Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Aran Reader - clothing etc quotes

Since my last post on the Aran Reader I've finally finished it.

Book Depository Link, Dublin City Public Libraries link

It's a collection of writings about the Islands beginning with Giraldus Cambrensis in 1220 to a poem by Michael Longley in 1985.  There are six sections in it, Early Visitors; Literary Revival; The Strangers; Aran Writers; Man of Aran and To Possess Aran, each dealing with different eras.

I did find it an interesting read, interesting in how different people experienced the islands.

This post is more about clothing and fabric traditions of the islands than about some of the other details in the book.  It's worth reading if you're interested in the islands and their history.

Pages noted here are from the hardback edition I'm reading.  Links on the title are of online copies I have found, if available.

From Samuel Lewis A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland from 1837 (p18-22)
"...and they grow small quantities of flax; but the produce of their harvests seldom exceeds what is required for their own consumption.  The pasture land is appropriated to sheep and goats, and a few cows and horses, for which they also reserve some meadow..."
"...the tormentil root serves in place of bark for tanning; and there is another plant which gives a fine blue dye, and is used in colouring the woollen cloth which the islanders manufacture for their own wear."
"From the secluded situation of these islands, the language, manners, customs, and dress of the natives are peculiarly primitive; instances of longevity are remarkable. The shoes worn are simply a piece of raw cow hide, rather longer than the foot, and stitched close at the toe and heel with a piece of fishing line."
From Notes on Connaught by T. J. Westropp (1888) (p47-49)
"This island is an extremely primitive place we saw women grinding meal with querns & weaving the cloth which dyed red or brown forms the staple female dress; the men usually wear blue cloth clothes & scotch caps & 'pampooties' or raw hide shoes of untanned skin laced up the heel & instep..."

More from Ethnography of the Aran Islands by Haddon & Browne (1893) (p50-58) [note link is to version that appears to be abridged]

The dress of both sexes is for the most part homemade, being largely composed of homespun, either uncoloured or of speckled brown, or blue grey or bright red colour.  The people appear not only to be warmly clad, but as a rule to be over-clothed.
As previously mentioned [not included, that I can see, in the extract] the girls and women card and spin the wool, the wool is worth eightpence per pound. The cards are bought in Galway, and the spinning wheel is of the pattern which is common throughout the west coast.  A large fly-wheel is supported on a form, at the other end of which is an upright board which supports the spindle.  The wheel is turned by hand. The whole machine is of rough workmanship and is homemade.  Some women will hire other women to come to their houses to do their spinning for them at the rate of eightpence per pound.  All the yarn is woven in the islands by professional weavers who charge fourpence per yard for the plain and fivepence for the coloured flannel.  The flannel or yarn is dyed by the women.  Dr Kean informs us that formerly the wool used to be dyed a black of a very fast nature made by steeping it in a decoction made from some plants which he has never been able to identify and, then boiling it in an 'ink', as they used to term it, composed of the black liquid from bog holes, which was imported from Connemara or the purpose.  This method has been given up for some years since the introduction of the dyes of commerce.  Those most in use now are madder and indigo.  O'Flaherty writes (1824), p133:- 'There is a native vegetable, the name of which I now forget, [damn you O'Flaherty, why didn't you remember! W] which gives a fine blue dye, much used in colouring the wool which the islanders manufacture for their wearing.'
The men wear a shirt of dark flannel procured from Galway, and over this a jacket or sleeved waistcoat (bawneen) of white homespun nearly as thick as a blanket; outside of which is worn a waistcoat made of grey-blue or brown flannel, in many cases this is bound with a dark braid.  Of this waistcoat there are two patterns, one with large collar flaps buttoned back on the shoulders and the other buttoned up to the neck with a simple turnback collar without flaps.  The latter patter, though sometimes worn by the men, is for the most part worn by boys.  The trousers are of white or grey homespun and are worn loose and rather short, ending well above the ankles, and are slit down the outer side of the calf for the lower four inches.  The feet are clothed in blue woollen stockings with white upper bands and toes.  These are knitted by the women  They also wear a home broad blue bonnet of the 'Tam o'Shanter' type with a chequered head-band, or a broad-brimmed soft hat which is imported.  Up to the age of about twelve the boys wear a long frock of red homespun, coming well below the knees and buttoned up the back, otherwise they are clothed like the men.
The women wear only one cotton undergarment, and bodice, and several heavy petticoats; the outermost is usually of a bright red colour.  They often wear a white jacket like a man's.  Frequently a woman will be seen wearing a petticoat over her head as a shawl; but more usually an imported tartan shawl is owrn, the red patterns as Stuart, Grant and McNab, being the favourite.  In many cases a red kerchief is worn on the head, but caps, hats, or bonnets are not worn.  O'Flaherty (1824 p. 138) says:- The female headdress is completely the old Baraid [or Bairéid] of the Irish.'
Both sexes wear sandals made of raw cowhide, the hair being outside, the edges of the piece of hide are caught up with strgin, with which htey are tied on over the instep.  They are admirably adapted for climbing and running over the rocks and loose stones.  Some of the men, however, are now taking to wearing leather boots.  These sandals are precisely similar to the 'rivlins' of the western and northern islands of Scotland.  In Aran they are now called 'pampooties'; the origin of this term is obscure (cf. Wilde, 1861 p. 281).  A curious point about them is, that they have to be wetted with water before being put on, and that while in wear they must be kept damp in order to preserve their flexibility.
In a footnote on p. 96 of O'Flaherty's H-Iar Connaught, Hardiman says:- 'It is observed that the people of Aran, who wear seal-skin pumps, or "pampooties", are never afflicted with gout.  They affirm that a piece of the skin worn on the person cures and keeps away the cholic.' Apair of pampooties will last about three months, and the cost of the skin is from 6d. to about 1s. 2d. per pair.

From  Lady Gregory's Seers and Healers (1920) (p68-70)
p 68
The men would sit in a half-circle on the floor, passing the lighted pipe from one to another; the women would find some work with yarn or wheel.
Which begs the question, what did they do with the yarn, however it's not recorded!

The Arran Isles by Mary Banim from Here and There Through Ireland (reissued from 1896 Weekly Freeman) (73-83)
The men were clad in white flannel suits of sort, loose jacket and trousers; their head-covering, a round, grey woollen cap, made with the crown flat and a little wider than the red and white tartan band which fits it to the head; on the feet 'pampootys' (I spell the word by sound), or sandals made of one strip of raw cowhide, stitched at the toe and heel with a bit of fishing line; another piece of string is run half way round at the top of the foot at one side, a second string goes an equal distance at the heel to the other side, and these strings being drawn around the foot while the hide is supple, the sandals form perfectly to the shape of the feet, making, with the brown or prettily mottled hair on the outer side, a sandal such as was worn, perhaps, in the days of Cain and Abel, and which is certainly as simple, and yet as pretty a foot covering as one could wish to see.  They are necessary to the people of Arran, who have to spend their whole lives walking on the rocks and springing from crag to crag; so that the pampootys are worn by every man, woman and child...
...The bigger lads were dressed like the men, while the little Arran boys, up to twelve, wear red petticoats like their mothers and sisters. .... These dark-skinned and darked eyed little fellows, in pretty cowhide sandals, red petticoats, white homespun jackets and woollen caps, look exactly like young Arabs.

Beside [the fireplace] the stand of the spinning-wheel served as a form until the winter evenings should come, when the wheel would be mounted, the spindle put in, the carders set to work and the busy spinner be the centre figure in the warm, firelit kitchen, while the immense balls of yarn, spun last winter and now hanging up on the wall, would be taken down and knitted into stockings for the family, or dyed and prepared for the weaver to weave into flannel, frieze or blankets.  For nearly every article of clothing is made at home on the islands, and, though heavy and rather coarse to the touch of those accostomed to the finely dressed (and adulterated) English manufactured goods, the stuffs thus made at home are far warmer and more durable, and also healthier than any others, as nothing but pure wool and vegetable dyes are used.


...many of the women looked strangely like their own Eastern ancestresses: the sandalled feet, Venetian red petticoat, and, with many of them, bawneen, or white flannel jacket, worn covering the head, forehead, and body in truly Eastern style, have a curiously foreign effect. 

The Islands of Aran by Arthur Symons from Cities and Seas-Coasts and Islands (1897) (p86-91)

...women wearing the same red clothes that we had seen on the larger island... and looked up at us out of the darkness of many interiors, from where they sat on the ground knitting or carding wool.

...and two of three girls sat down on the other side of the arena, knitting.

...she was sitting by the roadside knitting...

Sadly what they were knitting isn't recorded.

The Aran Islands by John Millington Synge (1907) (p97-104)

The rough lane to the graveyard slopes away towards the east, and the crowd of the women going down before me in their red dresses, cloaked with red petticoats, with the waistband that is held aroudn the head just seen from behind, had a strange effect, to which the white coffin and the unity of colour gave a nearly cloistral quietness.

James Joyce The Mirage of the Fisherman of Aran. England's safety valve in case of war (translated from Italian, 1912) (p108-110)
The fisherman of Aran has sure feet. He wears a rough sandal of untanned cowhide, without heels, open at the arch, and tied with rawhide laces.l He dresses in wool as thick as felt and wears a big black hat with a wide brim.
...the islander, removing his hat from his head, sinks his face in the soft wool, confused and smiling.

Somerville and Ross - An Outpost of Ireland from Some Irish Yesterdays (1906) (p124-128)
a middle-aged and taciturn widow, wearing a red-checked shawl over her broad chest, a smaller red shawl over her head, an excessively short red homespun skirt, and pampooties. In the early hours of the summer morning her step, muffled in cowhide, traversed the house weightily ; in due time followed the entrance of the stable bucket, borne with a slow stride that showed to admiration the grey woollen ankles under the short skirt
With its barbaric novelties of colour, its wild, red-clad women, its background of grey rock, its glare of sunshine, Aran should be a place known to painters
facing page 16 of the text is an illustration of an Irish Fisherman

Thomas Mason The Aran Islands from The Islands of Ireland (1936) (p131-135)

The bride...was dressed in a blue costume, thin stockings and light shoes; she wore a necklace, and her appearance was in strong contrast to that of the other women.

Liam O'Flaherty Skerrit from The Black Soul (1924) (p140-161)

They all wore the native costume of the island, rawhide shoes, blue frieze drawers held with a belt, hand-knitted [? the ones I've seen have been woven], of coloured threads, a sleeveless frieze waistcoat, blue in front and white at the back, dark blue frieze shirt with white bone buttons from throat to breast, wide-brimmed black felt hat.

Tom O'Flaherty Coming Home from Aranmen All (1934) (176-188)
Children were reared for export to the American labour market (plus ca change)... English post-office name for the hamlet is meaningless, like the phonetic atrocities that go for names of places all over Ireland.
Yeah, nothing to do with costume but a lot to do with some recent thoughts.

Intro to Pieces on Man of Aran
Michaeleen Dillane, was sent to boarding-school in Galway but left to join first the Irish and then the British army.  He was reportedly wounded at Dunkirk but he vanished without trace in the war's aftermath and is now but a hazy memory among the oldest islanders 
Another piece of trivia that really has nothing to do with much but strange trivia that caught my attention, like the fact that the first Gold Medal of the modern Olympics was awarded to James Brendan Connolly whose parents came from the Aran Islands.

Ria Mooney - Autobiography from George Spelvin's Theatre Book (Summer 1978) (p239-242)
Everyone seemed to dress in the same way: the men wore the white collarless bainin jacket over their hand-kntted jerseys, pampooties, footwear- made from oblong pieces of unplucked cowhide - on their feet, and a crios (a belt woven from coloured wools) around the waist of their trousers. On their heads, the wore the Bobalin cap or the large, sombrero-like felt hat.  The large hats, however, seemed to be dying out, as only the older men wore them, and I doubt they could be bought in Ireland after the early years of the century.  The Bobalin cap was very attractive. It was round, crocheted in thick white wool, with a large tassel at the top.  It has become fashionable now for children or teenagers to wear one with an 'Aran' sweater or lumber-jacket.  At that time, the children of Aran would wear their sweaters to Mass on Sundays - each family having its own traditional individual design, and all in spotless, gleaming white.  The girls wore mostly red woollen skirt which they called petticoats.  Married women and widows had begun to wear black, but the majority wore the skirts that were made from the homespun wool they had dyed with the juice of red berries.
The effect of these traditional clothes, and the simple good taste of the people who had remained on their island, was marred by the cheap American clothes which some of the girls wore on Sundays, proclaiming hte fact that they had relatives or friends who had emigrated to the States.  Some of the older women wore fawn-coloured shawls which had been bought in Galway, and others were very proud when on Sundays they could show off one of the newfangled machine-knitted garments called 'cardigans''. The men's trousers were made from cloth woven from the wool of the black sheep - Bainin was made from the wool of the white sheep.
...I am glad I saw something of the old customs before they disappeared altogether.  Pat Mullen told me that in his youth, before he had emigrated - to stay only a few years - to America, the women were even more colourful in their dress.  White, red, blue, purple and striped petticoats were worn.  Their newest, which they wore on Sundays, was turned up in front and caught in folds to form a kind of bustle at the back, when they were performing any tasks at which their new petticoats might get splashed or spotted.  But even at the time of my visit it was a picture for the mind to store away to see those women, with their red skirts spread out, sitting on the sloping golden sands of Inisheer in the evening, their backs supported by a green bank, waiting for their men to come home with currachs full of supplies brought in on the Dun Aengus from Galway.
 Shevawn Lynam from A Change of Outlook from Accent on Living (1955) (p273-275)
It hardly seemed worth explaining that the islanders grow their own clothes on their own sheep's backs and the the island weaver weaves them: or that they make their own shoes - pampooties, they're called - from their own cows' hides: or that they make their land with the own hands...
I can still see her sitting there, as neat as a pin in her long, red tweed skirt and velvet trimmed bodice...

I have transcribed these as best I can, a good chunk of it is out of copyright material.  If you know any sources or comments feel free to add them.

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