/Irish Kilts? Irish Tartans?

Irish Kilts? Irish Tartans?



The ‘ancestor’ of the modern Kilt first appeared in Hibernia (Ireland) … it was originally the Gaelic-Irish Brat (cloak) … known as the ‘great kilt’; the Feileadh Mor.

It 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 Ages’.)

The title FeileadhMor 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.

The 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.

“So, was it the Vikings who also brought the early Tartans with them to Ireland?”

Archaeological ‘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.

The 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 in 1879.

The 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 Fen
Clothing from Huldre Fen  Credit: ‘The Bog People’, P.V. Glob (Danish), Translated to English by R.L.S. Bruce Mitford

The 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.)

A 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.

The 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 scarf.
The Huldre Fen woman’s scarf.  Credit: ‘The Bog People’, P.V. Glob (Danish), Translated to English by R.L.S. Bruce Mitford



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Today, 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 of ‘Scot-land’).

* 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 NominaProvinciarumOmnium (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, AmmianusMarcellinus, Claudian, and the ChronicaGallica 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 Scotiraiding 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 Scotiremain 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 DálRiata 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 DálRiata (shaded)

Throughout the Middle Ages*, the common clothing amongst the Gaelic-Irish consisted of a Brat (a woollen cloak) worn over a Léine (a loose-fitting, long-sleeved tunic made of wool or linen).

* the 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 Middle Ages.


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.

For 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.

The 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.

Later, the Ionar (a short, tight-fitting jacket) became popular.

Irish kilt Ireland native clothing costume leine brat ionare
Brat being worn over a Léine



Ionarbeing worn over aLéine


Front figure: Ionarbeing worn over aLéine. Rear figure: Brat being worn over a Léine





In TopographiaHibernica, * 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.

The 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.

* TopographiaHibernica (English: ‘Topography of Ireland’), also known as TopographiaHiberniae, 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


TopographiaHibernica 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 CambrensisEversus (1662) by John Lynch, and works by Geoffrey Keating, Philip O’Sullivan Beare, and Stephen White.

Irish 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.

Gaelic 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.

Over 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 camping blanket.

A description from 1746 states:

“The 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 endure.”

For 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.

Mac 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 Castle


Duntulm Castle – a ruined MacDonald castle on the Isle of Skye


Kildonan Castle – a ruined MacDonald castle on the Isle of Arran


In 1644, Alasdair Mac Colla 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 soldiers.

* 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 Scotland


When 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 . After 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 background


Ionarbeing worn over aLéine


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 Massacre’.

* Clan 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.

The “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 Charge”.

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.

Lowland Covenanters
Lowland CovenanterPikemen


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.

Mac 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.

Mac Colla’s father, who was a prisoner of the Campbells, was murdered in retaliation for his son’s atrocities in the Campbell country.

Mac Colla himself retreated to Kintyre, and then to Ireland with his family … where he re-joined the Irish Catholic Confederates in 1647.

His 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.

Mac 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.

Alasdair Mac Colla himself was killed by English Parliamentarian soldiers at Knocknanauss … after he had been taken prisoner by the English.

Mac 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 in County 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.

In June 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.

The first 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.

The Irish 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.

Further to 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.

The English cavalry reached the opening of the lane first, trapping the Irish Catholic Confederate cavalry on Preston’s right flank.

After 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 field.

In the ensuing panic, the Irish cavalry was unable to regroup and the reserve fled in confusion.

Field of Glory - Wars of Religion

With the 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.

With no 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.

After 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.

This battle spelled the end of the Irish Catholic Confederate Leinster army.

Naseby-English Civil War

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.

In 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, MurchadhandTóiteán (“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 was finished.

The next day a couple of hundred Irish soldiers were found sheltering in a nearby wood. These were promptly ‘put to the sword’.


The 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 léinecroich … 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.

A 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 (England).

After 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

Rawlinson 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’.

It 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.

Rawlinson 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.

Colonel Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry (dressed in the English-invented ‘small-kilt’ and military-style accessories) 15 September 1773 – 17 January 1828


In 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.

In 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.

In 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.

MacDonell’s 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 character.

As part of his regiment’s uniform, Macdonell invented (or adopted) the Glengarry, a type of cap which he is wearing in his portrait (above).

The ‘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 chaplain.

‘Glengarry’ 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.

‘Glengarry’ 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”.

His 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.

In 1824 ‘Glengarry’ unsuccessfully attempted to wrest the chiefship of Clan Donald from Ranald George Macdonald by bringing an action in the Court of Session.

Although 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.

The 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 Army.

In 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


Those 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.

The 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.

The 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’.

Sir Walter Scott and the Highland societies organised a ‘gathering of the Gael’ and invented entirely new Scottishtraditions … 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).

After 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 history !).

King George IV had appeared in a spectacular ‘kilt’, and his successor Queen Victoria dressed her boys in the Kilt, widening its appeal even further.

File:George IV in kilt, by Wilkie.jpg
The 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


standing 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 Yorkseated 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)


The 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)



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.

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)


‘detail’ from Albert 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 alsoLéine, 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.


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.)

Albert 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.

Another 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 planter families.

Sir Henry Sidney (1529 – 5 May 1586)


Sir Philip Sidney (1554 – 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 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 time.

Of the Léinte, Derricke writes:

Their shirtes be veriestraunge, Not reaching paste the thie: With pleates on pleatesthei pleated are as thick as pleates may lye. Whose sleves hang trailing doune almost unto the Shoe: and with a Mantellcommonlie; 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.
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.
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 Gelic-Irish.
The English army is drawn up for battle, while Sir Sidney parleys with a defiant messenger from the Gelic-Irish.

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 made of:

Although early sources such as theTáinCúalgne 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 overwhelming ‘favourite’.)

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 primary resources for Scot-tish ‘Highland’ (Wild Irish) costume from the period before 1600 are much scarcer than the Irish sources.

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:

“they went 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 today.)

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.

Rogart Shirt reproduction
Rogart Shirt reproduction


John Major’s History of Greater Britain published in 1521, includes information about the “Wild Scots” (the Wild Irish of ‘Scot-land’)…

“From the 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 saffron …”

“The common 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.

“The 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:

“They also 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 Léinepictured in Derricke’s The Image of Ireland, and again we see the silk threads mentioned, here of a contrasting color.

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.


Closing Summary:

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.

Irish 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 gray clothing” “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.

Designs 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 colours.

Often 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 garments.


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’.

Most 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 FeileadhMor.