Why do the Irish wear kilts

Liddy Curran in kilt, Belfast, 1917
At the end of the 20s and the beginning of the 30s of the 20th century, skirts were common in the now free Ireland, which were supposed to be more reminiscent of the traditional kilts, although in reality they only had the folds in common with the historical kilt, the léine. As early as 1917, Liddy Curran, niece-in-law and dance student of Peader O'Rafferty in Belfast, wore a kilt to dance. O'Rafferty also played a leading role in introducing the kilt into Irish dance culture among men. Liddy Curran's dance costume consisted of a saffron kilt, green vest and jacket, as well as a lace collar and lace cuffs. Brat, very long for this time and fastened with a Tara brooch, and socks were also dark ocher.
Connolly Dancers with Essie Connolly, late 1930s
Even when the kilt had finally become the common dance clothing of the dancers, jackets were worn with it, to which a scarf was attached, which replaced the previous shawl. The relatively small and narrow scarf was only worn over one shoulder and either hung freely on the back or was stretched diagonally across the back and fastened to the other hip with a tara brooch. This garment, still called Brat, was very reminiscent of the pluid that was worn over the shoulder in Ireland. Contrary to the rest of European tradition, however, the scarf was worn over the left shoulder, as was customary among the Irish in protest against the occupiers. There it was considered a privilege of the king or queen to wear the scarf over the left shoulder, which the proud Irish claimed for themselves. At the end of the 20s of the 20th century, the brat was sometimes completely dispensed with and instead only a sash was worn over the long-sleeved dress. However, until the 1930s there were also dancers who continued to wear a larger shawl, which was designed as a knee-length or almost floor-length cape, with the two upper corners no longer pulled down to the stomach and tucked together, but the corners were fastened separately to the shoulders with tara brooches. In addition, a cord was worn around the belly of the one-piece dress, in contrast to the kilt, while a jacket was omitted.
Lily Comerford Dancers in Kilts, Dublin, early 1930s
The dance teacher Lily Comerford from Dublin made the kilt part of the official dance costume of her dance school in 1922, for both men and women. The lower corner on the outside of the kilt was pinned with a kilt pin. Both dancers and dancers used open black jackets, white blouses and small, freely hanging shawls on the left shoulder with the saffron-colored kilts. Later, at the suggestion of Tom Lawlor, a well-known later member of An Coimisiún from Dublin, simple white collars and white cuffs were added for the girls. This marked the beginning of the official kilt campaign for the nationwide implementation of this item of clothing as dance clothing, especially for men.
Violet Danaher, Limerick, and Peter Bolton, Dublin, at the Chicago World's Fair, 1935
The male dancers, who until then simply wore breeches or long trousers and a shirt, also began to rediscover the kilt around this time. However, this was not entirely voluntary, but was partially enforced by corresponding regulations from An Conradh for official dance events. Just like the development emerging in women's dance dresses, the male kilts of modern times were not an Irish tradition, but were romanticizing, if quite charming, new creations in shape and color, because the tradition of the kilt was interrupted for many centuries. The members of An Conradh began using the kilt around 1900 to emphasize their Irish nationality, and they expected Irish dancers to do the same.
At the beginning, even members of An Conradh, who usually wore kilts, switched to dancing in knee breeches, which were considered typical Irish dance attire of the time at the beginning of the 20th century. Among them were famous dancers of the time who never wore kilts to dance, such as Cormac O'Keeffe, Peter Bolton, Tomás Ó Faircheallaigh, Freddie Murray and Willie Murray. Between around 1910 and 1920, most male dancers switched to long pants, e.g. Harry McCaffrey. Boys, on the other hand, usually wore shorts.
Peader O'Rafferty winning the first Ulster Championship, with Maire McStrocker, 1911
The first modern dancer to wear a kilt to a dance competition was the aforementioned Peader O'Rafferty, as shown in a photo as the winner of the First Ulster Irish Dance Championship in 1911. However, this made it the absolute exception for a long time. At the 1924 Tailteann Games in Dublin, most rural participants saw dancers wear kilts for the first time. The dancers from Cork and Belfast were reprimanded by the dance teachers from Dublin for not wearing the "new Irish costume". Judge Treasa Halpin threatened them that they would not be allowed to enter the competition without a kilt, even though they had never heard of it before and even though there was no written rule about it. So they had to borrow kilts from a piper band in order to start.
Tomás Ó Faircheallaigh and Eileen McCormick, 1930
Tír Na nOg Dance Team in kilts and with Brats and Sporran, Belfast, 1934
By the early 1930s, the use of the kilt had spread across Ireland. Rory O'Connor, for example, was involved in the kilt campaign. As an All-Ireland Champion in 1931 and through his radio show "Take the Floor", his opinion on the popularization of Irish dancing was very important. The colors of the kilts, similar to those used by women, were mostly dark green and ocher. In the mid-20s of the 20th century it became common for male dancers to wear a jacket instead of a waistcoat or a bare shirt. This was mostly made of Irish tweed and corresponded to everyday clothing.
By the 1940s, kilts had almost completely replaced knee breeches and long trousers. Sometimes a sporran was even worn, a skin pocket in front of the stomach like the Scots wore, although this in no way corresponded to an Irish tradition. This was achieved through massive pressure on the dancers in the official competitions. There was never actually an official requirement to wear a kilt at dance competitions. However, this requirement was enforced in such a way that dancers in trousers soon received exemplary low ratings and therefore quickly "voluntarily" switched to kilts - or gave up dancing. This regulation was largely responsible for the fact that fewer and fewer boys and men found Irish dancing in the following fifty years because they could not identify with these clothes. The misunderstood traditionalism thus almost led to the extinction of the tradition of the Irish male dance. It is interesting in this regard that Tomás Ó Faircheallaigh, leading member of An Coimisiún and later its long-time chairman, never wore a kilt himself, while An Coimisiún enforced this rule until 1994.
In addition to the dance, the dancer's kilt was increasingly evaluated at dance competitions from the 1930s onwards. In addition to the quality of the material and the workmanship, the number of folds was assessed, although this particular fashion came from the newly created Scottish kilts, while the old Scottish and Irish kilts were smooth before their extinction, which is more the actual if would also have been very old, Irish tradition. The whole thing is probably based on a simple mix-up, because the Irish word for the old kilt, pluid [pli: d], meaning coat or blanket, was very similar to the word for folds, pléata [ple: tÉ]. The same applies to Scottish Gaelic, so that it was wrongly assumed that a kilt must have folds. Logically, in modern Irish the kilt was also referred to as Filleadh Beag ['filÉ be: g], meaning "small folds", although it actually means Féileadh [' fe: lÉ], which sounds similar, but actually only means festive clothing.


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