It’s a perennial question with a lot of confusion. Did Irish people wear kilts? The short answer is yes, but not for as long as the Scots. While kilts in Scotland can be dated back some 300 years or more, Irishmen have only kilted up for the past 100 years or so. Still, there’s no tradition like a new tradition! How did it come about? It’s all about nationalism and Gaelic pride.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Irish men wore a long linen tunic called the Lein-croich. There are many depictions of it in stone carvings and other art like the 16th-century painting of Irish warriors below. In these images, the saffron-dyed Lein-croich is often bunched up around the body and the men are bare legged. This led some later observers to mistake it for a Great Kilt such as the Scots wore.
The first documented use of a true kilt in Ireland was by students and faculty of the Saint Enda’s School around 1910. The school was founded by Irish nationalist Patrick Pierce and his peers to boost Irish pride and a reconnection to Gaelic culture and language (the "Gaelic Revival"). The school fostered the idea of the kilt as a pan-celtic garment and supplied kilts to dance students.
You might expect the first Irish kilts to be Kelly green, but not so. In fact, the very first ones worn by the nationalists were blue; the canonical color of Saint Patrick. Around the time of World War One, Irish units serving in the British military adopted Saffron for parade and pipe band uniforms -- a tradition which continues to this day.
Modernly, there are many beautiful Irish tartans for proud Irishmen to choose from. Since the 1990's, each county has had its own (unofficial) distinct tartan. While a few Irish families do have tartans associated with them, most people trace their ancestry back to a county of origin and wear that tartan. This is especially popular in the USA. In fact, more Irish Americans kilt up than Irish natives, including many pipe bands across the country. Military branch tartans are also very popular with Irish American service people.
There are also several universal tartans for people of Irish descent. And while county tartans are usually only available in wool, these universals are available in PV (polyviscose), so you can enjoy a cool, machine-washable kilt for Saint Patrick’s Day festivities as well as casual wear at festivals or the pub. Here are the top universal Irish kilt favorites available from USA Kilts:
Tara - the oldest recorded Irish tartan. Originally known as “Murphy” in Victorian times, it is named for the Mound of Tara where the ancient irish kings were crowned.
Ireland’s National - The colors of the flag of Ireland set against rich black. if someone refers to an all Ireland tartan, this may be the one they are thiking of.
Irish American - Designed especially for the sons and daughters of proud Irish immigrants.
Irish Heritage - Classic kelly green and silver on black. Fans of a certain Boston punk band may find it familiar! Also an elegant tartan for dressing up.
Saffron - The “color of the kings” hearkening back to medieval Ireland and also honoring Irish military men.
Scruffy Wallace - A USA Kilts original designed especially for the famous Boston rock bagpiper himself. (Limited Edition while supplies last!)
So are kilts irish? Yes. Kilting may not be an old Irish custom, but it is a grand one. Gaelic men live life to the fullest and that's what kilts are all about, lads!
Naturally we hope you will choose to kilt up to celebrate your Irish heritage. And when you do, please remember we also proudly carrythe widest selection of Irish kilt accessories around -- many custom-designed USA Kilts Exclusives!
Happy St. Patrick's Day!