A Quaich looks like a small, ornamental bowl, usually with engraving or celtic designs on the inside and handles, you would be forgiven for thinking it is designed to do very little else than be a decorative piece. The Quaich however, is much more than this and the simple, but beautiful bowl has a long and rich history.
What is the history of a Quaich?
A Quaich is a traditional Scottish bowl which was used for drinking and its name comes from the Gaelic “cuach” which means “cup”. Quaichs however were not used for any drink. It was used for special drinks, such as whisky or brandy. This meant that people used Quaichs across the Scottish Highlands as a welcoming to guests and visitors, showing a sign of friendship.
Quaichs have been noted throughout history, with Kings James VI of Scotland giving a special decorative Quaich to Anne of Denmark in 1589 as a wedding gift. They were even noted within the Jacobite story as Prince Charles Edward Stuart travelled south around 1745 with many instances of Quaichs being used throughout the journey.
Where Quaichs originated from is still unclear. Some historians claim that Highlanders used to drink from scallop shells, which became impractical, so they designed Quaichs which matched the unique shape of the scallops. Others say that Quaichs were used as far back as the Celtic Druids around the 2nd century B.C, perhaps the mystery of the Quaich origins is what makes it so alluring for people.
Quaichs were usually made with wood and designed with Celtic knotwork or thistle designs and many clans even added their own clan crests or other motifs. Nowadays this tradition continues, with so many stunning designs to choose from, including the opportunity to personalise the Quaich even further with engraving. We engrave many Quaichs every year with messages and words for special occasions or gifts.
It was not until the 17th Century that Quaichs began to be made from precious materials, with more intricate designs and elegant features being used to match the tastes of the upper classes within the Scottish Lowlands. The inside of the bowl would have stunning designs and the handles too would be used for pieces of art.
The shape adapted to include two “lugs” (which is a Scottish term for “ears”), which meant as the Quaich was being passed between clansmen, both hands would need to be used and therefore, the potential of holding any weapons would be nulled and trust and comradeship would be created.
What is a Quaich used for?
The Quaich was originally used to welcome guests and visitors and was a token of friendship, trust and warmth. Clan Chiefs would often use Quaichs to show another clan, perhaps a rival clan, that they were forming a bond or special relationship. The two chiefs would drink first from the Quaich, followed by the rest of the clans. This sounds nice, however glass bottom Quaichs were invented to keep an eye on rivals whilst the Quaich was being drunk from!
It was (and still is) used as a symbol of togetherness. At weddings, QuaIchs would be handed to the bride, by the groom’s parents and then to the groom, from the bride’s parents. The bride would add her own choice of drink and the groom would do similar. This symbolises the coming together of the couple. Each would take a sip of its contents as a symbol of welcoming new members into each family. The Quaich would then be passed round guests to share in the couple's happiness while a speaker or chosen guest would say a poem or a few chosen words.
How do you pronounce Quaich?
Most people pronounce the word as ‘quake’ with a hard ‘k’, however with a little practice, we would recommend changing the hard ‘k’ to a more Scottish ‘ch’ sound, similar to loch and dreich. Give it a go.
Are Quaichs still used today?
Yes, Quaichs are still very much used nowadays and are still extremely popular as gifts for weddings, anniversaries and other celebrations. In fact, popular events to buy a Quaich for are Christenings, which plays on the Scottish phrase of “wetting the baby’s head”. Quaichs are also used during Burns Nights as part of the celebrations.
The name has adapted too, and the Quaich is sometimes referred to as the “Cup of Friendship”, which we feel is very appropriate considering its history of bringing people together, usually in celebration.
With new designs coming out every year, Quaichs are still a staple of the Highlandwear and Scottish gift market. The common pewter Quaichs are now being re-designed with stunning silver, wood and even oxhorn designs.