Clan O'Brien Tartan and Kilt
There is no Official Clan O'Brien Tartan... However; since the Chief of the O'Brien Clan has decided to claim the coat of arms of another person, then we might as well start using the Clan tartan that ws developed by Edward O'Brien in Australia.
The Irish have never worn a kilt as we know them today. Although we do see them everywhere in Ireland on special occasions.
A Royal Irish Ranger Piper
There is an 'O'Brien Tartan, shown below, that is on many Scottish websites as being the O'Brien Tartan. This tartan was designed and registered by Ted O'Brien of Australia. This tartan is approved by the owner for wear by any and all O'Briens and variations of the name. The tartan has never been approved by The O'Brien to represent the O'Brien Clan as an Official Clan tartan. But, since he has no regard for his heritage and has decided to change the O'Brien coat of arms to three gold lions, we might as well change all and use this tartan for Clan O'Brien. Check the O'Brien Kilt page to order your Clan O'Brien kilt.
Keep in mind, don't be fooled by other kilt makers that there are two different O'Brien clan tartans (ancient and modern). There is only one. The difference in color depends on the weight of the material. A 13 ounce kilt will be a lighter shade than a 16 ounce kilt. I have both and that is the only difference. How can a kilt be ancient if it is only 20 years old(?).
Tartan registration number: ts2225rl
Myself wearing the O'Brien tartan kilt wearing an Irish caubeen with my Brian Boru sword!
Two Red stripes - Represent the two victorious battles of Brian Boru:
978 A.D. - Brian Boru defeated the Vikings in Limerick.
1014 A.D. - Brian Boru defeated and lost his life to the Vikings in Clontarf.
Pale Blue stripes - Represent ancient Royal Blue. This was one of the battle and court colours used by Brian Boru.
Gold stripes - Represent the trimming used for Brian Boru's battle and court colours.
Green background - Represents the modern Irish emerald green of the shamrock.
Saffron stripes - Represent the colour used in ancient Ireland dating from 2000 years ago.
In 1956 a piece of fabric was found at Dungiven in Northern Ireland. As it did not match any known Scottish tartan, it was given the name Ulster and when dated it was confirmed as 16th century, circa 1590-1650.
The kilt (from 'A Social History Of Ancient Ireland', by P.W.Joyce, Vol II, page 203, first published in 1903)
The Gaelic form of this name is celt [kelt], of which "kilt" is a phonetic rendering. In Cormac's Glossary (p. 47) celt is vaguely explained by the Latin vesta, and also by the Irish edach, 'raiment': and in another old authority quoted by O'Donovan in his translation, it is said to be "anything used as a protection." This seems nearest to its primary meaning: for celt means 'concealing.' The word occurs so seldom, and is used so vaguely, that we might find it difficult to identify the particular article it designates, if the Scotch had not retained both the article itself and its name: for the Highland kilt is the ancient Irieh celt. In Ireland the garment itself was very common, though it was seldom called a celt. On one of the panels of Muiredach's cross at Monasterboice are represented three soldiers dressed in kilts reaching to the knees: and all the figure on the shrine of St. Manchan - a work of about the eleventh century - are similarly attired - the kilts here being very decided and characteristic, as well as highly ornamented. The kilt - commonly falling to the knees - is very frequently met with on the figures of manuscripts, shrines, and crosses, so that it must have been very much worn both by ecclesiastics and laymen. The kilt and the bratt outside it are seen in some of the figures of the illustration in vol. I., p. 59, where also, as in all other representations, the plaits run up and down, like what we see at the present day. The present Highland article of dress is called kilt everywhere except among the Highlanders themselves, who usually designate it by another Gaelic term, filleadh, or more generally filleadh-beg ('little garment'), anglicised philibeg.
In the story of the Táin we read that one of the games in which the boys of Emain contended was tearing off each other's outer garments - truly a rough play. The little boy Cuculainn entered the field against a number of them, and while they were not able even to disturb his brooch, he tore off the de-chelt from a number of them. This de-chelt or 'double celt' was a loose jacket and celt combined, as it is defined in Cormac's Glossary (p. 47): - "Dechelt, that is to say, a brat and a leine" [joined]: whereas the celt proper extended only from the waist down.
In several passages of the Bruden Da Derga persons are described as wearingberbróca, a term which both O'Curry and Stokes translate aprons: though Stokes in one place - and only one (Da Derga, p. 57) - makes it 'drawers' - apparently on the authority of Zimmer. The word is always used in LU in the plural number - berr-bróca: but whether the sungular is the same, or berbróc, is at present uncertain. The name of the article seems to indicate that it was an apron - or possibly some special sort of kilt - reaching down to the bróca or shoes. For berr means to shave: berr-bróca , 'shave-brogues,' because it just brushed them with its lower hem: exactly as the word tond, 'a wave,' is said in Cormac's Glossary (p. 161) to be derived from tondeo, 'I shave,' "because it shaves [berrad} the grass from off the sea-marsh," where, it will be observed, the same Irish word (berr) is used.
Of the four upper garments hitherto mentioned, Giraldus (A.D. 1185) notices two: - the cochall and the fallainn, with the trousers (to be presently dealt with here). He says: - "It is their custom to wear small tightly-fitting hoods (caputium is the word he uses) hanging the length of a cubit below the shoulders [i.e. the cape to which the hood was attasched hung so far] and generally made of variously coloured-strips sewn together." Three of them are mentioned in an ancient Irish poem copied at Armagh in 1139 by Mael-Brigte hua Mael-Uanaig, noticed by Stokes, which states that on each of the Magi who came to visit the Infant Jesus were three [upper] garments (tri-etaige im cach fer dib: "three garments round each man of them"). The three were no doubt the cape with hood, the loose cloak, anbd the short tight-fitting coat (with of course the nether garment to correspond): the Irish writer attributing to outsiders the fasion of his native country.
From Ancient Times to 1600 léine and brat
(Outline of léine) (Pattern of léine) (Pattern of Brat)
The Highland Scots emigrated from Ireland around 375 ce. They displaced the native Picts and made the Highlands their own. From their native land, they brought Irish dress. This consisted of a léine [LAY-na] and a brat. Léine is the modern Irish word for shirt. In antiquity, the léine was similar to a linen undertunic, although silk is occasionally mentioned. It was usually white or unbleached, often decorated with red or gold embroidery at the neck and cuffs, and sometimes hooded as well. A woman wore it long; a mans léine ended at his knees. In the earliest times, the léine probably had no shape at all. However, in the Norman era, it gained definition in the waist and by the Elizabethan age, it had become a full pleated smock made from at least 7 yards of fabric. It was always made of linen and its colour was invariably yellow. The English referred to it as the "saffron shirt" and in 1537 Henry VIII banned its use in Ireland (saffron was, and still is, a very expensive spice; its use as a dye was a luxury reserved for nobility, not the common Irish). By this time, the léine had also developed long, training sleeves. It has been pictured as long and flowing, the length hitched up over a belt. Other depictions, particularly in Ulster and the islands nearest Scotland, portray it to reach only to mid-thigh, with wide sleeves and an elaborately pleated skirt like a short kilt. However, it was never made of wool or plaid material. Sometimes trews were worn underneath and a short jacket on top.
The brat is a rectangular piece of cloth thrown around the body and fastened on the breast or shoulder by a brooch. Both men and women wore them. The brat could be wrapped around the shoulders or looped under the sword arm for better maneuverability. Brats were worn in varying lengths depending upon the occasion and the rank of the wearer. Some tales speak of the Queen's brat dragging on the ground behind her chariot. They were also worn in a good many colours, "variegated" and "many-coloured" being mentioned in the ancient tales. Because the number of colours one could wear was restricted by ones rank, a many-coloured brat was a sure sign of nobility. In the Táin Bo Culaigne, King Conor Mac Nessa of Ulsters costume is described: "He wore a crimson, deep-bordered, five-folding tunic; a gold pin in the tunic over his bosom; and a brilliant white shirt, interwoven with thread of red gold, next to his white skin." "Five-folding" has also been rendered as "wrapped five times." The Irish word used here, "filleadh" is also used in the word for kilt, "filleadh beag."
At this point, it would help to define a few terms in their original usage. The word "plaid" does not mean in Gaelic what it does is English. Plaide in Gaelic means a blanket. In some Middle English quotations, plaid is used as a verb, meaning "to pleat." Therefore, a "plaid" refers to a blanket or something that is pleated, not the striped material associated with the Highland Scots. The Gaelic word for plaid as we know it is breacán. This can mean speckled, dappled, striped and spotted as well as "plaid." The second word we must define is "tartan." This also does not refer in any way to a colour or pattern. Tartan, from the French "tiretaine," indicates a kind of cloth irrespective of its colour and it is taken to mean a type of light wool. Tartan also referred to a silk/wool blend. To distinguish between the old uses of these words and the modern uses, these words will appear in italics when the old use is intended.
The Léine Changes
Scottish literature does not make much mention of Scottish Highland dress before 1600. The most common statement is that they were "dressed in the Irish style": probably in a léine and brat. The lack of any reference to differences between Scottish and Irish dress implies that there were none. H. F. McClintock, in his great source work Old Irish and Highland Dress, lists a number of quotes in which Highland clothes are mentioned. The earliest reference is from Magnus Berfaets Saga in 1093. This quote mentions that men wore short tunics with an upper garment and went barelegged. This can be taken to be the same shirt and mantle (léine and brat) combination mentioned above. Later quotes further elucidate this.
However, the léine seems to be quite different from the contourless tunic we saw earlier. In the sixteenth century, the léine is in variably dyed with saffron and made from no less than 7 yards of linen. For further information, see "Man's Léine".
John Majors History of Greater Scotland (1521) describes the "Wild Scots" (Highland Scots) as "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." Sound familiar?
The Lord High Treasurers account of materials for a Highland dress made for King James V in 1538 lists a vari-coloured velvet short jacket with green lining, a pair of tartan trews, two or more long shirts sewn with silk and ornamented with ribbons to the wrists. There is no mention made of any kind of plaid as we know it.
Jean de Beagué (1556) in Lhistoire de la Guerre dÉcosse (The History of the Scottish War) says of certain Highlanders present at the French siege of Haddington in 1549: "They wear no clothes except their dyed shirts and a sort of light woolen rug of several colours."
Lindsay of Pitscottie in 1573 wrote: "They be clothed with ane mantle, with ane schirt saffroned after the Irish manner, going barelegged to the knee."
An illustration by Lucas de Heere, circa 1577, raises some curious questions about pre-17th century Highland Dress. The original watercolour print has been lost, but a reprint of it resides in the Library of Ghent University and in the British Museum. Unfortunately, the reprint is in black and white and the original colour information is not know.
In this picture, we see the Highlander wearing his brat in the usual manner. However, his léine appears to be missing. On his upper body, he wears a checked or cross-hatched jacket, not unlike the woolen or leather ionar we have seen on léine wearers. The most puzzling part is a horizontal line that appears to cross the Higlander's thighs. This has often been interpreted as "short trews" or "a covering for the thighs of the simplest kind" (see Bishop Lesley's writing, below). Lucas de Heere is known for the descriptive quality of his pictures. Yet these "shorts" seem to be one simple line rather than the detailed illustrations we have come to expect.
I contend that this horizontal line is exactly that, and nothing more. From the black and white photo we can discern the texture of the back of the legs. That above the "line" greatly resembles that below. Therefore, the line was drawn in later. The shading on the back of the thighs more closely resembles the back of bare thighs than the back of woolen shorts. Shorts would have been baggy, not skin-tight. De Heere, with his attention to detail, would have certainly included wrinkles had the figure been wearing "short trews."
Why would someone tamper with a historical drawing? The Victorians, in particular, had no porblem with amending archeological evidence to suit their purposes. In many cases, "shirts" have been drawn on pictures of topless aboriginal women and "skirts" have been placed over the loins of naked men. In this case, it is the latter.
In Rome, Bishop Lesley published a treatise on things Scottish in 1578. He says: "All, both nobles and common people, wore mantles of one sort (except that the nobles preferred those of several colours). These were long and flowing, but capable of being neatly gathered up at pleasure into folds. I am inclined to believe that they were the same as those to which the ancients gave the name of bracchæ. Wrapped up in these for their only covering, they would sleep comfortably. They had also shaggy rugs, such as the Irish use at the present day, some fitted for a journey, others to be placed on a bed. The rest of their garments consisted of a short woollen jacket, with the sleeves open below for the convenience of throwing their darts, and a covering for the thighs of the simplest kind, more for decency that for show or defence against cold. They made also 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 or a red or green colour."
Early Scots hunting in the Mountains of Scotland. From Holinshed's Chronicle, 1577.
In James Aikmans 1827 translation of George Buchanans 1581 History of Scotland: "They delight in variegated garments, especially stripes, and their favourite colours are purple and blue. Their ancestors wore plaids of many colours, and numbers still retain this custom but the majority now in their dress prefer a dark brown, imitating nearly the leaves of the heather, that when lying upon the heath in the day, they may not be discovered by the appearance of their clothes; in these wrapped rather than covered, they brave the severest storms in the open air, and sometimes lay themselves down to sleep even in the midst of snow."
Nicolay DArfeville, the cosmographer to the King of France, published a volume in 1583 called The Islands and Kingdom of Scotland. "[The wild (Scots)] wear like the Irish a large and full shirt, coloured with saffron, and over this a garment hanging to the knee, of coarse wool, after the fashion of a cassock, they go bareheaded, and let their hair grow very long, and wear neither hose nor shoes, except some who have boots made in an old-fashioned way, which come as high as their knees."
Therefore, Irish and Scottish dress would be nearly indistinguishable before 1600. Regional differences may have existed, but no documentation attests to what they were. In fact, many writers and painters mistakenly labeled their subjects "Irish" when they were really Highland Scots, and vice versa.
Dunbar, J. Telfer. History of Highland Dress. Philadelphia: Dufour Editions, 1964.
Glen, Duncan, ed. Whither Scotland? London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1971.
Grimble, Jan. Scottish Clans and Tartans. New York: Tudor Publishing Co., 1973.
McClintock, Henry Foster. Old Irish and Highland Dress. Dundalk: Dundalgan Press, 1943.
Norris, Herbert. Costume and Fashion: The Evolution of European Dress through the Earlier Ages. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1924.
You can see more of Kass McGann's 'Evolution of the Kilt' at the location below
© 1997 Kass McGann
(Historian for Reconstructing History)