A Brief Look at Pre-Clearances Clothes for Women

Recently, I’ve started going along to SCA (Society of Creative Anachronism) events. You might say, “But Rachel, of course! You are both creative and an anachronism! Why haven’t you gone before?”

Well, to be honest, I always thought it was a little weird. And in Adelaide, most of the things they were at were things I was also at, but in another capacity (fiddler, Scottish radio presenter, member of a Clan, and so on). But then I found a SCA College listed on the uni website and thought, “Well, when I move away, I’ll join.”

It’s been good, so far, too. I mean, people in my res House have gone out a couple of nights and got drunk, which really isn’t my scene… Sitting on the lawn in period dress, sewing while a bunch of men in armour whack the living daylights out of each other with sticks is definitely more my scene. And there’s less alcohol, too.


I started researched pre-Clearances Highland clothing long before I ever considered joining the SCA. I suspect it might have been in relation to a Doctor Who fanfic (I’m a fan of Jamie McCrimmon), but that’s really how I do fanfics – copious research with little to no actual story produced. Anyway, since the Highland dress has now become my SCA garb, purely by virtue of it being the only suitable clothing I have, I thought I’d explain it a little.

Pre-Clearances includes the 18th century, so it’s a little later than the SCA period, but Highland life had changed relatively little in the preceding thousand years or so, so it stands to reason that women’s clothes hadn’t changed much, either.

In the initial research, I disregarded SCA sources as much as possible. And there was a reason for that. A lot of the SCA-based information on Highland dress came along with phrasebooks for Gaelic, and those were… not the most accurate, shall we say. I mean, not bad, but not accurate either, considering how much Gaelic there is available on line these days. And a lot of the same mistakes crept into a lot of the lists, so I suspected that the SCA lore on Highland dress, like their Gaelic phrasebooks, were based more on hear-say than on actual research.


There are two or three items of clothing which are essential to making the Highland woman’s outfit, as far as I’m concerned: the earrasaid, the headcovering, and possibly the shawl (but only if you want there to be no mistake about where you’re from).

 

The Earrasaid

The earrasaid is essentially the girly version of the fèileadh-mòr (known in English as the “great-kilt”). Both are giant rectangles, like bedsheets, of traditionally wool (but I live in Australia, so I’m not using wool), belted at the waist. There are a few differences: men’s are checked, and women’s are striped; men’s are in darker colours, women’s have a lot of white and yellow; men’s are pleated at the waist and fall to the knee, women’s are gathered and fall a few inches above the hem of the dress.

Point 2 on colour is actually very interesting. Modern “dress tartans” are variations on the standard tartan with a lot of white in it. The common assumption is that a “dress tartan” is more formal than the standard, ancient or hunting tartans, but actually “dress” means “dress”, rather than “formal” – it’s the girl’s tartan.

M. Martin, Gent., wrote in 1791 describing how women dress in the Western Isles:

“The antient Drefs wore by the Women, and which is yet wore by fome of the Vulgar, called Ariʃad, is a white Plad, having a few fmall Stripes of black, blue, and red; it reach’d from the Neck to the Heels, and was tied before on the Breaft with a Buckle of Silver, or Brafs, according to the Quality of the Perfon. I have feen fome of the former of a hundred Marks value; it was broad as any ordinary Pewter Plate, the whole curioufly engraven with various Animals, &c. There was a leffer Buckle, which was wore in the middle of the larger, and above two Ounces weight; it had in the Centre a large piece of Chryftal, or fome finer Stone, and this was fet all round with feveral finger Stones of a leffer fize.

“The Plad being pleated all round, was tied with a Belt below the Breaft; the Belt was of Leather, and feveral Pieces of Silver intermix’d with the Leather like a Chain. The lower end of the Belt has a Piece of Plate about eight Inches long, and three in breadth, curioufly engraven; the end of which was adorned with fine Stones, or Pieces of Red Coral. They wore Sleeves of Scarlet Cloth, clos’d at the end as Mens Vefts, with God Lace round ‘em, having Plate Buttons fet with fine Stones. The Head-drefs was a fine Kerchief of Linen ftrait about the Head, hanging down the Back taper-wife; a large Lock of Hair hangs down their Cheeks above their Breaft, the lower end tied with a Knot of Ribbands.”

I definitely need a better belt and a buckle. Actually, I really need a buckle or a broach for under my chin. But overall, the earrasaid is really comfortable and cozy. And practical. If you tuck it right, there is so much pocket storage space you don’t even notice the drink bottle and purse. If it didn’t look so weird, I would wear it a lot more. Possibly all the time. I’m a massave fan of the earrasaid.

R. R. McIan’s Tartans provides useful colour pictures of highland dress, including two of earrasaidean worn by the Urquhart and Matheson ladies:

urquhartmatheson

 

The Shawl

If there was any tartan involved at all in the Highland woman’s dress, this is where it is. The Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland describes the tartan shawl:

“The plaid is the undress of the ladies; and to a genteel woman, who adjusts it with a good air, is a becoming veil. But as I am pretty sure you never saw one of them in England, I shall employ a few words to describe it to you. It is made of silk or fine worsted, chequered with various lively colours, two breadths wide, and three yards in length; it is brought over the head, and may high or discover the face according to the wearer’s fancy or occasion: it reaches to the waist behind; one corner falls as low as the ankle on one side; and the other part, in folds, hangs down from the opposite arm.”

The edition I read from also adds the clarification from Martyn’s Western Islands,

“The plaid is made of fine wool, the thread as fine as can be made of that kind: it consists of divers colours; and there is a great deal of ingenuity required in sorting the colours, so as to be agreeable to the nicest fancy. For this reason, the women are at great pains, first, to give an exact pattern of the plaid upon a piece of wood, having the number of every thread of the stripe on it. The length of it is commonly seven double ells; the one end hands by the middle over the left arm, the other going round the body hangs by the end over the left arm also. The right-hand above it is to be at liberty to do any thing upon occasion.”

On the topic of tartans, it does bear adding this: there’s a common belief that clan tartans were invented by Victorian English nobility and aren’t a true Scottish thing really. So I was interested to read M. Martin’s description of men’s plaids:

“Every Ifle differs from each other in their Fancy of making Plads, as to the Stripes in Breadth and Colours. This Humour is as different thro the main Land of the Highlands, in-fo-far that they who have feen thofe Places, are able, at the firft View of a Man’s Plad, to guefs the Place of his Refidence.”

Bearing in mind that location is basically synonymous with clan, we can definitely see that regional clan tartans were well-established in the Highlands and islands by the end of the 18th century, and were foreign enough as a concept to an Englishman to be worth commenting on

R. R. McIan’s Tartans shows shawls worn by the Sinclair and Lamond ladies:

 

The Headcovering

People who know me will know I take headcoverings seriously. It’s not just some “oh, look at that interesting historical headgear” for me. I look at an historical headcovering through the eyes of someone who wears one all day, every day. I want something that’s comfortable, practical, and secure.

That has nothing to do with anything, really, but I felt like saying it before describing the Highland headcovering. In Gaelic, the word “brèid” can refer to many different squares of cloth, from tablecloths to sails and of course headcoverings. The LearnGaelic dictionary has a whole list of sayings involving the term, and most of them have to do with head-kerchiefs.

Brèidean are strictly for married woman, and “brèideach” means “married woman”, and there’s a waulking song I encountered in the EBI library which uses “put on the brèid early” as a synonym for “had an affair before she got married”. Despite that, I am wearing a headcovering with my outfit because I don’t like the hairstyle for unmarried women. I’ll cover that in a minute.

So my final plot of the brèid I have based largely on an air or love-song I know which is found in the Carmina Gadelica, as well as on a selection of other descriptive terms for the brèid which I’ve encountered. The two verses of the air with which I am concerned are:

“A cul dualach, camlach, cuachach,
Her tresses curly/braided, coiled, bowled,
Ann an sguaib aig m’ eudail,
In the broom of my darling
‘S ge boidheach e ‘s an stiom a suas,
Although it’s beautiful in the headband down
Cha mheas an cuailean breid e.
Not worse the curls in headcovering.

“Gur a math thig breid ban
That becomes well headcovering white,
Air a charamh beannach dhut
On the position pointed/horned to you
Agus staoise dh’ an t-sioda mhin
And cords to the silk soft
‘G a theannadh ort.
Approaching it on you.

There are no pictures of the headcovering, it having been long replaced with frilled bonnet-caps or babushka-style veils by the time people started painting pictures of Highlands women, so all I have to go on is that it’s somehow mountain-like (beannach), and it’s attached to the head with silk cords. It’s white (brèid ban) and looks a bit like a crown or three (brèid cuimir nan [tri] crun), with three corners (currachd tri-chearnach), possibly held up with some sort of support (brèid an crannaig).

So it’s certainly not a simple kerchief tied around the head! It’s quite elaborate, actually. I recall hearing or reading somewhere that gold and silver pins were used, although I can’t recall where – but based on Martin’s description of belts and broaches, it seems quite likely. From the evidence, the headcovering is done in some way in which the three points look like crowns or horns. One of the descriptions, “brèid an crannaig”, uses the same word that’s used for a pulpit or the base of a statue, so that provides some clue – there might be a wooden support inserted under.

This is the style I’ve settled on, which I think does justice to the evidence. It’s quite comfortable and reasonable secure, although it tends to pull back a little bit if I bring the earrasaid up over my head. I’ll take step-by-step pictures to put on my headcoverings blog sometime when I’m home.

Breid.png

 

Girls’ Hairstyles

Young unmarried women continued to wear their hair in a single ribbon near the hairline, binding the plaits or curls up, well into the 18th and 19th centuries, so we have pictures of that.

From R. R. McIan’s Tartans:

matheson

Two details from David Allan’s 1780 A Highland Wedding and Blair Atholl:

A headband is called a stiom, and has been transliterated as “stem” and translated as “fillet” by early English commentators.

That air I mentioned earlier describes the hairstyle:

“A cul dualach, camlach, cuachach,
Her tresses curly/braided, coiled, bowled,
Ann an sguaib aig m’ eudail,
In the broom of my darling
‘S ge boidheach e ‘s an stiom a suas,
Although it’s beautiful in the headband down
Cha mheas an cuailean breid e.
Not worse the curls in headcovering.

So it looks like it might be several plaits or two-strand ‘rope-plaits’ tied back off the face with a wide ribbon.

 

 

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The Road from Adelaide to Melbourne

I’ve been meaning to do a post on the Adelaide-Melbourne run for a while, since I find myself making the trip reasonably often.

adelaide-to-melbourne

It’s about 800km, all on the one road, so it’s a pretty easy trip. Except for the stretch of road between Horsham and the border. Actually, any part of the road in Victoria further away from Melbourne than Beaufort at a stretch. But never mind that.

There are a couple of good places to stop for a meal along the road:

tailem-bend

Jager’s BP, Tailem Bend

Where: on the left, just before the town (from Melbourne) or on the right, just after the town (from Adelaide)

Eat-in: fully air-conditioned, with complementary chilled water and couches; menu is very tasty, varied, healthy and reasonably-priced

Take-away: all the usual suspects, all the usual prices

Service: cannot be faulted; staff are friendly, welcoming, and prompt

Toilets: a little scrungey

Other Attractions: the balcony is literally over the river, so it’s a good view

 keith

BP Roadhouse, Keith

Where: on the right, very shortly after “commodore on a pole” (from Adelaide) or on the left, just before the down (from Melbourne)

Eat-in: air-conditioned, but fairly basic dining facilities; menu is reasonably good, with lamb rump steaks with chips and vegetables currently going for around $13 each

Take-away: all the usual suspects, all the usual prices

Service: practical and utilitarian; not rude, but they don’t go out of their way to be welcoming

Toilets: unpleasant, but mostly tolerable

Other Attractions: um… it’s near a commodore on a pole?

 nhill

Olivia Rose Café, Nhill

Where: on the left, just before the round-about (from Adelaide; or take a slip-road across the median strip to approach it from the same direction when coming from Melbourne)

Eat-in: air-conditioned, a varied and healthy menu at reasonable prices; gluten- and dairy-free options

Take-away: I don’t think they do take-away

Service: friendly; it’s a café, not a roadhouse

Toilets: just across the road, on the median strip; public toilets are basic but clean

Other Attractions: Nhill

dadswells-bridge

Koala Kitchen, Dadswells Bridge

Where: on the left (from Melbourne) or right (from Adelaide), just behind the giant koala

Eat-in: air-conditioned, a varied menu at reasonable prices, but mostly featuring lots of turkey; turkey sausages with chips and salad goes at $12.30

Take-away: all the usual suspects (pies, pasties, sausage roles) at the usual prices

Service: a mother and son, not overly friendly but polite and prompt

Toilets: very good

Other Attractions: there’s a three-storey-tall fibreglass koala, a native animals petting enclosure ($5 for adults, free for children with an adult; entry includes the price of feed), and a turkey farm across the road

koala

 

Here’s Something Infuriating…

Our lovely local member Rebekha Sharkie asked a question at Question Time yesterday. That’s not the infuriating thing. Enough nice things cannot be said about Rebekha, who lives just a few towns over from me and who attended every single one of the community meetings we had in January about the blackout in December. In fact, those community meetings are where she was “commissioned” to ask this very question.

Here’s her question:

And here’s the PM’s… well, I’m not going to call it an “answer”:

Okay, so

(a) the question wasn’t even about the blackout, let alone the renewable power problem about which the blackout had nothing to do. The one in September, perhaps, but the December one was entirely down to trees (and Stobie poles!) falling on the lines, and repair crews taking up to five days to respond. (Which also meant that the CFS couldn’t clear the trees, which they’re capable of, because they hadn’t been told if there was a current in the lines or not, but that’s another matter). Yes, the PM makes a reasonable point about there maybe being some hypocrisy in drawing increasing non-renewable power from Victoria while saying that we’re entirely “green”, but if he knew even Thing One about either of the blackouts, he would know that wasn’t even relevant.

(b) who cares about what Labour did several years ago? The question is what are you, the current national leader, going to do to make things better now? How are you going to safeguard our telecommunications during bushfire season? Don’t deflect the blame. We’re not looking to place blame. We’re looking to fix it, but apparently you’re not willing to help with that.

(c) the question wasn’t about mobile phone black-spots, although that’s closer than his first reply. The fact is, most of the Hills does have mobile phone access. A little dodgy at times in valleys, but it’s there. Just, you know, not when the power’s been out for several days and the relay towers only have battery back-up for between four and eight hours. Something Rebekha was cut off from saying was that, when the NBN rolls out (and supercedes the current coverage, becoming the only telecommunications network in the area), their back-up lasts for only three hours. What we need is LONGER battery back-up, perhaps even generators on the relay towers, not SHORTER.

(d) it’s not a matter of “the lights going out in Mayo”. As I’ve said, we don’t care if the lights go out. Not in summer, when we have sixteen or more hours of really quite decent light every day. What we do care about is not having any water or sewage. And what we really, really worry about is not having any contact with the outside world at a time of year when a bushfire could run through the area and burn everything to the ground – including us, if we don’t have any way of knowing that it’s there and we have to evacuate.

So, what can I say? Not much more, really, except “poor Rebekha”. I wish there was some way of posting over all the comforting hugs her constituents want to give her right now.

Also… I didn’t mind the PM, inasmuch as I didn’t really think he was either good or bad, just as ineffective as the last dozen we’ve had since I finished primary school. But now… now I really don’t like him.

Gaoidhealg

I’ve used the Middle Irish name for the language for a reason. Is it called “Gaeilge” or “Gaidhlig” or “Gaelg” or “Gaoileann”? Let’s settle for this instead.

Well, last weekend, I went to Canberra (and yes, it’s taken me a week to blog about it).

In fact, I should say, Aig deireadh an t-seachdain seo falbh, chaidh mi gu Chanberra.

Or, perhaps, Ag an deireadh seachtaine seo caite, chuaigh mé go dtí Canberra.

I went to Canberra for the Scoil Teanga, or Irish Language School. And I sang at a reception held by the Irish Ambassador to Australia. With no preparation whatsoever. But no-one believed that.

Seo ceist: Cén fáth a bhfuil tú ag an Scoil Teanga?

Deagh chèist. Uill… níl mi ag labhairt móran Gaeilge Albainn i Adelaide agus bha doigh liom nach bhfuill Gaeilge Éireann chomh difriúil.

Speaking Irish is… How to find an analogy?

Speaking Irish as a Gaelic-speaker is like visiting Christchurch as someone from Adelaide. It’s all very familiar, and you can mostly find your way around, but it’s just enough different to get you lost, even though when you look at a map you recognise everything.

And most of it’s missing.

Seriously, where are all the letters in Irish?

Here are some things I learnt:

ALBAINN ÉIREANN
“ao” = /ə:/ “ao” = /e:/
“aoi” = /aɪ/ “aoi” = /wi:/
“à” = /ɑ:/ “á” – /ɔ:/
emphasis = air a’ chiad syllable emphasis = far a bheil an fada
N às deidh T, M, C = /r/ N às deidh T, M, C = /n/
“sibh” do mòran daoine AGUS do gach duine nas sine “sibh” NI ACH do mòran daoine
“tha” “tá”
“chan eil” “níl”
riaghaltan “BUMP”, m.e.:

“dùthaich nam bò”

úrú, m.e.:

“duthaich na mbó”

“chd” = /xk/ “cht” = /xt/
“bha” agus “mha” = /v/ aig tòiseach ‘us dèireadh, /w/ ‘s a mheadhan “bha” agus “mha” = /w/ gach uair
“oidhche” = /ɤɪxɛ/ “oíche” = /i:hɛ/
“bruidhinn” “labhairt”
“ionnsachadh” “foghlam”
“tha mi a’ smaoineachadh” “is doigh liom”
“is toigh leam” “is maith liom”
“tha mi a’ fuireach ann…” “tá mi i mo chónaí i…”
“chì” “feicfidh”
“ithidh” “iscfidh”

Honestly, having completely understood the first three things on that list beforehand would have fixed about a day of confusion and not understanding anything. Never underestimate just how much three little sound shifts can impede meaning.

Here are some grammar things to prove they’re really the same language, though:

prepositional-pronouns

irregular-past

irregular-present

irregular-future

irregular-command

irregular-conditional

bi

dean

Irish is a confusing mixture of “sounds the same but looks different” and “sounds different but looks the same”. In spelling, a lot of words seem to be missing half or more of their letters, but in other places it seems to have retained letters that Gaelic hasn’t (for example, dhéanfainn for Irish “I would do”, but dhèanainn for Gaelic “I would do”, although they’re pronounced exactly the same; or chomh for “so” instead of cho in Gaelic).

Raghnaid’s hot tip for the Irish language: Find someone from Donegal. If people aren’t understanding you, tell it to someone from Donegal and get them to translate it. If you can’t understand other people, find someone from Donegal and get them to repeat it.

Overall, I think if you’re thinking about learning a Goidelic language and can’t decide which one, go with the Scottish version. It’s not just because I’m biased, too. Here are my reasons:

  1. Gaelic grammar is simpler. That is to say, there are fewer tenses than in Irish. Plus the verbs don’t conjugate, which they do in Irish.
  2. Irish orthography has lost a lot of connections. For example, take the preposition “in”. In Gaelic, it’s ann, and “in the” is anns an, often shortened to ‘s an. In Irish, it’s í, and “in the” is san. As a learner of Gaelic, you can see the connection. As a learner of Irish, it’s just a strangely irregular grammar feature you’ve got to memorise.
  3. Irish has three dialects. Yes, Gaelic has dialects, too, but there’s nowhere near as much variation as there is between the Irish dialects. It did my head in, even as someone who already knew the grammar and could understand the Donegal dialect, to try to keep track of three different ways of pronouncing and phrasing things. It’d be really difficult if it were my first venture into Celtic languages.

On the other hand, here are a few plusses for the Irish dialects:

  1. Irish is much more flexible when it comes to sounds. Goidelic languages have a lot of sounds which are really difficult for English-speakers. Gaelic-speakers will correct you if you don’t manage to make them, but Irish has a larger percentage of learners, I think, so they’re a lot more accepting of not being able to differentiate, for example, between the final sounds of poc, feic, and each.
  2. I’ll concede that Irish spelling, with all its missing letters, probably does make more sense to someone new to the language.
  3. I think there might be fewer prepositions, but I’m not 100% sure on that one.

That first point tripped me up a few times, too. I found it much easier to understand the native speakers than the fluent learners (even the one Gaelscoil-educated woman) and I came to the conclusion by the end that it was probably the sounds. I thought on the first day that Irish simply had fewer sounds than Gaelic, but then I listened to a native speaker from the Conamara speaking and realised that all the sounds are still there.

Overall, it’s both more and less different than I was expecting. It was different in ways I didn’t expect, and the same in some ways I thought were different. Culturally – or, rather, I should clarify that I mean musically – it’s a little different. I sang Is Gàidheal Mi at the concert, and someone said to me afterwards, “That sounded so exotic!” It’s a sort of key that’s fairly familiar to people who know Gaelic music (although a bit more unusual than, for example, Òran na Maighdinn Mhara or Taladh ar Shlanuighear) but apparently something that isn’t there in Irish musical tradition.

There are very few words which are completely different between Ireland and Scotland. Most of the time, if it seems like a different word, it’s probably there, but just less-used or with a different meaning. For example, in Gaelic, “learning” is ag ionnsachadh. In Irish, that means “attacking” (one person said it was awfully poetic that in Gaelic, you “attacked” knowledge), while the Irish word for “learning”, foghlam, is used primarily for “education” in Scotland. Another example is teanga, the Irish word for “language”. Gaelic prefers canan,  but teanga exists, for example in the verb ag eadartheangachadh, or “translating” (literally “between-language-ing”). In Gaelic, “walking” is a’ coiseachd, a word which isn’t used in Irish but is understood, as it is literally “foot-ing”. In Ireland, it’s siul, which exists in Scotland as siubhail, but means something more like “stroll”.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve experienced some level of racism from Irish people, so I was a bit worried about that, but aside from one incident on the first night (who decided a political/historical lecture by a local university professor was a good idea? NEVER talk about politics and/or English people around someone from Ireland) I got on quite well with everyone and they accepted me well enough. A number of people were very interested in Gaelic –

I’ve never met a Scottish Gaelic speaker before! I’ve always wondered about the language.” (A few people said words to that effect, but seriously? There are about 75 000 of us in the world, 1500 in Australia, and I’ve seen TG4 documentaries on YouTube so why haven’t you seen something in Gaelic?)

And then, “It’s like looking into the history of Irish!” (Yup, that’s what happens when you put all the letters back in. That was said to me by someone looking at a song book I had with me. But that said, we did read a poem in class in “Ye Olde Irishe”, and that was much easier for me as it had most of the letters I expected… although no Hs, since it was from back when they were a dot on top of the letter).

I really don’t think it’s justified to call Irish and Gaelic separate languages, particularly after having met a few Donegal Irish speakers. It’s an accent and a few figures of speech, that’s all. Oh, and a couple of spelling reforms. As far as I’m concerned, if I can be an Australian and understand someone from Ireland speaking English, Irish-speakers should be able to understand me speaking Gaelic. That’s the level of difference there is.

Oh, and if anyone can fill in any of the gaps on those tables, it would be much appreciated.