National Dress - We do not refer to the
items of clothing used by our ancestors
as costumes, regalia, or garb. Neither do we refer to these items as such
when we wear our cultural dress. They are in fact national dress. These are
part of the customs of our ancestors, which because they are still in use are
Even our relatives in the old countries still assign the proper respect due
them. As an example, I am reminded of the story of a costume ball which was
thrown at Buckingham Palace some years ago. Prince Charles, in regal form
proudly came in after all had arrived and the ball started. His costume was
a formal wear of the Kilt, which is the National Dress of Scotland. The
reception he received by the people there was extremely cold. So much so that
he very shortly left in embarrassment. This is serious stuff. It is the legacy
of our ancestors to us and part of what distinguishes us as a distinct people
of a distinct culture.
In the Tribe we recognize the various types of national dress, as having
belonged to Gaelic peoples, as National dress of the Tribe.
Irish - When we wish to look for the ways of our ancestors, the best place to
look is Ireland. There are many sources through which we gain a glimpse back
to see what our ancestors wore. One of the most common places is the Book of
Kells whose illuminations give actual pictures of modes of dress. Other places
are the descriptions given by chroniclers as well as the carvings of people
on ancient churches. We also find our knowledge being added to by the laws of
the time and in particular the Ilbreachta Law which is an ancient sumptuary
law. The types of clothing ranged wide in old Irish society. If one were to
be able to peer back in time they would see the belted plaid, ionor or tuneach
[types of tunics] and trews, cochal [cloaks], brahts [mantles] etc) all
Regarding the Ilbreachta Law, there is definitely a system that was established,
so that the people could display their accomplishments and position. This deals
with specific colors as follows:
1. Serfdom which wore but one color
2. Aire who did not own their own property wore two.
3. Aire who owned their own property (cattle, etc) wore three.
Members of the Ruada, the soldier caste' also wore three colors.
4. The Brughaides (hostellers) wore four colors.
5. The Fili' wore five colors.
6. The Ard-Fili' wore six colors. The Ard-Fili' being an elected
position, the candidate being elected by others of the Fili',
from amongst the most respected of their number.
7. The Righ or Rian. This was also a position which was filled
by the will of the people, as determined by vote. They wore
The colors we are working with today are those we are fairly positive were
originally used. For the first the color is white (natural un-dyed wool). For
the second, white and black (natural un-dyed) black wool, which is more of a
dark, dark brown than modern black). The third has the colors of white, black,
and saffron. The fourth has the colors of white, black, saffron, and green.
The fifth has the colors of white, black, saffron, green, and blue. The sixth
has the colors of white, black, saffron, green, blue, and red. The seventh
colors of white, black, saffron, green, blue, red, and purple. Remember that
the old colors were much more muted than modern dyes. They were almost pastel,
yet having a bit more substance to the color.
The men wore two different things. The skilled and dignified wore a long
tuneach with sleeves, which was pulled on over the head like a long shirt,
hung as low as the shins, and was very full if not pleated under the belt. The
second item was a sleeveless cochal that was fitted to the shoulders, and worn
over the tuneach. The younger men and those who engaged in hard activities wore
a tightly fitting pair of trews and a short jacket. The styles of the trews
differed with some having legs that stopped right above the knee, others which
fastened just below the knee, and yet others had stirrups which went under the
Women wore long dresses which reached to the ankles. Both genders wore the
great cloak and mantles. These styles survived the coming of the Normans with
only minor changes. However by the time of the Elizabethan Wars in Ireland the
styles had changed some. The long tuneach was described in 1581 by a visiting Englishman
Their shirts be very strange
Not reaching past the thigh;
With pleats they pleated are
As thick as pleats may be
The constant throughout was however the great cloak which was usually dyed
a bright color and possessed a contrasting color as fringe along its edge.
Some had a collar of sheepskin at the neck.
Back during the Iron Age the tuneach color worn by the Ollamh was white. Others
have postulated that the Fili wore green tuneachs and the later Bards blue, but
I have found no evidence in either the literature of ancient Ireland or other
places to bear this out. That doesnt mean that all possible sources have been
The one other item of note is the mantle. This item as worn by those of rank
seem to have contained the various colors that the Ilbreachta specified. The
early Irish Fili wore cloaks of birds' feathers called tugen. These later
evolved into the mantle which displayed colors according to the law.
In the modern Tribe we have adopted the warriors robe which is a stretch
of cloth which is worn over the shoulders. Its length allows it to stretch
from one knee to the other, it's width should be nine inches. One half is red,
the other is black. Upon it may be placed whatever decorations have been earned.
If to be worn in conjunction with the mantle, then the robe shall be worn over
the mantle. Historically, there is no known use of this robe, it is an addition
made by we in the present. Another addition is the mothers shawl which is worn
by those who have brought life to the tribe. This shawl is black in color, with
fringe or not according to personal preference and is also worn on top of other
items of clothing.
Manx - Unfortunately, we have found nothing to date which covers this topic for
our kindred on the Isle of Man.
Scotland - Shawls, cloaks, mantles and other things as associated with Irish
wear are obviously part of ancient Scottish Gaelic culture. The Gaels of Scotland
of course came over through the Dal Riadh from Ireland. This did happen of course
after Christianity came to Ireland. Therefore most certainly many of the things
from our traditionally living ancestors were already things of memory and not
actively used in the culture. It is for this reason that many of us in the Tribe
look to the Irish examples. These would utilize the belted plaid and other things.
We do however hold onto our family tartans, even though they were established
officially under the English. We also try to help those who have had the tartan of
their families lost try to find them or create replacements. Even though we
use the belted plaid more often than not, we do wear the later kilt when called
upon for more formal occasions.
Tartan - While the tartan kilt may be the most visually recognizable cultural
tradition of the Highland Scots, the more recognizable tartans seen today are
in fact creations of Scottish and English tailors during the reign of Queen
Victoria. This aside, it is generally agreed that the use of the breacan
(tartan) and the wearing of the kilt do have their origin in the history of
the early Scottish and Irish clanns, or families. It has been shown that some
clans did aspire to a certain uniformity of design for their garments at least
as early as the tenth and eleventh centuries. Breacan literally means speckled,
this helps connect it to the description Pliny gave of the much earlier Celtic
ancestors. Today through the agencies set up under English domination, the
patterns, or sett's, are used to identify the clann or military regiment with
which the wearer is associated. It is generally thought however, that the
first tartans were the result of individual weavers own designs, then were
slowly adopted to identify individual districts, then finally clans and families.
The first recorded effort to enforce uniformity throughout an entire clan
was in 1618, when Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, wrote to Murry of Pulrossie
requesting that he bring the plaids worn by his men into "harmony with that
of his other septs."
Although the kilt is the most widely known use of the tartans, it is also
used the form of trews (trousers), shawls, and skirts.
Kilt - No one knows exactly when the predecessor of the kilt, the belted plaid,
was first developed. The first reference to something that may have infact been
a belted plaid was by Pliny. In his writings there is found a statement that
the Celts wore many colored squares of clothe that they held on with a belt,
but which they removed before going into battle. The description of the material
as many colored hits too close to what the Gaelic word for tartan literally
means, speckled, to be a coincidence. It is from the belted plaid that the
filamor or great kilt originated. There is a version of the kilt for women
, it is called the aresaid. The belted plaid is made of 100x 7-9 yards of
material. The kilts on the other hand are made of 60 wide x 5-7 yards of
The kilt actually has two components. The first is actually that which
exists below the belt and the other that above. That part below the belt is
the kilt proper. That above the belt is called the plaid. Worn with the kilt
are items which are present day requirements. Amongst these are the sporan,
which is a leather pouch, often with a horse hair flap, and always with three
tassles. There is a casual approach to wearing the kilt as well as methods
for wearing the kilt as formal wear. There is in fact quite a bit of etiquette
involved in the proper wearing of the kilt in the modern world,
Brief History Of The Kilt - After 1688, and the fall of the Stuart clann,
Jacobism spread across the Highlands like wild fire. This caused the English
government to feel the need to take a more active interest in the Highland
In 1707, The Act of Union took place. This Act succeeded in temporarily uniting
the political factions and clanns that were universally opposed to the Act. The
tartan became a symbol of active nationalism and was seen by the nobility to
be a sign par excellance of extremism. It is also believed that this act of
parliament succeeded to some extent in the uniting of the Scottish Highlands
and Lowlands. This because the wearing of the tartan spread from the Highlands
to the Lowlands which had previously not been known for their wearing of the
After the rising of 1715, the Government found the need to enforce stricter
policing of the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands. A number of independent
companies were formed to curtail the various small uprisings and other
disturbances which occurred frequently. One of the features that
distinguished their recruits were the large number of highland gentlemen that
enlisted and chose to serve in the private ranks. Many an English officer was
surprised to see these Scottish privates attended by personal servants who
carried their food, clothing, and weapons. From the time they were first
raised, these independent regiments became known as the Black Watch, in
reference to the darkly colored tartans they were known to wear. One of the
more famous tales of these Highland companies is told about King George, who
had never seen a Highland warrior. Three privates were chosen and sent to
London to be presented to the King. The King
was so impressed with the skill with which they wielded their broad swords
and lochaber axes that he presented them each with a guinea. This was quite
insulting to a Highland gentleman, but they could not refuse the gift. They
accepted the gift as good manners dictated, but as they left they each flipped
it in disgust to the porter as they passed the palace gates.
In 1726 an English iron magnate redesigned the filimor into the filibeg.
In 1740, the independent military companies became a formal regiment, and a
formal tartan was created for them. This was quite problematic as they had
to choose a tartan which wouldnt insult certain clanns, or seem to favor others.
Finally a new tartan was developed which has ever since been known as the
Black Watch Tartan. The Black Watch Tartan was the first documented tartan to
be known by an official name and possesses the authenticity of a full pedigree.
From this tartan has been derived all of the Highland regimental tartan designs
and many of the hunting setts worn by other clanns.
In 1746, the same year as the Bonnie Princes defeat at Culloden, the
Government enacted a law making it illegal for Highlanders to own or possess
weapons. By the same act, a Highlander was forbidden to own a horse worth
more than 2 Pounds. Even the Bagpipes were outlawed, they being considered an
instrument of war. A year later, the Dress Act restricted the wearing of
traditional Highland clothes and all forms of plaid, filimor, belted plaid,
trews, shoulder belt, or filibeg were not to be worn in public. There was
harsh punishment for disregarding these laws. Punishment for a first offense
was six-months imprisonment, a second offense earned the wearer a seven year
stint of indentured servitude in one of the colonies. Only those who served
in the army were permitted to wear the plaid, and as a result, it is told that many
Highlanders enlisted simply to be allowed to wear their more comfortable
traditional dress. The traditional great kilt was in use commonly up to the
banning of traditional Highland wear. It was the filibeg that was sustained
through military service (Black Watch). In fact, most recognizable features
and traditions associated with the wearing of the kilt were developed in the
nineteenth century, not by Scottish Highlanders, but by the Nobles of England
The Dress Act was repealed in 1783. The plaid now became more of a fashion
experiment for the elite of English society. Between the time of the Dress
Act and the repeal many Highlanders rebelled by wearing their tartans anyway.
Their reasoning was that since Lord Hardwicke, the man who drafted this law,
was dead, that the law no longer applied.