Saint Patrick’s Day, the only day each year I wear my saffron kilt. Although sometimes I get the question wether I’m Irish even if I’m wearing a kilt in a—to me clearly—Scottish tartan, most people associate any kilt with Scotland, and rightly so.
But there certainly is such a thing as an Irish kilt, and saffron kilts have been around as an expression of Irish nationality for over a hundred years!
The ancient Irish actually wore the léine, a linen tunic with voluminous sleeves and a hemline reaching the knees or higher, often dyed with saffron, which turned out quite yellow on linen. When there was a revival of Gaelic nationalism in the nineteenth century, the Gaelic League and the Gaelic Athletic Association—two major nationalist organisations, both concerned with Irish identity—wanted a ‘costume’ or national form of dress. The léine was considered to be too difficult to be updated to the fashions of the day, so they adopted the garment of their Gaelic cousins in Scotland: the kilt, dyed either green or saffron. Used on wool, the saffron dye gave it a bit more of an orange-brownish colour, the one we associate today with saffron kilts.
The school uniform of St. Enda’s School for Boys (1908) included the saffron kilt.
Nowadays the saffron kilt is mainly worn by pipers of Irish regiments, often without a sporran.