Do the Irish wear kilts? Well, the short answer is yes but the full answer is slightly more complicated. Scotland's’ history with kilts began almost 500 years ago. The first mention of kilts in historical texts was in 1538 and this would have been in reference to the great kilt. The kilt as we know it today (or the fèileadh beag) has been worn in Scotland since the late 17th century. Ireland's relationship with the kilt is relatively new and while there is still much debate about the Irish kilt’s origin, it’s thought that the people of Ireland adopted the kilt around 100 years ago.
Traditional Irish Dress
Historically, the Irish wore the Lein-croch which is a long tunic made from one solid coloured cloth, often dyed saffron. There are early stone carvings that depict Irish warriors wearing the Lein-croch and these observations are said to have been misinterpreted as Irish warriors wearing great kilts, which is where the debate around Irish kilts begins.
Irish Kilts History
The more accepted connection between Ireland and the kilt is a product of the Celtic revival. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was renewed interest in Celtic culture and a desire to reconnect to Celtic tradition in Ireland. It was during this time that the kilt was determined as a pan-Celtic item of clothing. Over the next few decades, the kilt Ireland gained popularity and became more present in Irish culture. The kilt was even adopted by some units in the Irish army during WW1. These regimental kilts were saffron-coloured and used for parade and marching bands, which is still the tradition today.
The solid Saffron kilt is seen as the most traditional form of Irish kilt but there are many instances where other colours were used but these were all single block colours, that is until the 1990s. As Irish Kilts grew in popularity during the late 20th century, new Irish tartans were designed. Unlike Scottish kilts, Irish tartans aren’t connected to a family or Clan, but instead are dedicated to different Irish counties. As these tartans are modern, they are exceptionally beautiful. Irish tartans somehow manage to be muted and vibrant at the same time which isn’t common amongst traditional Scottish tartans. They are fantastic tartans for not just kilts but also look great as tartan trews or trousers.