Irish Dress

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XV

The dress of the rich and the poor probably varied as much in the century of which we write as at the present day. We have fortunately remains of almost every description of texture in which the Irish Celt was clad; so that, as Sir W. Wilde has well observed, we are not left to conjecture, or forced to draw analogies from the habits of half-civilized man in other countries at the present day.

In the year 1821 the body of a male adult was found in a bog on the lands of Gallagh, near Castleblakeney, county Galway, clad in its antique garb of deerskin. A few fragments of the dress are preserved, and may be seen in the collection of the Royal Irish Academy. Portions of the seams still remain, and are creditable specimens of early needlework. The material employed in sewing was fine gut of three strands, and the regularity and closeness of the stitching cannot fail to excite admiration. It is another of the many proofs that, even in the earliest ages, the Celt was gifted with more than ordinary skill in the execution of whatever works he took in hand. After all, the skin of animals is one of the most costly and appreciated adornments of the human race, even at the present day; and our ancestors differ less from us in the kind of clothes they wore, than in the refinements by which they are fashioned to modern use.

It is stated in the old bardic tale of the Táin bó Chuailgné, that the charioteer of the hero was clothed in a tunic of deerskin. This statement, taken in connexion with the fact above-mentioned, is another evidence that increased knowledge is daily producing increased respect for the veracity of those who transmitted the accounts of our ancestral life, which, at one time, were supposed to be purely mythical. Skin or leather garments were in use certainly until the tenth century, in the form of cloaks. It is supposed that Muircheartach obtained the soubriquet "of the leathern cloaks," from the care which he took in providing his soldiers with them; and it is said that, in consequence of this precaution, there was not a single man lost in this campaign.