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NATIVE CLOTHING

When the McGinleys all lived together as a clan, the Irish still had their traditional clothing. The clothing of the Irish (and the Scots) seemed very strange and different to the rest of Europe at that time. So strange that the English called it ‘barbarian’. During the many centuries of English interference in our country, they would often try and wipe out anything ‘Irish’, including our clothing. History shows how petty and cruel the English Regime was in Ireland. They tried to ban the Irish language, to destroy the ancient Brehon Law system (much older than their own system), they tried to destroy our trade routes with France and Spain etc. When it came to our traditional form of clothing they attacked these too. Many people today presume that the national colour of Ireland is green and they would be wrong. The colour green has only been associated with Ireland since the 1800's. Before that, for more than a thousand years, the colour of Ireland was yellow. The ancient Irish believed that the colour yellow reflected the colour of the sun and the sun was a symbol of 'life' to them. It was only in fairly modern times in England that the colour yellow was to become associated with cowardice. The Kilt is today recognised as Irish, put it is really a fake attempt to copy the Scots. As for the Scots, they have not been wearing the kilt for that long either. They too wore the same clothing as the Irish up until the early 1600.

The main item of clothing among the Irish was the Léine which translates into English as a shirt. It was the main garment for both men and women. The men wore it as the outer garment while the women used it more as an undergarment, covering it with a dress with opened sleeves. The traditional colour associated with the Léine (pronounced Laynuh) was always a sort of soft yet bright yellow. It has been usually refered to as a saffron colour by the English although true saffron would have been a bit rare in Ireland, certainly not abundant enough to colour the clothing of almost the entire Irish population! The English tried on numerous occasions to ban the use of yellow colouring for clothing among the 'wild' Irish. The first attack on saffron colour was in 1466. Henry VIII tried his best to ban it in 1536 and 1537. He stated that... "saffron should not be used in any shirt (Léine), smock, kercher (head covering), bendel, neckerchief, mocket (childs bib?) or linen cap". To the English, the saffron yellow colour was old fashioned and barbarous. It must have been an incredible site to see the vast majority of the native population dressed in colourful yellow garments, for many centuries.

Henry VIII prohibitive Act of 1537 sought to destroy native Irish clothing. His failed attempt to totally ban the Léine led him to trying another technique. He ordered that the main garment worn by the men, the Léine, should be controlled and he tried to cut down on the amount of material that could be allowed to make such garments. All of his tyrades against Irish traditional clothing failed however, and it was not until around the mid 1600's that the clothing fell out of use. Chancellor Gerrarde in 1578 complained that even the English in Dublin were using Irish styles. In 1577 enough saffron or yellow coloured dye was sold in Galway to warrant a tax (English) on it which was used to pay for paving the streets in the town! Another peculiar Irish trait that thoroughly annoyed the English was the Croiméal or moustache. The Irish had a habit of wearing a moustache without a beard. The Irish also sometimes wore Mairtiní (footless stockings). They were made of woolen cloth (not knitted). They reached from just below the knee down to the base of the foot, but without a sole!. A loop of thread was added at the front which hooked around the big toe to hold the whole thing in place!. Instead of a sole, the wearer placed fresh grass or hay underfoot!. At the knee, they were held in place with a band of linen or wool material built into the top, like the draw-string on pajamas.

William Camden writing in the year 1589 described the typical dress of the Irish as he saw it... "they wear large linen tunics with wide sleeves hanging down to their knees which they generally dyed with saffron; short woollen jerkins, simple close-fitting trews and a mantle or shaggy rug fringed and elegantly variegated".

Here are a few descriptions of the clothing worn by our ancestors.

MEN

Léine
The principal item of clothing, for men, was the Léine (pronounced Layna). It was basically a long loose garment, reaching just about to the ground and always made of linen. The wearer would then put a belt around their waist, usually made of woven wool, but sometimes of leather or horsehair. The word for a belt in Irish, then and now, is crios (pronounced Kriss). The Léine was then pulled up through the belt and the extra ‘bag’ of material was allowed to simply hang over the waist area, therefore hiding the belt apart from a piece that was allowed to hang down at one side. The Léine was nearly always dyed a yellow colour, often called saffron. The Léine also had a very unusual feature… long hanging baggy sleeves which sometimes would nearly touch the ground. The English authorities could not understand this ‘garb’ and thought it to be most ‘archaic’! The long hanging sleeves feature was brought in sometime in the 1400's until the demise of the garment in the early 1600's. From the waist down, the Léine had a superficial resemblance to a kilt. This was the everyday clothing of the vast majority of the native Irish populace.

Brat
The Brat, or in English, the Mantle was a large outer covering, a bit like a cloak. It was nearly always made of thick wool and had an edging of often very elaborate fringing. The fringing was thicker, longer and in layers around the neck and head area. The purpose of this was to protect the wearer from the worst of the weather. The fringing was often of more than one colour. Sometimes the Brat was made of leather, as some have been recovered from bogs in pretty good condition while the more common woolen ones do not survive so well in the ground. Most commonly they reached to the knees but shorter ones reaching to the elbows were also known. The shape was nearly always ‘semi-circular, but sometimes rectangular ones were known of. The Brat/Mantle was a very warm piece of clothing. It was so respected that 'Irishe Mantels' or 'Mantelles de Hiberniae' were exported from south east Ireland to England, Wales, Scotland and all over the Continent in the 1400's, 1500's and 1600's. On the Continent, Irish half-mantles were most sought after. They reached only to the waist and no doubt were more suitable for warmer climates. Irish mantles could be Tufted (an outer effect like sheeps curly wool), Blanket (a plain thick sort), Lined (often with fur), Light (for summer usage and among the poor) and Leather. Irish mantles with linings were so popular that the Popes agent got permission to export them in the year 1482.

Seaicéad
The Seaicéad (pronounced Shakaid) or Jacket in English, which was worn at the time was short, more often than not, barely reaching to the waist. It had ‘opened sleeves’. This was so that the large hanging baggy sleeves of the Léine could hang down. These open sleeves usually had a row of buttons running down the back of the arm for the purpose of tying up the sleeve. Some were simply tied at the wrist with thongs. The jackets were most often made of wool but leather ones were common also. These jackets were often ellaborately designed as can be seen in the various depictions of them.

Triús
The Triús (pronounced Trooss) or trousers were usually worn instead of the Léine, coupled with the Brat and Seaicéad and a basic linen shirt next to the skin, but sometimes they were worn underneath the Léine (most likely in winter). The triús of the Gael were tight fitting from the foot up until the middle of the thigh. Then, totally different material, often of checked or tartan was added. This upper material was sewn on very loosely to give a strange effect... tight lower legs, loose upper legs and bottom.

Cóta Mór
This was one of the most used items of clothing. The words Cóta mór translates as ‘great coat’ or ‘big coat’. It was worn over the Léine. It, like the shorter jackets, had open sleeves to allow the long hanging sleeves of the Léine to show through. It covered the body down to the knees. A few of these have been recovered from bogs and are always made of wool, but some may have been made of leather. The Cóta Mór outlived the Léine by a few decades and altered in appearance by getting rid of the opened sleeve as it was no longer required. See above image on the left, showing Irish trousers, Great Coat with buttoned sleeves and Mantle on top.

Bróga
Shoes were very rarely worn by the Gaels of Ireland or Scotland, out of choice. The word Bróg (singular) is the origin of the word brogue, although the ancient shoe looked nothing like a modern brogue. The fact that shoes were rarely used by the ancient Irish and Scots should not be looked on as a sign of poverty but rather as a cultural emblem. When they did wear shoes they were nearly always made of one piece of leather, the front and sides ‘curled up’ with small whole added for a lace or thong to pass through. These shoes were easy to make and comfortable but not very durable. Sometimes a thicker harder sole was added. The modern Irish dancing pump is a derivative of it. Cuarán or sandles were also worn sometimes. In our diagrams below, we can see that A and B are very basic and similar. Varient C is a more complicated style associated with monks and priests in Ireland.

Bairéid
This is the Irish Gaelic word for a hat and is pronounced baraid. The hats worn among the ancient Irish and Scots were always conical and usually made of wool. These hats sometimes had an extra piece fitted that covered the ears, no doubt worn in winter. Some even had a little extra material around the neck area too. As with the wearing of shoes, the wearing of hats was not that common.

WOMEN

Léine
The women of Ireland also wore the Léine, but it was used as an undergarment. The only difference being that they wore the Léine at full length (as did the monks of Ireland). There is no indication that the women had any differing designs. On top of the Léine they wore a traditional dress or gown.

Gúna
The Léine, for the women was considered to be an under covering, while the men used it as an outer covering. On top of the Léine the women wore a large heavily pleated dress or gown. The Irish word Gúna equates with the word Gown. It had the open sleeve design to let the sleeves of the Léine hang down. The most common colour for the dress was red or green. The above image is of an ancient Irish dress that was recovered from a bog in reasonable condition. The right hand sleeve was almost gone, but the left handed one clearly shows the open design with buttons.

Brat
The women also wore the Brat. There is no evidence to suggest that it was any different to the mens version, but it may have been a little smaller and lighter. We have old records relating to the trade of Mantles when lighter smaller ones are mentioned. The much later (nineteenth and early twentieth century) womens shawl could be considered a ‘relation’ of the ancient female Brat or mantle.

Rolla Lín
Women of medieval Ireland usually went bareheaded until they were married as was the ancient custom. At this stage they wore what can be called a Linen Roll. This was a symbol that they were married.
None of these have survived today and we only have descriptions and a few pictorial pieces to go by. The Linen Rolls sometimes looked simple enough while sometimes they used alot of linen material.

Sparán

The women of Ireland wore a sparán or purse (the Scottish sporran is from this Gaelic word). It was attached to a linen, wool or leather belt and hung down in front of her dress often to below the knees. The purse itself was made of a circular piece of wool cloth or leather, small holes put all around the edge and then gathered together with a thong. A very simply but attractive design. There is little evidence to suggest that the ancient Irish or Scots wore a sparán/purse, but if so, it was worn on the hip and not in front.

Hairstyles

The women always wore their hair long and in pleats at the back, either one long pleat or two. Their hair was as long as it would grow, sometimes down to their knees, but more often than not to the lower back or hip area. The hair of a child, young woman or maiden was always on show. When a lady got married it was customary to hide the hair in a linen roll/Rolla Lín. As for the men, the style was usually very rough and wild, fringed to almost hide the eyes and down almost to shoulder length. The fringe was a part of the hair often remarked upon by the English. As nearly every male in Ireland had their hair in this style, it was hard for the English to distinguish between one Irishman and another! Another very important aspect of the Irishman was his moustache or Croiméal in Irish. This moustache was much the same as we find in the present day among many East European people such as the Ukranians.

 

 

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