The Irish Kilt

An Irish kilt - @3happytails
An Irish kilt - @3happytails

Contrary to popular belief, the kilt does not only belong to the Scots. It is also proudly worn in Ireland by a population wishing to preserve its cultural heritage… If the idea of wearing a kilt can attract curiosity in France, it is quite natural in Scotland as in Ireland, to come across men wearing the kilt. It is for them a right and an honour, which should be respected… Here’s an overview of what you need to know about the kilt and its history…

The Irish Kilt, a traditional Gaelic garment

History of the Irish Kilt…

Irish Kilt -

Irish Kilt –

The origins of the kilt date back to medieval times, when Scottish and Irish clans wore what was called the “feileadh mor”, a garment made of 5 meters of woollen cloth, rolled up and then girdled around the waist. A piece of cloth was always left hanging at the waist, so that it could be folded down to shoulder height for better coverage. At that time, each “feileadh mor” was in the colours of a specific clan (tartan), and thus served as a sign of recognition. Wearing this skirt was a true honour in itself, and was perceived as a true consecration of the status of man. (No women wore the kilt at that time).

It was around the 16th century that the “feileadh mor” changed somewhat. The upper part that allowed draping up to the shoulder was removed, leaving only a skirt and a belt. Following these changes, the name of the kilt changed to “feileadh beg” (or Small Kilt).

The Kilt, its tartans, and the art of wearing it…

Nowadays, the kilt is still worn. It takes the form of a large woollen cloth (more than 16 yards or 24 meters long) wrapped around the waist and which forms a succession of deep folds.

Each kilt is then decorated with specific colours signifying the clan’s belonging to a clan. These colours are called “tartan” and have all their meanings and symbols according to the family they are affiliated to (sometimes for centuries).

Be careful not to wear a kilt if you have not received permission from the clan concerned: many families might disapprove… while others will kindly let you do so…

In terms of colours, Ireland has far fewer tartans than Scotland. The Irish Kilt has very different colors from their cousin, preferring patterns tending towards green and ochre. There are almost no Irish tartans using shades of red and blue… with the exception of the Northern Irish kilts… Some kilts are even devoid of any pattern, and are only available in solid colours…

Although it is not worn daily in Ireland, the kilt is still in demand for special occasions, weddings, or joyous or solemn moments. It will not be rare to come across some musicians wearing the kilt in Ireland!

From the origins to the present day, here are the main components of a kilt:

  • a leather belt : this one is long and thick. It holds the 24 meters of wool at the waist.
  • a sporran: a purse linked by a chain and worn on the belt.
  • kilt hose (wool socks) : these go up to the calf, and are topped with “flashes” on each side of the leg.
  • a Sgian Dubh: small knife slipped inside the right sock to defend yourself and show your bravery.

Where to buy your Irish kilt?

Buying an Irish kilt is not an easy task, and the first thing to do is to have a good budget. The main Kilts Makers are rare, and create custom-made fabrics, hence the high cost of production.

For the price, it depends on the quality of the fabric (and the tartan as some are only available in very small quantities) as well as the pleating (the best known are Knife, Kingussie, Box, Double Box …), but on average, count 600€ if the Kilt Maker takes care of everything. Or else, you provide the fabric and then the Kilt Maker will take only 300€. The price per meter can vary (on average) from 70€ in double width to more than 90€ in single width!

Don’t forget to find out about your tartan, the family to which it belongs, and whether it is possible to obtain permission from them to wear these colours.