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Irish Tartans


Irish Tartans

There are dozens of Irish Tartans, most are arranged by county and district and are reminiscent of each particular County with soft warm colours. However a number of Irish families, including the Doyle  Clan, have tartans that are exclusive to their members. The 6th April 1998 was declared National Tartan Day in the USA for the first time.

Doyle Shawl
The Doyle Tartan Shawl

This date was chosen because 6th April 1320 was the date of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath, which formed the basis for the US Declaration of Independence. The weaving of woollen fabrics into the style known to us today as the tartan has been taking place on the Gaelic fringe of Europe for centuries; yet, it is impossible (from the physical evidence which has come down to us) to determine when the first tartans were created, or by whom. One of the most ancient of all tartans was discovered, quite by accident, in an Irish peat bog in the 1960s. This tartan goes by a number of different names and is recognized officially as the ‘Ulster District Tartan’. Experts have estimated that the pattern was constructed in the early to mid 1600s, and that it may have been worn by the O’Cahans of Antrim. A reconstruction of the tartan in now on display in the Ulster Museum in Belfast. There is evidence that the Irish Gaels, during the late middle ages, created a number of ‘tartans’ or ‘proto-tartans’ which have pre-dated the early Scottish tartans. The Irish forerunner to the Scottish belted plaid (a very early form of kilt) is generally described as being a solid saffron-yellow in colour, and Irish pipe bands wear kilts of this solid colour today.

Dwelly (Gaelic Dictionary - published 1901) writes (under breacan) Parti-coloured cloth was used by the Celts from earliest times, but the variety of colours in the breacan was greater or less according to the rank of the wearer. That of the ancient kings had seven colours, that of the druids six, and that of the nobles four. In the days of Martin the tartans seemed to be used to distinguish the inhabitants of different districts, and not the members of different families as at present. He expressly says that the inhabitants of the various islands were not all dressed alike, but that the setts and colours of the various tartans varied from isle to isle. As he does not mention the use of a special pattern by each family, it would appear that such a distinction is a modern one, and taken from the ancient custom of a tartan for each district, the family or clan originally most numerous in each part eventually adopting as their distinctive clan tartan the tartan of such district.

MacLennan (Gaelic dictionary - published 1925) writes (under breacan) A parti-coloured dress, used by the Celts from the earliest times. ‘Breacan an fhe/ilidh’, the belted plaid (consisting of twelve yards of tartan, worn round the waist, obliquely across the breast and over the left shoulder, and partly descending backwards). According to Keating it was the custom in ancient time to have one colour in the form of a slave, two in the dress of a peasant, three in the dress of a soldier or young lord, four in the dress of a brughaidh (land-holder), five in the dress of a district chief, six in the dress of an ollamh and in that of a King and Queen.

Irish Family & County Tartans

There are very few Irish Family Tartans, unlike Scotland where there are hundreds. Most people of Irish heritage wear the Tartan of the Irish County where their families originated.

Some of the Irish Family Tartans are of ancient origin, some of more recent design.

The book "Clan Originaux" was published in Paris, France in 1880 by J. Claude Fres et Cie. It contains the earliest known records of a number of Irish Family Tartans and many variations of Scottish Tartans. The only copy known to exist was discovered recently in America.

"Click" on any of the hypertext links below to view the currently available illustrations of known Irish Tartans:-

Currently known Irish Family Tartans:


Irish National & County Tartans:

If you know of any Irish Tartan that is not listed above, please send us details by E-mail or post. If you have illustrations of any of the above named Irish Tartans that do not presently have a hypertext link, please contact us by E-mail (or snail-mail) as we would very much like to have an illustration of every known Irish Tartan.

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 Last updated 3 December, 2011