Irish Shoes

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XV

Ancient Irish Boot

We give a specimen of an ancient shoe and boot, from the collection of the Royal Irish Academy. It would appear as if the Celt was rather in advance of the Saxon in the art of shoemaking; for Mr. Fairholt has been obliged to give an illustration selected from Irish remains, in his history, although it is exclusively devoted to British costume. In illustrating the subject of gold ornaments, he has also made a selection from the same source. Some curious specimens of shoes joined together, and therefore perfectly useless for ordinary wear, have also been discovered. Sir W. Wilde conjectures they may have been used by chieftains as inauguration shoes.[8]

Ancient Irish Shoe

Ancient Irish Shoe

Saffron was a favourite colour, though it does not appear evident how the dye was procured. There is no doubt the Irish possessed the art of dyeing from an early period. Its introduction is attributed to King Tighearnmas, who reigned from A.M. 3580 to 3664. It is probable the Phoenicians imparted this knowledge to our ancestors. Although our old illuminations are not as rich in figures as those from which English historians have obtained such ample information regarding the early costume of that country, we have still some valuable illustrations of this interesting subject. These representations also are found to correspond faithfully, even in the details of colour, with the remains which have been discovered from time to time. Our ancient crosses give immense scope for antiquarian research, though the costumes are principally ecclesiastical, and hence are not of so much general interest.

But the Book of Rights [9] affords ample information, as far as mere description, of the clothing of a higher class. While the peasant was covered with a garment of untanned skin or fur, however artistically sown together, the bards, the chieftains, and the monarchs had their tunics [imar ] of golden borders, their mantles [leanna ] or shirts of white wool or deep purple, their fair beautiful matals, and their cloaks of every colour. If we add to this costume the magnificent ornaments which still remain to attest the truth of the bardic accounts of Erinn's ancient greatness, we may form a correct picture of the Celtic noble as he stood in Tara's ancient palace; and we must coincide in the opinion of the learned editor of the Catalogue of the Royal Irish Academy, that "the variegated and glowing colours, as well as the gorgeous decorations of the different articles of dress enumerated in the Book of Rights, added to the brilliancy of the arms, must have rendered the Irish costume of the eighth and ninth centuries very attractive."


[8] Shoes.—The use of inauguration shoes appears to have been very ancient in Ireland. It will be remembered how early and how frequently the shoe is mentioned in Scripture in connexion with legal arrangements. It was obviously an important object in Eastern business transactions.

[9] Book of Rights.—The great antiquity and perfect authenticity of this most valuable work, should be remembered. It is admitted that the original Book of Rights was compiled by St. Benignus, the disciple of St. Patrick. Dr. O'Donovan thinks there is every reason to believe that this work was in existence in the time of Cormac, the bishop-king of Cashel, A. D. 900. It is probable that the present Book of Rights was compiled about this period, from the more ancient volume of the same name.