Historical Irish Clothing

Updated on August 16, 2017

Most of my heritage is Irish (with a quarter of German ancestry thrown in the mix) but as a 5th generation American, I don't really know that much about my Irish roots. So, researching traditional Irish clothing was a fun way to explore my history and hopefully provide some useful information for others wanting to do the same.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Handwoven in the Republic of Ireland.A few items of Irish clothing that belonged to my grandmother.Irish wool bonnet and shawl.
Handwoven in the Republic of Ireland.
Handwoven in the Republic of Ireland. | Source
A few items of Irish clothing that belonged to my grandmother.
A few items of Irish clothing that belonged to my grandmother. | Source
Irish wool bonnet and shawl.
Irish wool bonnet and shawl. | Source

Irish Clothing Misconceptions and Mysteries

Surprisingly, traditional Irish clothing is a bit of a mystery. Few historical accounts of clothing styles survive and the garments themselves were not typically preserved for study. All we can say for certain is that garments were primarily made of wool and linen (and leather, less frequently) and that historians and archaeologists believe that most Irish people wore simple, tunic-style garments, heavy wool mantles, and linen shirts.1


However, contrary to popular belief, it is fairly certain that the Irish did not wear kilts like the Scottish. In fact, most historians and scholars agree that neither the kilt nor the tartan pattern originated in Ireland, and that the kilt was never a part of the Irish wardrobe at any point in history.2 That's right, ladies and gentleman. There is no such thing as an Irish kilt.

Sources of Information on Irish Clothing

As I mentioned, Irish traditional clothing remains a bit of a mystery. However, there are several sources that can help us piece together information and discover a general idea of what the Irish probably wore throughout history.

The Moy Bog Gown

One of the ways in which we can piece together information about Irish garments is through the archaeological record. The Moy Bog Gown, for example, is an archaeological discovery that proved to be a valuable source of information on historical Irish dress.

The Moy Bog Garment is a fragment of a dress found on a decomposed body in the Moy Bog of County Clare, Ireland. The body was found by a local farmer in 1931, and the remains of the garment were sent to the National Museum of Ireland. A later analysis of the fabric indicated that it was a rough wool twill that may originally have been brown in color. It is believed to date from the early 1300s, making it about 700 years old.3

Though only fragments of the gown remain, a few details can still be seen clearly: it consists of a front-buttoning bodice, a skirt that may have been ankle or calf-length, a rounded neckline, and fitted sleeves that were probably long.

Moy Gown Sewing Pattern - Create Your Own Reproduction

Medieval Irish Moy Gown Pattern
Medieval Irish Moy Gown Pattern

For those of you interested in historical replicas and reenactments, this pattern was created through a reconstruction of the dress from the Moy Bog and contains instructions for sewing your very own Irish traditional gown.

 
Source

What About Shoes?

Typical Irish shoes from the Early Medieval Period onward looked like a simplified version of the Irish dance shoes pictured on the right. They were made of leather with an adjustable leather lace (which had to be replaced often) holding them closed.

How do we know what the shoes looked like? Much like the Moy Gown, surviving examples have been found in Irish bogs, like the discovery of the Coolatoor Bog Shoe linked below.

An Irish chieftain in full dress uniform (center). From "The Image of Irelande" by John Derrick, 1581.
An Irish chieftain in full dress uniform (center). From "The Image of Irelande" by John Derrick, 1581. | Source

The Image of Irelande

We can also gain information on Irish-style clothing from paintings and other forms of artwork. The Image of Irelande, with a Discoverie of Woodkarne is an excellent example.

The book itself was concerned with defending the English right to conquer and rule Ireland, but the woodcut illustrations and text descriptions provide historically useful information on Irish culture (including apparel) despite the anti-Irish political message and negative commentary on Irish customs.

The Image of Irelande was printed in 1581 by John Derricke, an employee of Queen Elizabeth I's Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Henry Sidney. The Lord Deputy of Ireland was the English Queen's representative who acted as head of the Irish state after the Tudor conquest, which accounts for the pro-imperialist anti-Irish sentiments expressed in the book.

The Image of Irelande is a useful historical reference because John Derricke lived in Ireland while he completed the book, making him an eyewitness of the customs and events he describes. His work contains a description of the history of the relationship between Ireland and the English crown and also includes details on Irish customs, religion, and clothing, however negatively portrayed.

From the book's woodcut illustrations, we can see depictions of some Irish people in their traditional clothing of the late 16th century. Since Derricke oversaw the creation of the images, the garments may be fairly accurate portrayals of styles he witnessed himself during his time in Ireland.

The Irish chief of the Mac Sweynes seated at dinner with a bard and harper performing. From "The Image of Irelande" by John Derrick, 1581.
The Irish chief of the Mac Sweynes seated at dinner with a bard and harper performing. From "The Image of Irelande" by John Derrick, 1581. | Source

Lucas de Heere's Paintings of Irish Men and Women

Another great source of information on Irish traditional clothing is artwork. The painting of Irish men and women by Lucas de Heere (right) is a great example.

The 1575 watercolor painting by Dutch artist Lucas de Heere depicts a group of wealthy elite Irish men and women. The two women are wearing English-style clothing and the Irish Kern (soldier) is in a traditional dress uniform.4 By the late 16th century, many of the wealthier Irish people were adopting English fashions and clothing styles.

A painting of Irish men and women by Lucas de Heere c. 1575.
A painting of Irish men and women by Lucas de Heere c. 1575. | Source

A (Very) General Summary of Irish Apparel

From these sources we can see that tunics and mantles do indeed appear to be the primary mode of traditional Irish dress. Garment fragments like the Moy Gown let us know that buttons were in use and that wool was common. Paintings and woodcuts like those of Derricke and de Heere indicate that military and courtly dress consisted of loose tunics with varying levels of decoration.

From what we know of traditional Irish clothing, it seems fairly austere and simple, but warm, practical, and durable. If paintings like de Heere's are to be believed, yellow and tan were fairly common garment colors, and we know from the Moy Gown that brown was used as well.

References

  1. Foster, Robert Fitzroy. The Oxford History of Ireland. Oxford University Press: 1989.
  2. Newsome, Matthew and Todd Wilkinson. "Hibernian Dress, Caledonian Custom: A Brief history of Irish Kilts & Tartans."
  3. McGann, Kass. "The Moy Gown — An Irish Medieval Gown."
  4. Lennon, Colm. Luxury and Austerity. University College Dublin Press: 1999.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • Alastar Packer profile image

        Alastar Packer 

        4 years ago from North Carolina

        An interest here in peat/bog bodies, clothing from those times, well, everything connected to the bodies and their artifacts made this an enjoyable and instructive read. Thanks, Christy!

      • PhilWall profile image

        PhilWall 

        5 years ago from Ireland

        An interesting article. I didn't know Irish men only adopted the tradition of kilts as a sense of Nationalism recently. This article explains more about it. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Why_did_Irish_men_start_...

      • Anselome profile image

        Steve Anselmo 

        5 years ago from Thunder Bay

        Great article Christy! My fiancée is also Irish and I'm going to refer her to this article as I'm sure she would be very interested in her roots as well.

      • mr-veg profile image

        mr-veg 

        5 years ago from Colorado United States

        Great article, delight to read !! Good one christy ..

      • Suzie HQ profile image

        Suzanne Ridgeway 

        5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

        Hi Christy,

        What an interesting read on Irish garments. As an Irish woman the history made fascinating reading I really enjoyed! Well done on the research.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, bellatory.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://bellatory.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)