This site is an online reference for re-creational medievalism, which involves making a sincere effort to reproduce the lifestyle of a race or region of the distant past. I am interested in researching and re-enacting life as a member of the Fifth Century (AD/CE) Irish Celtic nobility. If you found this page without checking my index page first, you will find more information there. Individual sections of this site may be linked to or reproduced for non-commercial purposes (including SCA events and publications), as long as proper attribution is included.
Works cited included in the clothing bibliography.
Clothing oneself as an ancient Celt is one of the most difficult parts of re-enacting. Written records exist detailing the culture of the times; opened graves provide examples of weapons, ornaments, and sturdy crafted items; oral traditions are a source of mythology, songs, and stories. However, the fabric garments were made of tend to break down over time - linen, wool, and leather were all decayed by the bogs of Ireland. In fact, there are no surviving garments from fifth century Ireland at all. Information must be extrapolated from stories and sagas, stone carvings from earlier time periods, illuminated manuscripts of later centuries, descriptions written by outsiders, and clothing styles favored by neighboring cultures or later periods in Irish history. These pages will try to collect as much information as is available about both historically-accurate and modern costuming adaptions to the style of dress of fifth century Celts.
I consider the following web site "required reading" when it comes to designing garb:
Early Irish Clothing: 5th to 10th Century. M. E. Riley did a fantastic job with the whole site! Another excellent site is: The True Story of What the Irish Wore. Once you have read the information contained at these sites, you can come back here with a better understanding of what clothing from the period is like.
The garments worn by 5th century Irish-Celts each have their own discussion page.
- The tunic-like léine was universally worn by men and women.
- Cloaks of several types were popular.
- Men of specific social roles would wear the jacket-and-pants combination of inar and trius.
- Individuals of both sexes enjoyed wearing accessories of many types, including belts, shoes, pins/brooches, and knives.
- It's useful to have help choosing the type of fabric and how much is needed.
- Once you plan which garments you'll be making, it might be a good ideas to read up on how to ornament them.
- The general tips and tricks page deals with a variety of subjects including how to color-coordinate your garb, modifications to breast feed babies in garb, make bog shoes, etc.
- The images page contains a selection of clip art images that represent Celtic design styles.
There's an image gallery of some of the garb I've made. This brings the topics I've discussed on the other clothing pages into full web-enhanced color. My garb list -- a quick list of my clothing.
As a bit of general discourse about the general clothing of the Irish, British, and Continental Celts, I personally find it very ironic that the early Celts were seen as "barbaric" by the established European cultural center (Rome and the Romans) because the men wore pants rather than loose tunics. This allowed them to retain body heat during cold weather, and spend significant amounts of time mounted on horseback. Later, the established European cultural centers (the whole lot of Europe and Britain, actually), found the Irish and Scottish Celts "barbaric" because their men wore loose lengths of wool folded, stitched, or belted into tunicss. Once Greco-Roman culture was displaced by Western European culture moving back to Rome, the standard changed to pants. Somewhere along the lines those remaining Celts decided they wanted to keep the tunics around, even if they had evolved into kilts!
Borrowing From Neighboring Cultures
Since there are no remains and little in the way of clear descriptions on how basic Golden Age Celtic clothing was shaped and decorated, much borrowing is done from neighboring cultures. While this is a legitimate practice, care must be taken to borrow from the right cultures and the right time periods!
The Scandinavians (Norse, Vikings) were descended from Germanic tribes, and so not part of the Celtic culture. Using "Viking" clothing as a possible source of ideas for Celtic clothing should be undertaken as carefully as possible. In particular, look for references to "Migration Age" or "Pre-Viking" times. There was a limited amount of trade between the Irish and Norse before the invasion(s), but, Norse clothing influences were not widespread through Ireland before that time (unlike a few centuries later). A good site with information on Norse clothing is Viking Tunic Construction.
There is a bit more information on British Celts than Irish Celts from the same period, and you can probably be fairly safe using styles from reputable books on British culture. Try to avoid British Celtic accessories, unless they're derived from Irish exchanges. Since most people wore similar garments, it was the accessories and ornamentation that helped identify them as being from a particular region or group!
The Anglo-Saxons are a third group that the Irish Celts came into contact with. The Angles, Saxons, and their hangers-on basically invaded Britain and took over a significant portion of the island from the British Celts. Apparently the Irish weren't too concerned about their British cousins being invaded, because there was lively trade between the Irish and the Anglo-Saxons.
Other Clothing Sites
I often receive requests for information on other time periods and cultures for garb. Here is a quick list of sites that provide help for other time periods, or, for the simple and universal "T-tunic and pants" set useful for generic event attendance.
- Easy SCA Garb. Simple directions for a dress, tunic, pants, and how to fold and belt a Great Kilt.
- House Barra's Celtic clothing is another nice site.
- Easy Male Garb. This is another site with directions for simple and generic male garb (shirts and pants).
- Bag-Sleeved Léine page. This is what the early Irish léine evolved into.
- Moscow Hide and Fur. Not a pattern page, instead a source for real hides, furs, bones, skulls, teeth, and feathers from a wide range of animals. Also, simulated teeth and claws for those who don't want an animal to die for their trophy items!
- Small Kilt Sewing Directions - Although small or 'wee' kilts are terribly Out of Period for SCA activities, I still get requests for information on this all the time. According to the men in the clann - they beat pants hands down when in a Port-o-Potty late at night!
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Updated: Updated: Saturday, June 11, 2005 11:12:02 AM