the Covenanter
attack long enough for Montrose’s Royalist cavalry to get around the flank
and break the Covenanter formation.
It was during this campaign that Alasdair Mac Colla and Clan
MacDonald eventually completed their vengeance on the Campbells – an act they
accomplished while fighting with Montrose at the Battle of Inverlochy in
1645. Mac Colla marched through a dense bog to flank the enemy castle, then
charged straight into the Covenanter formation, crushing them … and then
capturing the ancestral castle of Clan Campbell.
Mac Colla was knighted by Montrose in 1645 (making him SIR
Alasdair), but these ‘happy times’ wouldn’t last forever. Even though things
were going well in ‘Scot-land’, the situation back in England was a different
story. Oliver Cromwell had defeated King Charles’ Royalist forces, and the
King issued an order for Montrose and all Royalists to lay down their arms and
return to England.
Mac Colla and his Irish refused.
Colla and Montrose parted company because Mac Colla’s priorities lay in the Gaelic-Western-Highlands
… whereas Montrose wanted to secure the Lowlands, and ultimately England, for
the Royalist cause. As a result, both of them were defeated separately by the
Covenanters during 1646.
Colla’s father, who was a prisoner of the Campbells, was murdered in
retaliation for his son’s atrocities in the Campbell country.
Colla himself retreated to Kintyre, and then to Ireland with his family … where
he re-joined the Irish Catholic Confederates in 1647.
troops, (both Irish survivors of the 1644 expedition and some “Wild Irish” from
the ‘Scot-tish’ Highlands) were split-up and assigned to the Leinster and Munster
Irish armies, with Mac Colla attached to the latter.
Colla’s men were mostly killed in the Irish Catholic Confederate defeats at the
Battle of Dungan’s Hill * in County Meath, and then at the Battle of Knocknanauss
** in County Cork.
Mac Colla himself was killed by English Parliamentarian soldiers at
Knocknanauss … after he had been taken prisoner by the English.
Colla’s Irish, fighting in ‘Scot-land’ for the Royalists, against the Lowland
Covenanters (Presbyterians) and Cromwell’s English Protestant ‘Roundheads’
* The Battle
of Dungan’s Hill took place
Meath, in eastern Ireland in August 1647. It was
fought between the armies of Catholic Confederate Ireland and the Protestant
English Parliament during ‘the Wars of the Three Kingdoms’. The English Parliamentarian victory there destroyed
the Irish Confederate forces’ Leinster army and contributed to the collapse of
the Irish Catholic Confederate cause and to the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649.
1647, fresh from its victory of the Royalist ‘Cavaliers’ in the English Civil
War, the Westminster Parliament turned its attention to the re-conquest of
Ireland which had been in rebellion since 1641, and which was under the control
of either Irish or Royalist rebels, in different areas of the country.
contingents of the England’s ‘New Model Army’ landed in Ireland under the
command of Colonel Michael Jones. Lenient terms were offered to the Anglo-Irish
Marquis of Ormond for the surrender of Dublin and the city was handed over to Colonel
Jones on 19th June.
At the beginning of August 1647, Jones left Dublin with 4,000 English Infantry
and 800 Cavalry to raise the siege of Trim.
Catholic Confederate Leinster army under General Preston, besieging the town of
Trim, lifted their siege and withdrew across the River Boyne, apparently
intending to march on Dublin. Preston’s Irish force had a strength of 7,000
foot (infantry), 1,000 horse (cavalry) and four pieces of artillery. Preston’s
Irish made slow progress, and had advanced no more than ten miles south of Trim
when they met Colonel Jones’ men, who had been joined on the march by English government
troops from Drogheda and Dundalk, bringing Jones’ English army up to around
5,000 foot (infantry), 1,500 horse (cavalry) and two field guns (artillery).
On the 8th of August, Preston took up a strong defensive position on
Dungan’s Hill near the modern village of Summerhill in County Meath. He
deployed his Irish cavalry along a narrow lane to the right of the main body of
his infantry, apparently intending to charge the English Parliamentarians as
they formed up at the bottom of the hill where the lane opened out into fields.
A reserve of seven troops of Irish horse (cavalry) was posted behind the Irish
infantry, which stood in a large cornfield protected by ridges and embankments.
On the left of the regular Irish infantry was a force of 800 Gaelic-Scots (Catholics),
known as ‘Redshanks’, with skirmishers posted in front of the infantry lines.
the left, the Irish Catholic Confederate flank was protected by a bog.
When Colonel Jones approached the Irish Catholic Confederate position at about
10 am, he ordered his English cavalry to attack immediately, without waiting
for the English infantry to deploy.
cavalry reached the opening of the lane first, trapping the Irish Catholic Confederate
cavalry on Preston’s right flank.
suffering significant casualties, the Confederate cavalry broke through the
hedgerow to escape to the comparative safety of the cornfield, but as they did
so, they disrupted the formations of Irish Catholic Confederate infantry in the
In the ensuing
panic, the Irish cavalry was unable to regroup and the reserve fled in
routing of his Irish cavalry, Preston was forced onto the defensive.
As the English
Parliamentarian infantry advanced, the ‘Redshanks’ charged downhill. They
were beaten off but regrouped and made two more desperate charges.
discernible movement among the main body of Irish Catholic Confederate
infantry, Jones concentrated his attack on the ‘Redshanks’, who broke through
the ranks of the advancing English Parliamentarians and made their escape into
the bog on the Confederate left flank.
holding off several English Parliamentarian assaults, the Confederate infantry
began to break formation and attempted to follow the ‘Red Skanks’ by escaping
into the bog.
With no Irish
cavalry to challenge them, and with the Confederate infantry in full flight,
Jones’ English horse (cavalry) was able to ride-down the fleeing Irishmen. English
Parliamentarian losses were light but at least 3,000 Irish Catholic Confederates
were killed in the battle and ensuing pursuit.
spelled the end of the Irish Catholic Confederate Leinster army.
The Irish Confederate
Supreme Council ordered Owen Roe O’Neill to deploy his men from the province of
Connacht to recover the province of Leinster. However, O’Neill’s troops
mutinied due to lack of pay.
By the time
order was restored amongst O’Neill’s troops, Colonel Jones (together with Monck,
whose English troops were deploying from Ulster) had consolidated the English Parliament’s
hold on the province of Leinster by capturing and garrisoning strategic strong-points
around Dublin and in northern Leinster.
November, O’Neill advanced with 8,000 Irishmen to within ten miles of Dublin,
but heavy rains had turned the roads to mud, making it impossible for him to
bring artillery to recover the lost positions. He was then forced to withdraw
when his supplies ran out.
** The Battle of Knocknanauss was fought near Mallow, County Cork in November 1647, between Catholic Confederate
Ireland’s Munster army and an English Parliamentarian army under Murrough O’Brien. The battle resulted in a
crushing defeat for the Irish Confederates. In the
summer of 1647, Murrough O’Brien (later created the Earl of Inchiquin), commander of the
English Parliamentarian forces in County
Cork, ravaged and burned the Irish Confederate territory in Munster. This caused severe food
shortages and earned O’Brien the Irish nickname, Murchadh an dTóiteán (“Murrough the burner”). In
addition, the O’Brien earl of Inchiquinn captured the ‘Rock of Cashel’, which was garrisoned
by Irish Confederate troops but was also rich in emotive religious symbolism. During
the sack of the castle, O’Brien’s
troops massacred the Irish Catholic garrison and also all the Catholic clergy
they found there.
The Rock of Cashel
sacked by English Parliamentarian
troops before the battle of Knocknanauss
The Confederate Supreme Council replaced Donagh MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry,
as commander of the Munster army with Viscount
Taaffe, and ordered Taaffe to
bring O’Brien to battle.
Taaffe was an English-Catholic and
not an experienced soldier. The battle that followed was essentially an
uncoordinated rout of the Irish forces.
Taafe positioned his men on either side of a
hill, so that they could not see one another. The result was that one wing of
the Irish Confederate army had no idea of what the other wing was doing.
MacColla’s Irish charged the Parliamentarians
opposite them putting them to flight and killing a large number of them. Thinking
the battle was over, they then took to looting the English baggage train.
However, on the other wing, O’Brien’s Parliamentary
cavalry had charged, and the Irish had retreated … many of them being cut down
by the pursuing English ‘roundheads’. This pursuit continued for miles and
not only resulted in heavy casualties among the Irish, but also in the loss of
most of their equipment and supplies.
The Earl of Inchiquin (O’Brien) lost several
senior officers, including the Judge-Advocate, Sir Robert Travers.
Mac Colla and his men surrendered when they
realised what had happened, but were subsequently killed by their captors.
Around 3,000 Irish Confederates died at
Knocknanauss, and up to 1,000 English Parliamentarians.
The carnage did not stop after the fighting
The next day a couple of hundred Irish
soldiers were found sheltering in a nearby wood. These were promptly ‘put to
exact age of the ‘great kilt’ is still under debate. Earlier carvings or
illustrations prior to the 16th century, which appear to show the Kilt
may in fact show the léine croich … a knee-length shirt of leather, linen
or canvas, heavily pleated and sometimes quilted as protection. The earliest
written source that definitely describes the ‘great kilt’ comes from 1594.
letter, published in the Edinburgh Magazine in March 1785, by one Ivan
Baillie argued that the garment people would today recognize as a Kilt was
invented around the 1720s by Thomas Rawlinson, a Quaker from Lancashire
the Jacobite campaign of 1715 the English government was ‘opening’ the
Highlands to outside exploitation, and Rawlinson was one of the businessmen who
took advantage of the situation
was claimed to have designed it for the ‘Highlanders’ (Wild Irish) who
worked in his new charcoal-production facility in the woods of northern ‘Scot-land’.
was thought that the traditional ‘great kilt’ (the large Irish Brat/cloak),
the “belted plaid”, was inconvenient for tree-cutters. Rawlinson brought the ‘Highland’
(Wild Irish) garment to a tailor, intent on making it more practical. The
tailor responded by cutting it in two. Rawlinson took this back and then
introduced the new kilt.
liked the new creation so much that he began to wear it as well … and he was
soon imitated by his ‘Scot-tish’ colleagues, including the ‘colourful’ and
controversial Chieftain of Clan MacDonnell of Glengarry.
Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry
(dressed in the
English-invented ‘small-kilt’ and military-style accessories)
15 September 1773 – 17
1788, Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell became the 15th chief of Clan MacDonell of Glengarry,
inheriting huge estates from Glengarry in the Great Glen, to Knoydart on the
Atlantic. MacDonell was also the personality well-known to popular novelist
Sir Walter Scott. MacDonell was a haughty and flamboyant man whose character
and behaviour gave Scott the model for the Highland (Wild Irish) clan
chieftain ‘Fergus Mac-Ivor’ in the pioneering historical novel ‘Waverley’ of
1810. As was customary for a landed proprietor in Scotland, he was often
called simply ‘Glengarry’ after the name of his principal estate.
February 1793, after war with France had begun, Macdonell was commissioned by
the English as a Captain to recruit a company of the ‘Strathspey Fencibles’ …
which was a home defence regiment raised by Sir James Grant, a kinsman.
August 1794, Macdonell was given a colonel’s commission to raise the ‘Glengarry
Fencibles’ regiment ... his new recruits being drawn from the Glengarry
estates, under threat of eviction if ‘persuasion’ did not work. ‘Glengarry’
commanded his regiment in the Guernsey Island English Channel garrison until
August 1796, when he resigned.
hope of a career as a regular officer in the British Army had been undermined
by his commander-in-chief, the Duke of York, perhaps due to concerns about his
part of his regiment’s uniform, Macdonell invented (or adopted) the Glengarry,
a type of cap which he is wearing in his portrait (above).
‘Glengarry Fencibles’ were disbanded in 1802, and Macdonell failed to honour a
pledge to find land for the men. This resulted in a mass emigration to ‘British
North America’ (Canada) led by Rev. Father Alexander Macdonell, the regimental
considered himself the last genuine specimen of a ‘Highland’ (Wild Irish)
chief; he always wore the ‘Highland’ dress (kilt or trews) and
seldom travelled without being followed by his ‘tail’ of armed-servants in full
‘Highland’ dress who had traditional duties such as carrying his sword and
shield, standing sentinel, acting as bard, and carrying him dry across streams.
was a member of the ‘Highland Society’ and the ‘Celtic Society of Edinburgh’,
and in June 1815 formed his own ‘Society of True Highlanders’, subsequently
leaving the ‘Celtic Society’ and complaining that “their general appearance is
assumed and fictitious, and they have no right to burlesque the national
character or dress of the Highlands”.
mortification at the acceptance of Lowlanders became a bitter complaint about
the prominent role the ‘Celtic Society’ had in the visit of King George IV to
Scotland. Macdonell made several unauthorised and flamboyant appearances
during the Royal Visit, to the annoyance of his friend Sir Walter Scott and the
other organisers of the Royal Visit, but causing no more than mild amusement to
the King of England.
1824 ‘Glengarry’ unsuccessfully attempted to wrest the chiefship of Clan Donald
from Ranald George Macdonald by bringing an action in the Court of Session.
Sir Walter Scott wrote of ‘Glengarry’ in his misleading hagiography “he is a
kind of Quixote in our age, having retained, in their full extent, the whole
feelings of clanship and chieftainship, elsewhere so long abandoned”, under Macdonell’s
orders forests were felled for sale; the cleared-land was then leased to
sheep-farmers, and most of his own clansmen were forced from their ancestral
land by increasing rents and evictions. Macdonell continued the evictions to
make way for sheep-farmers, which his mother began when his father was
chieftain, and most of his clan was forced to emigrate to British North America
(Canada), as part of what was later known as ‘the Highland Clearances’. Robert
Burns wrote a satirical poem about ‘Glengarry’ in the Address of Beelzebub.
development of the ‘small kilt’ by Thomas Rawlinson, an English Quaker from Lancashire
(England), served to speed the donning of the Kilt and was subsequently brought
into use by the early so-called ‘Highland’ regiments serving in the English
1725, following the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, General George Wade was
authorised by England’s German King George II to form six ‘watch’ companies to suppress
the Wild Irish of the Highlands of Scotland.
soldier of a ‘Highland’
company, circa 1740
note the ‘small kilt’ plus
the large blanket-like piece of fabric worn on the shoulder
early ‘Highland’ units were composed of ‘Lowlanders’ who had a long history of
conflict with, and loathing for, the “Wild Irish” of the ‘Highlands’. These ‘Lowlanders’,
dressed in an invented ‘Highlander’ costume, were to be employed in disarming
the Wild Irish Highlanders, preventing depredations, bringing criminals
to justice, and hindering rebels and attainted persons from inhabiting that
part of the kingdom.
tailored military (small) Kilt, and its formalised ‘military accessories’,
then passed to the civilian market during the early 19th century ... and has
remained popular ever since.
English-invented ‘small kilt’ became identified with the whole of ‘Scot-land’ during
the pageantry of the visit of England’s German King George IV to ‘Scot-land’ in
1822 ... even though 9 out of 10 ‘Scots’ by then lived in the ‘Lowlands’.
Walter Scott and the Highland societies organised a ‘gathering of the
Gael’ and invented entirely new Scot-tish ‘traditions’ ... these newly
invented ‘traditions’ included ‘Lowlanders’ wearing a stylised version of
the traditional garment of the ‘Highlanders’ (Wild Irish). At this
time many other traditions such as ‘clan identification by tartan’ were invented
(prior to this, Tartans were just local ‘fashion’ and not specific to anything).
that point, the Kilt gathered momentum as an emblem of ‘Scot-tish’
culture as identified by “antiquarians, romantics, and others, who spent much
effort praising the ‘ancient’ and natural qualities of the kilt” (more invented
George IV had appeared in a spectacular ‘kilt’, and his successor Queen Victoria
dressed her boys in the Kilt, widening its appeal even further.
flattering ‘Scottish’ portrait of England’s German King George IV, with
lighting chosen to tone down the brightness of his kilt and his knees shown
bare, without the pink tights he actually wore with his kilt.
circa 1895: Queen
Victoria with her family
left to right: Princess Helena Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein; Prince Henry
of Battenberg; Count Arthur Mensdorff-Pouilly; Beatrice, Princess Henry of
Battenberg; George, Duke of York
seated left to right: Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg; Queen
Victoria; Victoria Mary, Duchess of York holding Prince Edward of York; Prince
Arthur of Connaught (hand on chin); and Prince Alexander of Battenberg.
Prince Albert (later
King George VI); Prince Henry (later Duke of Gloucester); and the Prince of
Wales (later Duke of Windsor)
Kerns (light infantry) of Gaelic-Ireland wore the long Léine, or
“saffron shirt”, which may have had connections with the predecessor of the ‘modern’
(English-invented) military small-Kilt.
note the Glib hair-fringe
covering the forehead of the Irish Kern (left)
THE EARLY IRISH LÉINE
There is no better way to introduce the early Léine than
with McClintock’s opening paragraph:
“As a starting point I cannot do better than take a passage from
Professor Macalister’s Muiredach Abbot of Monasterboice, in which he
says . . . that in ancient times the two main garments worn by persons of
importance in Ireland were a long close-fitting smock, for which the Irish word
was Léine, and an outer mantle thrown over it which in Gaelic-Irish was
called Brat. He illustrates this by a quotation from one of the
early romances relating to pre-Christian times, “The Wooing of Ferb,” and adds
that the general-details of this dress lasted right down to the 16th century,
instancing Dürer’s drawing of “Irish soldiers and poor men” painted in 1521.
Durer’s famous illustration of Irish soldiers, 1521 AD
This basic mode of Irish clothing can be attested to by the stone-carvings
found on the Cross of Muiredach. In a carving of three men, the Léine
can be seen as a long tunic with a narrow skirt, and a band of what appears to
be embroidery or embroidered trim around the bottom. The central figure
appears to be a man of some importance, and is wearing his Léine full
length to his ankles. McClintock notes that men in action are often
shown with the Léine pulled up around their thighs. In another
carving on the cross, a priest is shown in a long Léine with a decorated
hem, and a warrior with a belt worn outside his Léine, which is drawn up
to his knees. On a third carving on the same cross, Cain and Abel are
depicted as wearing some sort of loin-cloth.
McClintock suggests, due to the embroidered hem as seen on the Léinte
above, that these are also Léine, the upper part of which has been cast
off. The first figure mentioned seems to suggest a neck opening large
enough to allow this.
High Cross of
Muiredach, Monasterboice, Ireland, 923 AD
The Book of Kells, written no earlier than 800 AD, is
another source of information for Gealic-Irish clothing, but it has to be used
with caution as most of the human figures pictured are very stylized.
Many do show the Léine, however, in the form that we expect it.
The Book of Kells pictures are clearer than the stone
carvings and show that the Léine definitely did not open down the front
and was instead put on over the head like a smock. In the Book of
Kells illustrations, the opening at the neck is rather high with a shallow ‘V’
shape. The sleeves are all of normal width.
There is a ‘consensus’ amongst scholars that, during the 10th
century and before, the Léine was a garment of the Gaelic aristocracy
and of those in Gaelic society who exercised authority. During that period,
there was another form of dress, that of the tight fitting ‘trews’, worn with a
jacket. However, there are no historical illustrations of the Léine
and ‘trews’ being worn together. One theory put forth that has met with
some acceptance is that the ‘trews’, which are similar to other northern
European garments, belonged to the original native-Irish. When the
conquering Gaels came to Ireland sometime before 300 BC, they brought with them
their looser-fitting garment, the Léine or tunic. The Gaels
conquered and ruled over the indigenous native-Irish much the same way the
Normans ruled over the Anglo-Saxons. Even though the conquered native-Irish
eventually spoke the Gaelic language and called themselves by the same name, it
was the upper-class Gaels who wore the Léine while the common native-Irish
retained the native-garb.
THE LÉINE IN 16TH CENTURY IRELAND
English writers of the 16th century commonly refer to the pleated
saffron shirt, and there is much contemporary Irish evidence to support
this. However, the earliest drawing of Irishmen from the 16th century is
not Irish, but was done by a German artist named Dürer in 1521 (see below).
His picture is of five Irish soldiers presumably met on a stay in the Low
Countries (Holland). One is wearing an ‘acton’ (Cotun in Irish-Gaelic)
but the other four are dressed in long tunics that reach midway between the
ankle and knees. (McClintock notes how similar these tunics appear to
the ones of the 10th and 11th centuries detailed above, with the exception that
at least two are open in the front like a dressing gown.)
Durer’s famous illustration of Irish soldiers from 1521 AD
A woodcut from around 1550, showing Irish soldiers all wearing
long tunics with very wide, hanging sleeves, and short jackets called Ionar.
In this illustration the Léine are definitely closed in the front and
must be pulled over the head like a smock. They are belted at the waist
and then drawn up so that the hem is about the knees and the slack hangs in
what McClintock calls “a bag-like mass” around their waist. He also
suggests that this was used as a pocket. The sleeves are narrow at the
body and wide at the wrist. McClintock draws similarity between these and
the wide sleeves of 15th century English clothing, from which he suggests the
Irish may have adopted this fashion.
This garment is more or less identical to one pictured in a
water-color painting found in a Dutch book from 1574 entitled Corte
beschryvinghe van Engeland, Scotland ende Ireland. The man in this picture
is wearing the same garment in the same manner with the added benefit that we
can plainly see the yellow-colouring of the saffron dye.
interesting 16th century source, The Image of Irelande,
with a Discoverie of Woodkarne, was written and illustrated
by an Englishman, John Derricke, during 1581. This book is dedicated
to Sir Philip Sidney (an English poet, courtier, and soldier, who is
remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the ‘Elizabethan Age’). It
praises the brutal and violent rule of Ireland by Philip’s father, Sir Henry
Sidney (England’s Lord-Deputy of Ireland), and it glorifies English military victories
over the Gaelic-Irish. In 1578, Sir Sydney left Ireland and returned to permanently
reside in England. From his position on the Royal
‘Privy Council’ at London, Sir Sidney used his influence in the bloody-suppression
of the Second Desmond Rebellion,
which led to great loss of life throughout the Irish Province of Munster during
the period 1579 – 1583, and ultimately to the ‘plantation’
(colonization) of the province of Munster with Protestant English settler and
Sir Henry Sidney (1529 – 5 May 1586) Sir Philip
Sidney (1554 – 1586)
The Image of Irelande, with a Discoverie of Woodkarne opens with
a poetic history of Ireland and its wars with the English, presenting reasons
for English-rule in Ireland. This proceeds to a set of twelve woodcut
illustrations interspersed with verse narration, describing Sir Henry Sidney’s
victories over Irish rebels and denigrating Irish culture. The book ends with
the surrender of Turlough Luineach Ó Neill, King of Tyrone, in 1578. There is
only one complete version extant, at the Edinburgh University Library. A copy
was produced and edited by the university librarian in 1883.
The most famous plate
of the The Image of Ireland set shows the chief of the Mac Sweynes
seated at dinner and being entertained by a bard and a harper
The Léinte illustrated above has the wide, hanging sleeves
but are open in the front and wrap around the body like a Japanese kimono or a
modern bathrobe. The skirts of the Léine are shorter, only midway
between the hip and knee, and appear pleated.
These are the only illustrations showing the Léine with a
pleated skirt; but English sources often speak of the Irish shirts as being
pleated, so it is likely the ‘pleated skirt’ was not rare in Ireland at that
Of the Léinte, Derricke writes:
“Their shirtes be verie straunge, Not reaching
paste the thie: With pleates on pleates thei pleated are as thick as pleates
may lye. Whose sleves hang trailing doune almost unto the Shoe: and with a
Mantell commonlie; The Irish Karne doe goe.”
An Irish Karne
(‘Kern’), light-infantry soldier, holding a battle-axe, hands a spear to an
Irish chieftain in full dress, with a page holding the chieftain’s horse.
In one of the illustrations in The Image of Ireland
shows a woman wearing a tunic with very wide sleeves that is no doubt a Léine,
except this garment has longer skirts than that of the men, reaching to
mid-calf … which confirms that Gaelic women shared this garment with their men-folk.
McClintock sites a book entitled De rebus in Hibernia gestis as
describing Irish women as “wrapped in a tunic reaching to the ankles, often
saffron coloured, and long-sleeved.”
An armed company of the
Kerne, carrying halberds and pikes and led by a piper, attack and burn a
farmhouse and drive off the horses and cattle.
Another of Derricke’s illustrations from The Image of
Ireland, which is of significant interest is the central image of the
seventh plate, and shows a Gaelic-Irish messenger (below). He is very well
drawn; his legs are obviously bare, and the skirts of his Léine are not
nearly as full or elaborate as the others seen in this book. The
assumption is that because he is a messenger, and therefore a professional
runner, that he travels light.
The English army is
drawn up for battle, while Sir Sidney parleys with a defiant messenger from the
McClintock also cites various English descriptions of the Irish clothing,
all of which confirm some or all of the descriptions detailed above. From
these sources it is clear the Léine began life as a relatively simple
tunic, reaching to the ankles, open at the neck and put on over the head.
The sleeves were of a normal width. By 1521 the beginnings of the
open-front Léine are emerging, although the closed front type is still
seen. The very wide and hanging sleeves that are usually associated with
the Léine, began to appear towards the middle of the century. These
sleeves are very similar to English and European sleeves of the 15th century,
and McClintock suggests that they may in fact date from as early as then.
In the latter part of the 16th century, the Léine is observed to be open
in front with the sides wrapped around, full sleeved, with a heavily pleated
skirt coming down to the mid thigh. This later style of the Léine,
as illustrated detailed above, was almost exclusively worn with a jacket (Ionar)
and ‘trews’. How the pleats were tailored is not known, but
McClintock suggests the use of many gores sewn together, and records of the
time indicate that often 20 or 30 ells (yards) were used in a single Léine
(this yardage would have been about 25 inches wide). McClintock makes no
mention of the Léine in any of his sources after 1600.
A few notes about the material the Léinte were most likely
Although early sources such as the Táin Bó Cúalgne mention
silk being used as a material for tunics, and in a variety of colours, all of the
16th century sources mention linen and no other material. According to
McClintock, this was probably a strong, thick, hand-woven linen. Also, during
the 16th century, the only colour mentioned is saffron or yellow. (Note:
many sources say simply that the shirts were “often” or “generally” dyed with
saffron, and many others do not mention colour at all; leaving open the
possibility of other colours, but it cannot be doubted that saffron was the
With regard to saffron; it was apparently so much in use that
local supplies were not sufficient to meet demand, and it was also imported
from abroad. McClintock finds it among the exports to Ireland in the
Bristol books of 1504 and 1518, and in lesser quantities during 1586 and
1591. The dye of the saffron plant, which was grown in large quantities
all over Ireland and was much more in use in the 16th century than it is today,
produced a very pure ‘yellow’. (In modern times, a shade of brownish-yellow
is referred to as “saffron” but the reason for this is uncertain.) The
Dutch watercolor from 1574 shows the pure yellow of the saffron color exactly,
and no trace of brown can be seen.
THE LÉINE IN SCOT-LAND
The primary resources for Scot-tish ‘Highland’ (Wild Irish)
costume from the period before 1600 are much scarcer than the Irish
McClintock is able to provide ten references to ‘Highland’ (Wild
Irish) dress in his book.
Only one of these is from earlier than the 16th century.
This is the often quoted section from the Magnus Berfaet saga of 1093
AD. This epic describes the journeys of King Magnus to the lands in the
Western Highlands of ‘Scot-land’, and when he returned he adopted the costume
he saw there:
about barelegged having short tunics and also upper garments, and so many men
called him ‘Barelegged’ or ‘Barefoot.’”
The word translated as tunic is “kyrtlu” and upper garments is
“yfir hafnir.” Many erroneously claim this to be a reference to some
sort of Kilt, but that simply is not the case. What is described
is most likely the same combination of Léine and Brat that was
worn by Gaels in Ireland during the same period. (And, the political and
social history of the western islands of ‘Scot-land’ for this period confirms
very close connections were maintained between the Gaels of Ireland and the
Gaels of the Western Isles … and, these connections were actually much closer
than some ‘Scot’ revisionist/ nationalist historians are ‘comfortable’ with
There is a wide gap in McClintock’s work between 1093 AD and the
16th century that is very hard to detail. However, there is some evidence of
a garment which has been the Rogart Shirt, which was found in a grave in
Sutherland, ‘Scot-land’ and has been dated to the 14th century. It is a
very simple tunic with a single opening at the neck (a slit that has been
blanket stitched at the corners and hemmed along the edges) and normal width
sleeves, pieced together from several pieces of cloth. This was most
likely done in an effort to conserve cloth as no structural or fashionable
reasons can be found. The width of the material for the body is about 30
inches with the length of the body being 90 inches folded over (making the length
of the shirt when worn 45 inches). The source for this garment was Early
Textiles Found in Scotland by Audrey S. Henshall.
John Major’s History of Greater Britain published in 1521,
includes information about the “Wild Scots” (the Wild Irish of
middle of the thigh to the foot they have no covering for the leg, clothing
themselves with a mantle instead of an upper garment and a shirt dyed with
people of the Highland (literally ‘wild’) ‘Scots’ rush into battle having their
body clothed with a linen garment manifoldly sewed and painted or daubed with
pitch, with a covering of deerskin.
saffron shirt we can parallel with the Irish léine, but the other linen garment
mentioned needs explanation. The Latin word that was translated as
“sewed” was “suere” and could also mean pleated, patched, or quilted. It
could be pleated, as we have seen mention of Irish léine being pleated.
However, as this was a garment worn for battle, it makes more sense if we think
of it as being quilted. This would describe a linen garment very similar
to an acton. This padded armor is much seen in stone carvings on the
Isles and in the Highlands and is often mistaken as a léine.”
In 1538 the Scottish Lord High Treasurer’s accounts record some
material ordered for King James V to be made into a ‘Highland’ outfit.
Among these materials were 15 ells of “Holland claith to be syde Heland
Sarkis.” This would be translated as long Highland shirts. Also listed
were quantities of silk for sewing the shirts and ribbons for decoration.
From this it seems the shirts were most likely not pleated or else more
material would have been needed. Also interesting to note is that the
shirts were to be sewn with silk.
Bishop Lesley, writing in Rome in 1578, provides a very extensive account of Gaelic
dress of that period. He describes the entire costume, but specifically
of the Léine he writes:
made of linen very large shirts, with numerous folds and wide sleeves, which
flowed abroad loosely to their knees. These, the rich coloured with
saffron and others smeared with some grease to preserve them longer clean among
the toils and exercises of a camp, which they held it of the highest
consequence to practice continually. In the manufacture of these,
ornament and a certain attention to taste were not altogether neglected,
and they joined the different parts of their shirts very neatly with silk
thread, chiefly of a red or green colour.”
Bishop Lesley’s description seems to come closest in description
to the type of Léine pictured in Derricke’s The Image of Ireland,
and again we see the silk threads mentioned, here of a contrasting
In 1556 a French writer named Jean de Beaugue wrote an account of the siege of
Haddington in 1549 in which he describes the Wild Scots who were present
as wearing “no clothes except their dyed shirts and a sort of light woolen rug
of several colours.” This again confirms the Léine and Brat
combination common in Gaelic dress.
In 1573 Lindsay of Pitscottie wrote of the Wild Scots that
“they be cloathed with ane mantle, with ane schirt saffroned after the Irish
manner, going barelegged to the knee.”
In 1547 King James V went on a voyage around the north of ‘Scot-land’
and the Orkneys, and back down to Galloway. An account of this voyage
was published in 1583 by Nicolay D’Arfeville, cosmographer to the King of
France. He writes of the Wild Scots found in the north, “They
wear like the Irish a large and full shirt, coloured with saffron . . .”
Of all of these mentions of the Léine, it is almost always called
“saffron” or “yellow” and if not that, then at least “dyed.” Only one Scottish
source mentions no colour. No ‘Scottish’ illustrations survive as they
do in Ireland, but the similarity in the description is obvious (even the
contemporary authors noticed them).
McClintock is of the opinion that the Léine varied in ‘Scot-land’
as it did in Ireland. Some evidence points to them being pleated — others
make no mention, and in the case of King James’ suit, not enough material for
pleating is used. Other sources do mention up to 24 ells, so pleating
there would have been likely. They are referred to as long, below the
knee, above the knee, and mid-thigh. So we can be certain that variety
did exist. And in ‘Scot-land’, as with in Ireland, no mention of the Léine
can be found after 1600, when the more Anglicized style of shirt is exclusive.
No mention is made of women’s dress in ‘Scot-land’, but as the
women of Ireland wore a Léine similar, if not identical, to the men,
then the same should be assumed for Gaelic female dress in ‘Scot-land’ as well.
McClintock includes a brief section in his book on the Isle of
Man. Little can be found as to the medieval clothing of the Manx, but
since their language and culture was almost exclusively Gaelic, it is
reasonably safe in assuming a similarity of costume amongst the Manx.
Gaelic-Irish Clothes in medieval Ireland consisted of two main items.
Mentioned in the early records up until the 16th century, these
were the Léine and the Brat.
clothes of the time could very brightly coloured, often striped or dotted in
various patterns, depending on wealth and social class of the wearer.
Brehon Law (the set of laws that governed ancient
Gaelic-Ireland) dictated which specific colours a person’s clothes could be:
“The son of a king of Erin shall wear satin and red clothes”
“The sons of the inferior classes of chieftains shall wear black, yellow, or
“The sons of the lowest class of chieftain shall wear old clothes”
Material for garments varied with social class. The lower classes, which made
up the majority of the population, wore clothing made of wool or linen. Since
silk and satin had to be imported, only the very rich could afford garments
made from such materials.
The first garment was the Léine (pronounced lay’/nuh;
plural leinte). This was a smock-like garment, either sleeveless or
with fitted sleeves that fell to just above the ankles. For women,
the garment could be even longer, although a full-length Léine was never
worn without a brat. Among lower classes, Léine were often
shorter, presumably to allow for manual labour. The arms, chest and
neck also had a looser fit to allow workers to slip the garment down to their
waists during the day’s heat.
were embroidered on the neckline, cuffs and hemline. The Léine was often
pulled up through a belt, making the top billow and the length shorter.
The second item found in medieval Irish garb is the Brat (pronounce
braht). This was a rectangular cloak, most often made from wool.
It was worn much like a shawl, with a pin to fasten it at the neck
or right shoulder. It was a voluminous garment that could be
repositioned to create a hood. Brats were dyed many bright
the Brat was one colour with a fringe or border of another colour.
As with the Léine, a longer length indicated
a higher social status.
Another garment sometimes found is the Inar. This was a
close fitting jacket that came to the waist. It was made both with
sleeves and without. Soldiers are most often depicted in these
The ‘trews’ worn were called Brocs. These were tight-fitting
trousers. They came to at least the knee, but could often be
longer. When they were longer, they also had a strap that fitted
around the bottom of the foot, making them look similar to modern stirrup-pants.
The Crios is a belt, either woven from wool or made out of
leather. If woven then several colours are used but usually there
is a white border. While weaving, the warp is held taut between a
foot and the weaver’s hands; no loom is used. They are made 3
½ yards long for men, 2 yards for women In addition to holding up a
Léine, the Crios
was used to carry things, as was often the way in medieval cultures.
In contemporary times, the Crios (pronounced Kris) was worn by fishermen
on the Arran Islands off the west coast of Ireland.
Brog was a general term for shoes. Most Brogs were
made of un-tanned hide, making them soft and pliable. They were
stitched together with the same hide and there was no lift or insole.
There were also more ornate shoes made of tanned hide that had
heels but these were most likely for special occasions.
There is still some speculation as to whether or not the ancient Irish wore ‘kilts’.
historians believe what is actually depicted in the ancient sources is a Léine pulled up
through the belt, giving the appearance of a ‘kilt’; the Feileadh Mor.