One thing is for sure, as much as we all love and respect the kilt and all its traditional and interesting accessories, it can sometimes be confusing how to put it all together. Kilt outfits are such a long held traditional form of dress in Scotland that people often make the assumption that the knowledge of how it is all worn will naturally already be known.
However these garments and accessories tend to be worn fairly infrequently in modern times, even by the most ardent Highlander, and as they are so different from the usual clothing worn nowadays, it is easy to become confused. Today we will aim to dispel that confusion and explain the best and proper ways to wear your Scottish kilt outfit to look and feel great!
First of all, let’s look at the most important centrepiece of any Scottish outfit – the kilt itself. The waistband of a well-fitting kilt should rest at navel level, or slightly higher, and the selvedge should fall to NO LOWER than mid-knee when you are standing – many traditionalists prefer that the kilt falls no lower than the top of the kneecap, but it is not mandatory to wear it this short. However, a kilt should never completely cover the knee or trail onto the calf under any circumstances; this gives a sloppy and more “skirt-like” appearance to the garment which is (of course) not at all desirable. The other essential piece of information about kilts is of course that the pleats always go at the back! A very obvious piece of information you may think – and we don’t meant to patronise any of our dear readers by pointing this out – but if no one ever tells you, how are you supposed to know? And, as one of the most common errors that even a lay-person will notice, it’s worth mentioning to make sure you always remember this pertinent piece of information!
Next we’ll consider the hose. Traditional kilt hose are long, and the extra length should be folded into the turn-over at the top to make a tidy and padded cuff. There should be a gap of at least a couple of inches between the tops of your hose and the bottom of your kneecap – which is another reason it is important you shouldn’t wear a kilt that is too long for you. When wearing kilt flashes, always remember these go to the outside of your calf, and likewise for your sgian dubh, which is traditionally worn in the right sock, but if you are left-handed it would make sense for you to wear it on that side.
Ghillie brogue laces should be crossed around the calf once and then tied securely at the front or out sides of the legs (as long as both match!). Wrapping the laces around your leg too often can make the brogues look too much like ballet style shoes, and will likely lead to them sliding down, causing you to trip.
The kilt pin can also be a source of distress for many a kilted gentleman. All too often an enthusiastic Scot, getting fully kitted out for the first time, will tweak his kilt aprons into the perfect position and pin them in place with an ornate pin…only to hear a terrible rip the first time he sits down as the aprons try to separate and the wool is torn away from the pin. This type of damage is impossible to fully repair, so please always remember that a kilt pin should be secured through the top apron of the kilt only. A kilt pin is used simply to add a counterweight to the light apron on a kilt, and stop it from blowing around in all but the strongest of winds. They add a decorative aspect as well of course, so by all means choose something which reflects your tastes and style preferences – just don’t allow it to damage your kilt! Another way to minimise damage are to ensure kilt pins are changed or removed as infrequently as possible to avoid stretching the pin holes, or adding extra holes. These same guidelines should be used when considering the use of a fly plaid with plaid brooch, where the brooch should be pinned to the plaid but not your jacket, and used as a counterweight to prevent the plaid from slipping back and off your shoulder.
Finally today, we’ll look at the very uniquely Scottish sporran, the storage bag worn around your waist in place of pockets. These come in a huge variety of colours and styles, but should always be worn centred to the front of your body, with the main pouch of the sporran resting just beneath the pubic bone, or slighter higher if that is more comfortable. The sporran should be held up with suspenders around your belt or, more commonly, a sporran chain – which can be passed through the two belt loops at the back of your kilt waistband to prevent it sliding down. These belt loops should not be used for your kilt belt, which is a purely decorative item that should be placed over the kilt and not pass through any loops at all.
We feel this list is a pretty comprehensive overview of the common pitfalls to avoid when first learning the ropes of Scottish Highland wear, but if you have any questions please feel free to ask in comments as always, or if you have your own advice to give please do share it below!
It’s that time of year again, where the participating countries of Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, France and Italy come together and compete in the famed Six Nations Rugby Tournament! Despite a poor showing by Scotland this weekend, the Six Nations Tournament is still on everyone’s lips here, and Scottish fans will follow it all the way – no matter if we win or lose!
Each nation who participates has their home stadium of course, and will host and play at least two of their five tournament matches there. Of the six participants, three nations use relatively new facilities, France’s Stade de France, Ireland’s Aviva Stadium, and the Welsh Millennium Stadium. The remaining three date back to the early 20th century; Twickenham in England, Stadio Olimpico in Italy, and Scotland’s own Murrayfield, in the West End of Edinburgh. It is of course Murrayfield that we are going to take a closer look at.
Although it is now recognised as the true heart and home of Scottish rugby, this wasn’t always the case. Before Murrayfield was built, matches were played on the cricket fields of the Edinburgh Academical Society from 1871; but both the cricketers and rugby union became increasingly frustrated by the situation as fields became badly damaged by near-constant use, scheduling was a nightmare – especially for international games, and rights of access caused complaints to fly back and forward between the governing bodies of the two sports! It was soon realised that dedicated grounds were required and the first pitch was built in Inverleith in 1897.
25 years later however, the “temporary” stands, despite being much improved since the opening, were still being used, causing concerns about safety, and the lease on the Inverleith location was about to run out. Rugby had also soared in popularity by this point, and there simply wasn’t space to build the type of stadium now needed to accommodate all the fans who wanted to attend games. During a protracted decision making process it seemed at one point that the base for Scottish rugby might have to be moved to Glasgow’s Hampden Park and share space with Queen’s Park Rangers football team, however finally a deal was worked out to purchase 19 acres of land previously used by the Edinburgh Polo Club at Murrayfield!
Fittingly enough, Scotland’s last game at Inverleith took place on Burns Night of 1925, and resulted in a Scottish victory against France – a fitting tribute to the bard! This was an important game for them in that year’s FIVE Nations Tournament (it didn’t become the Six Nations until later), as they were unbeaten so far, with their final match taking place at the newly opened Murrayfield Stadium on March 21st. That match was against England – again a very fitting start to the Murrayfield history, especially since Scotland won the thrilling match 14-11, watched by thousands of excited spectators, to win the tournament, and their first ever Grand Slam – finishing the tournament unbeaten – though it wasn’t commonly called that yet.
The new stadium proved so popular, that by 1927 expansion was already necessery with extra pitches, stands, bridges and car park being built to the west of the original site. But Murrayfield wasn’t only used for sport; when World War II broke out use of the grounds was provided to the Royal Army Service Corps, who used the space as a supplies depot. During this dark period of history international matches were cancelled and teams on the local level struggled to get by, with many amalgamating. As an effort to keep troops spirits up, two matches a year were organised as Scotland v. England Services Internationals, played on a home and away basis with the Scottish matches played back at the old Inverleith stomping grounds until Murrayfield was de-requisitioned in 1944.
After the war a series of “Victory” internationals were played between friendly nations to entertain and re-establish rugby as a popular game, followed by intensive repairs and reconstruction at Murrayfield which had been understandably neglected during the fraught war years.
As the decades since the war passed by many minor maintenance and cosmetic upgrades were undertaken and Scottish rugby grew and grew in popularity. Throughout the years the fans increased in number and passion, coming to international matches in kilts, novelty hats, waving flags and, of course, sporting a variety of Scottish rugby shirts – the game’s answer to the fabled Tartan Army of football fandom!
Due to the ever-present threat of rain and hard frosts in Scottish winters, pitch maintenance has been a big concern for the skilled workers in charge of caring for Murrayfield – an underground “electric blanket” was fitted in 1959 to protect the turf, and lasted over 30 years before being replaced by a more modern system of gas heated water pipes in 1991. One thing which was considered back in the mid-20th century, was floodlighting. However, at the time, it was deemed unnecessary for Murrayfield, though the debate led to the international rugby union giving more support to district level teams to obtain proper lighting systems to allow for play and training during winter.
But as the game continued to grow, it became abundantly clear that the stadium could no longer meet the demands of its fans. With the massive overhaul of the facilities in 1994 Murrayfield became a truly modern stadium, with proper floodlighting and seating for nearly 70, 000 spectators!
The stadium has always been used by other groups – for purposes as far from one another as can be imagined, pop concerts, religious festivals, ladies lacrosse, Highland Games (and the Clan Gatherings!) have all been held at Murrayfield at one time or another, and this multiplicity of use has ensured the stadium has a special place in the heart of many Edinburgh residents and sport fans!
One more game will be played at Murrayfield for the Six Nations 2014 Tournament, Scotland versus France, so here’s hoping we do a little better than we have so far! As usual, we love to hear your comments and thoughts so let us know below if you have a special memory of a game at Murrayfield, or perhaps if you’re looking forward to visiting the stadium in March to cheer on our boys!
After the wonderful reaction to our first post about Scottish clans, we thought we would share with you some more details about the formation and underpinnings of the Scottish clan system. In addition, we look forward to sharing with you some of the ways in which you can go about finding out your own clan or sept links via genealogical research, to better understand and appreciate the great family bonds which tie together all Scots worldwide!
In our previous post, we talked about a couple of clans which claimed mythological origins, featuring founding fathers who we know now existed only in Gaelic stories and legends, or who cannot be traced by following patrimonial lineage of the clan chiefs. In fact, most clans formed for political reasons, with strong landowners and war-lords exerting dominance over weaker families, who in turn accepted the protection of these proto-chiefs, from the political turmoil of the 13th century, following the Scottish Crown’s conquests in the Highlands and Islands against the Norse. Most Scottish clans can trace a direct line of succession back to around the 13th or 14th century, with a few rare instances where the genealogy goes back as far as the
11th century. Only a tiny handful of clans, Lamont, MacLea, MacLachlan, MacNeill and the Irish clan Sweeney, can trace their lineage back further than this – all of these clans descend from one king – Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Ireland during the early 5th Century.
Often clans with a shared ancestry, such as the clans associated with King Niall, or the Siol Alpin as we discussed in the
last post, would create alliances with one another – and the bonds of kinship were often considered much more important than politics. It cannot be truly understood by anyone now, not even modern Scots really, but during the height of the clan’s power these bonds of kinship gave a great deal of meaning to the average clansman’s life – in recognising his chief’s leadership and taking the family surname (regardless of his blood relation to the chief) a Scotsman would feel part of a noble and illustrious family, with power and honour that must be wielded responsibly. On the flip side there was no greater crime than disloyalty to the clan; the chief was considered the patriarch of a huge family, the lawmaker and guiding hand, and to commit treason against this figurehead was to dishonour your whole family.
It was said jokingly by our Auld Alliance friends in France that “every clansman thinks he is the King of Scotland’s cousin” and this is not so far off the mark (but there were times when it seemed no one could agree on quite who the King was, or should be!). By acknowledging kinship with his clansmen, a chief is in effect permitting the applicant to take equal pride in and responsibility for upholding his eminent pedigree, knowing that the sense of pride in being considered an equal and family member will ensure that every clansman had a stake in doing everything he could to ensure the continued success of the clan.
Another famous Scottish saying is “We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns” (in Gaelic “Clann MhicTamhais”), and although it was only coined a couple of centuries ago, this very Scottish attitude of “we are all one people/we are all the same under the skin” can be seen as the basis for clan interactions for over a thousand years, and no doubt has a lot to do with our legendary reputation for hospitality into the modern era!
So now to tackle the other big question we received after the December entry – how can you look into your own Scottish ancestry? Though it is easy to assume that you belong to a certain clan due to your current surname, that is not necessarily the case. Your name may have become changed over the generations, for example a divorce leading a branch of your family to take on a step-parent’s surname or mother’s maiden name. Or the spelling may have become corrupted during emigration, especially if a move took place back when record keeping was less than perfect. You may even have a surname which belongs to several clans such as MacIver, some of whom are affiliated with Clan Campbell, others Clan MacKenzie! Regardless, the best place to start is by talking to as many living relatives as possible and making the start of a family tree; if you are lucky you may be able to sketch out dates and relations for around five or six generations this way, and collect some great family history and stories to help clue you in where to look next.
Once you’ve sketched this out, you can start to look for the birth, marriage and death records for each identified relative, there are many resources to be able to do this online. Using birth certificates in particular can be handy, as the parents names will help you identify the next generation that you are looking for. Eventually – hopefully – you will come to find a direct relation who can either be identified through the historical record as taking part in a particular event such as a battle on behalf of his clan, or even merely confirmed as living in a certain region with a certain surname pre-Proscription can be enough. However long it takes, you can be certain you will find out so much fascinating information about where you come from – and the revived and modern clan societies which still operate under the banners of kinship and loyalty today will be waiting with open arms to welcome you!