Yes I know, I know. It is what is BENEATH the kilt you are interested in–not so much what is BEHIND it. But I learned both.
In Nova Scotia, you can enroll in the only college in the world that teaches Gaelic culture– Gaelic College in St. Ann’s. I went looking for the Anderson Clan and the McCabe Clan. Scottish culture is strong in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. An incidentally, at the Gaelic College, you can learn once and for all what a Scotsman wears underneath his kilt.
Even as a tourist, you can do family history research and learn about clans of your ancestors, by visiting The Hall of the Clans. There you can see what is BEHIND the kilt colors that your ancestors wore.
I picked up a booklet about the Anderson Clans. My maternal grandfather was an Anderson, and although they always said they were Scots-Irish, I have been unable to trace them back before my great-great grandfather in Pennsylvania, so I don’t know yet when they came to the United States. I learned that Anderson probably derived from St. Andrews–which would not be immediately obvious.
I also asked about the McCabe clan–my great-grandmother’s family. Isabella McCabe Anderson also came from Pennsylvania, and she married John Anderson and they moved to Ohio around 1840.
You can see more about Isabella in “What Was She Thinking”. In that story about Isabella, I explain that the McCabes were Scots-Irish, believed to be warriors who left Scotland to fight as mercenaries for an Irish lord. They lived in Ireland for many generations before Isabella’s grandfather, William McCabe, came to America in 1775.
At the Gaelic College, I met with disappointment. The extensive file of booklets on clans did not include a McCabe clan, and the woman who had given us our short lesson in Gaelic, said she had never heard of a McCabe clan. I did learn that Mc and Mac do not, as I had always been told, indicate a difference between Irish and Scottish names. In fact, the Gaelic expert told us, they are interchangeable.
But all was not lost. This has set me a new task–learning more about Scottish clans, and of course ferreting out the real origin of the name McCabe. Furthermore, I learned more about clan plaids and how those Scottish ancestors got dressed in the morning.
Tourists can get a short taste of the subjects taught at the Gaelic College, and learn more about the culture of their Scottish ancestors. For the admission price, you get to spend half an hour with a Gaelic teacher, another half hour learning about Celtic, or Gaelic [interchangeable terms], music, a half hour learning about weaving, and a half hour learning how the Scotsman got dressed each morning, before he had a tailored kilt.
It starts with a length of fabric that his wife had spent a couple of years weaving in his clan colors. This length of fabric is his most precious possession. He sleeps on it at night, and dresses in it during the day.
- Laid out flat, the fabric is carefully pleated for about 1/3 of its length.
- Then the Scotsman lies down on the fabric and wraps it around him, fastening it with a strip of leather or cloth.
- That leaves a nice swishy, sexy fall of pleats in the back, but it is far too long.
- Next a broad leather belt goes around the waist, and the material can be tucked up into the belt to make a warm cape.
- Or for a more formal look, gathered and slung across the shoulder, secured by a sharpened pin of wood.
- In his finished kilt, with a tam o’shanter and carrying a staff, the kilt indeed makes a man into a man and a half,as our instructors promised.
Doesn’t our class volunteer look like the proper fearsome Scotsman? Except that he cheated an left on his shorts. We learn that it is true–the rumors about what goes under the kilt. NOTHING. Furthermore, when the Scotsman goes to battle, he does not wear his kilt–it is too valuable to risk getting muddy and bloody. So he is either wearing a long shirt or he is naked. No wonder they had a reputation for being ferocious.
By the way, if you are curious about learning Gaelic and Gaelic music, but can’t go all the way to Nova Scotia, the college offers on line courses. But I do hope you will have the opportunity to visit the Gaelic College. We thoroughly enjoyed this unique day of immersion in the Scottish culture.