We get a lot of email asking us what clothing is appropriate for 16th century Irish re-enactors. Although there are many answers to this question, we have some starting suggestions for our new members. This page outlines the basic kit required of new members of the O\’Neills of Tyrone.
Men have two main options for starter clothing. We terms these two styles of dress “native” and “anglo”. The “native” style of dress consists of a linen léine and a leather or wool ionar. This outfit is based on the illustrations by Lucas de Heere and the “After the Quick” print from the Ashmolean Museum. The originals of these pictures can be see here.
The léine must be made out of linen and either white or saffron-coloured. No current documentation supports the use of any other colours for léine in the 16th century. However, members may submit documentation to the contrary if any can be found.
The ionar may be of wool or leather, in any colour, decorated as shown in the Ashmolean and De Heere’s illustrations or unadorned as the Kilcommon jacket. Any documentable decoration is allowed.
Men may go bare-legged and bare-footed as shown in De Heere’s illustrations and the Ashmolean print, or they may wear trews like the Kilcommon trews (also described here). Trews may be made with solid or checked legs. Slip-on turnsole shoes like those shown in Derricke’s engravings are also appropriate.
The “anglo” option is based on the Dungiven Costume, a suit of 16th century clothing found in County Derry. The outfit consists of a square-cut doublet and tight-fitting hosen. The doublet should be in a solid colour and made out of coat-weight wool. The hosen must also be wool, but they can being either solid or plaid, as were the originals. The construction of these garments is not limited to the Dungiven patterns; any common 16th century patterns for similar clothing may be used.
With this outfit, shoes must be worn. Choose from styles common to England in the 16th century.
One option for women in our camp is what we call “the tucked-up kirtle”. The kirtle is a simple fitted dress popular all over Europe from the 14th century. In the 16th century, Lucas De Heere drew Irishwomen wearing such a garment with a contrasting petticote, tucked up into a belt to show a different coloured fabric or fur lining. The garment laces closed in the front with zig-zag lacing. The sleeves may either be of the “hanging” type shown on the Shinrone gown or tightly fitted and with cuffs as shown in the picture to the left. The tucked-up kirtle is worn with a bag-sleeve léine or a fitted-sleeve underdress.
Another option for female 16th century Irish re-enactors is the Flemish kirtle. We call this dress “Flemish” because it appears in many paintings by Flemish artists. In truth, this type of kirtle was worn by common women all over Europe in the late Middle Ages. At right is an illustration of this kirtle on an Irishwoman by Lucas De Heere. It bears a striking resemblance to the Shinrone gown but it is much simpler to make for a beginner. Sleeves may be of the hanging variety like the Shinrone gown (and a léine worn showing through). Other sleeve options include fitted sleeves or sleeveless. If the gown is worn sleeveless, a long-sleeved linen underdress or léine must be worn. There is no documentation to support Irishwomen going around with bare arms!
A white or yellow linen or silk kerchief (as described by Luke Gernon) may be tucked into the front of any of these gowns. A belt should be worn and a purse may dangle from it. Medieval turnsole shoes resembling “China flats” should be worn, but going barefoot is also an option. The hair may be covered by any one of the headdresses Luke Gernon describes on this page. Wearing hair in braids coiled around the head or loose is also acceptable. Modern hairstyles or colours must be disguised. Appropriate jewelry is acceptable, but should be limited to period-accurate items. Watches, obviously modern rings and bracelets, and plastic jewelry should be removed. Modern “Celtic” jewelry in particular will not be tolerated. If you have an issue with an item of jewelry you would like to wear, bring it to the attention of your captain. If it can be reasonably documented, it may be worn. However, the captain’s decision is final.
In colder weather, both men and women may wear a semi-circular piece of wool as a cloak as shown in the Ashmolean print, below. “Shaggy Mantles” may also be worn if they pass muster.
This isn\’t the be-all and end-all of 16th century Irish clothing. There are many options to the clothing outlined above, and as our members progress in their research, they may adopt new and different outfits to suit themselves. This page serves as their starting point, not their ending point. One thing we certainly do NOT want to encourage is a “uniform” since none were known to be worn by the Gaelic Irish.
Photos shown on this and all pages herein are the author’s personal property and may not be used, reproduced, or duplicated without express written permission from the author. Illustrations on this page were scanned from Mairead Dunlevy\’s Dress in Ireland.
© 2001, 2003 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.