Irish Traditional Clothing
Old and New

This Irish traditional clothing page is the place for you to learn about the Irish styles of the past and present. I'll start you off at the findings buried in the bogs and bring you up to modern Irish wool sweaters. Somewhere in between I will eventually cover Irish family tartans, Irish caps, Celtic costumes, Irish walking capes and more.

There is not a lot written about Irish clothing. Much of what I've found on the subject was written in the 19th century. Although there was a Welshman in the twelfth century named Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) that wrote about Irish dress at that time.

(Update. I've found another excellent book on Irish traditional clothing. If you are lucky you might find it at your local library. It is kind of a rare book even though it was written in 1989. The book is called "Dress in Ireland a History" by Mairead Dunlevy. This is an excellent resource.)

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Fashions From The Bog

Some really cool items have been found in the bogs of Ireland. These items were usually discovered while cutting peat for the fire. They are usually well preserved and make a good window to the past.

In 1824 a male body wearing woolen clothing was found in a bog near Sligo. The body was buried six feet down. It was in preserved in perfect condition. It doesn't say in my research what the age of the body was, but from what I found, I think it might be from the Twelfth century.

His clothing consisted of trews a type of trousers in a plaid pattern, loose at the top and close fitting at the leg and ankle.

He also wore a léine (LAY-nah) a type of tunic of soft cloth gored and gusseted extending to the knee. The bottom of the léine when spread out was a full eight feet in circumference. The sleeves were tight to the elbow where they opened up and became very loose fitting.

Over everything was an Irish mantle. It was made of brown soft wool cloth. When laid out flat it was nine feet long. It was cut straight across at the top. At the bottom it was cut in a segment of a circle. Cloaks like this were of such great value at the time this man lived; they were often used to pay tribute to kings. The colors of these cloaks were at one time regulated by brehon law. One color for slaves and servants, two for soldiers and farmers, three for goodly heroes or young lords, four for freeman, five for a chieftain, six for a judge or bard, and seven was for kings and queens.

Shinrone Dress

In 1843 a woman's dress was found buried in a bog near Shinrone, Co. Tipperary. It was believed to be from the sixteenth or seventeenth century. It was very well preserved.

It was made of a brown woolen cloth. It consisted of a bodice with a long waist that opened in the front. Attached to the bodice was a full plaited skirt. It had 23 gored breadths gathered into small plaits at the top and spread out to wide quilling at the bottom. The bottom of the skirt measured twenty-two feet in circumference with ninety-two plaits in all. It shows the high skill of the tailors of that period.

In 1931 a gown was discovered in a bog near Moy, Co. Clare. This one was believed to be from he fifteenth century. It was made of coarsely woven wool twill. It had a low rounded neckline. Tight sleeves buttoned up to the underarms. The bodice buttoned in the front center. The skirt had a centered double gore in back and on both sides. The front of the skirt was missing. It was deteriorated too much to know if it was full length or calf length. Irish traditional clothing of this period was pretty much the same for both men and women. Both sexes wore this type of gown.

This gown again shows the improvement of the Irish tailors from the previous centuries.

Ok, enough of the bog on to the Twelfth Century.

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Twelfth Century Irish Traditional Clothing

The best way to describe the dress of this period is to quote Giraldus Cambrensis.

"They wear their woolen clothes mostly black, because the sheep in Ireland are in general of that color; the dress itself is of a barbarous fashion. They wear moderate close-hooded or cowled mantles, which spread over their shoulders and reach down to the elbow, composed of small pieces of cloth, of different kinds and colors, for the most part sewed together; beneath which they have woolen phalanges, instead of a cloak, or breeches and stockings in one piece, and these generally dyed of some color".

The mantle was fastened at the front with a bodkin or brooch.

12th century Irish clothing

The drawings and observations of Giraldus Cambrensis in the twelfth century are shown at right.

The largest figure is Dermond MacMurchard, king of Leinster, and the others are of his countryman. Besides his depiction of Irish traditional clothing Giraldus also shows the use of the Danish axe, a favorite weapon of the Irish at that time.

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I haven't found anything written about Irish traditional clothing in the thirteenth century. It seems the styles hadn't changed all that much in this century from the last. But I'll start off in the fourteenth century on the traditional Irish clothing page.

This page is long enough and I like to keep things somewhat brief so you don't fall asleep on me.

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