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The Dungiven Tartan

The Ulster Tartan

Ulster has its own 350-year old tartan, which has an intriguing history. On 28 April 1956, the Coleraine Chronicle reported the discovery by a farm labourer of ragged clothing dug out of an earth bank on the farm of Mr William Dixon, in the townland of Flanders, near Dungiven, County Londonderry. The find consisted of a woollen jacket or jerkin, a small portion of a mantle or cloak, trews or tartan trousers, and leather brogues. This was the style of clothing worn by men in those parts in the 16th or early 17th century. Archaeologists from the Ulster Museum were invited to analyse the discovery. A block of peat containing fragments of the clothing was examined by Mr A G Smith of the Department of Botany at Queen's University, revealing a high concentration of pine pollen. Scots pine had been introduced into Ireland in the 1600s. The likelihood was that the tartan cloth was at least that old. This tartan goes by a number of different names and is recognized officially as the 'Ulster District Tartan'. Experts have estimated that the pattern was constructed in the early to mid 1600s, and that it may have been worn by the O'Cahans of Antrim. A reconstruction of the tartan in now on display in the Ulster Museum in Belfast. There is evidence that the Irish Gaels, during the late middle ages, created a number of 'tartans' or 'proto-tartans' which have pre-dated the early Scottish tartans. The Irish forerunner to the Scottish belted plaid (a very early form of kilt) is generally described as being a solid saffron-yellow in colour, and Irish pipe bands wear kilts of this solid colour today

The Great Kilt

The Feileadh Mór, or great kilt, the forerunner of todays kilt does not appear to have been worn in great numbers until the 1600s. In Ireland and in Scotland war attire was composed of the " leine croich ", which was a quilted surcoat (giving protection to the wearer), over which chainmail would be worn, with a conical helmet protecting the head, and a spear and sword as weapons. This fact is amply demonstrated by the many effigies of medieval warriors in Western Scotland and by the contemporary portrait of Sir John Bourke of Mayo, circa 1580. This began to change around the early 1600s and the Feileadh Mór gained popularity. The Feileadh Mór was a piece of cloth several yards long which the wearer lay lengthwise on top of his belt, leaving enough distance below the belt to cover him from waist to knee. He then pleated the top end and lay facing upwards on the cloth, buckling his belt, and standing up, which formed the bottom half of the kilt. He could then either pull the pleated end over both shoulders if it was cold, or over one shoulder if not, pinning it with a brooch as is shown in the image below. This garment also doubled as a sleeping bag at night if sleeping in the open as highland men in Ireland and Scotland often did. Under the kilt the leine was worn, basically a long linen shirt, white or yellow in colour, and sometimes a short leather jacket over this. In Ireland (and Scotland), many wore a large long saffron (yellow) coloured shirt, over which was a saffron coloured Feileadh Mór or Kilt according to Nicholas d'Arfelle, French Ambassador to James V, King of Scotland. The earliest representation anywhere of a tartan pattern being used on a kilt is actually a drawing of Ulster Irish troops " Irrlander " in the early 1600's (see above) who were transported from Carlingford to Sweden for service in the Swedish Army by the English Lord Deputy, who was eager to be rid of a dangerous group of men while he got on with the Plantation of Ulster. In all 6,000 of these men were transported.


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