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A Galway woman wearing a Galway shawl.
Muiredach's High Cross (9th century) clearly depicting the Irish léine and mantles. Shoes or brogues and pants were also commonplace in Ireland since the early Medieval period long before the Anglo-Normans came to Ireland.

The clothing culture of Ireland is an interesting aspect of the country. Irish clothes are generally very well-made and have a long history of significance attached to them. Aran jumpers were invented in the early 20th century. Irish Tweed is a woven fabric incorporating mutli-coloured neps - scraps of wool said originally to have been swept from the floor under the looms at the end of the day, and incorporated into the next day's weaving. In the past, much weaving was done in the home, with the fabric being delivered to a broker. Today, a few mills exist around Ireland which re-create this tweed in the traditional manner. Donegal is the heartland of Irish tweed and Donegal tweed is better known than other Irish tweeds.


Dutch watercolour (c. 1575) of "Irish in the service of the late king Henry (VIII)" depicting a léine.
William Gibson, 2nd Baron Ashbourne (1929) adopted "Irish dress" during the Gaelic revival.

Little is known about Irish apparel before the twelfth century. Historians believe that the early inhabitants of Ireland dressed in wool cloth, although some argue that garments made of animal skins were more prevalent. By the thirteenth century, the Irish were bundling themselves in mantles, which are coats made of wool cloth. Most mantles were composed of small scraps of cloth sewn together, although the wealthy were able to afford mantles made from a single but very large piece of cloth.

Cloaks called brait (singular: brat), on the other hand, would signify wealth if they were made from several different colors. In fact, sumptuary portion of the brehon law decreed that slaves could only wear cloaks with one color, while freemen could wear four and kings wore several different colors.[dubious ] Beneath these brait, they wore léinte (singular: léine), long woollen or linen tunics that extended to the ground but were gathered into pleats and belted so that they fell to the knees (the excess material was allowed to hang down at the waist and cover the belt, as can be seen in the Dutch painting illustration). The léine was very wide at the bottom and narrow on top. Likewise, the léine's sleeves were narrow at the upper arms but widened greatly at the elbows. The sleeves were open to allow the lower arm to emerge, but hung down behind the elbow to the knee or sometimes as far as the ground in more ceremonial garb. Léinte were most often saffron-yellow (léine croich, 'saffron shirt'), but were also found in other solid colours (red, brown, green, black, etc.), or occasionally striped. The léine was worn throughout Gaelic culture, including in western Scotland, up until the late 16th century. In Ireland, traditional Gaelic dress, including the léine, was banned by King Henry VIII of England.

Another garment, known as an inar, was a jacket, pleated at either beneath the breast, or at the waist, with split sleeves. Woodcarvings seem to indicate that inar were richly decorated, possibly through embroidery. In winter, a cota mór was added beneath the brat; this was a greatcoat made of thick wool, with a small standup collar and sleeves that unbuttoned below the elbow to allow the long sleeves of the léine to come through.

Less is known of the early apparel of the Irish women and children. Like men, women's clothing was mostly derived from wool. It is likely that the earliest female inhabitants of Ireland also donned léinte which looked similar (if not identical) to those of their male counterparts. By the fifteenth century, women were wearing long dresses made from wool cloth, often decorated with ribbons and other accessories. These dresses were created and worn in direct imitation of those found in England, where the nobility had banned Irish clothing.



Media related to Clothing of Ireland at Wikimedia Commons