Victorian Welsh Women

Oct 21, 2015 by

Victorian Welsh women of the working class led hard lives and were rarely photographed.

The following photos, however,  show the beauty and character unique to those 19th century  ladies of Wales.

Such a lovely young woman–notice the wide variety of patterns in her garments, including plaid. She is wearing what we have come to know as the traditional dress or costume of Welsh women.  It has its origins in the rural farms of  Wales, where visitors to the country in the early 1700’s took note of the farm wives’ distinctive attire.   In contrast, women along the border with England and in prosperous towns wore English fashions.

The white cap she wears under her hat is known as a mob cap, a linen or cotton head cover with goffered (an ornamental frill made by pleating and pressing fabric ) fabric around the face.  Some  Welsh caps had long lappets which hung down the front below shoulder level.

The  most distinctive feature of traditional Welsh women’s attire is the hat, with its broad, stiff, flat brim and tall crown.  There were two main shapes of crown: those with drum shaped crowns were worn in north-west Wales and those with slightly tapering crowns were found in the rest of Wales. They were probably originally made of felt ( the hat in this photo appears to be felt) ,  but most surviving examples are of silk plush on a stiffened buckram base. A third type of hat, known as the cockle hat, was worn in the Swansea area.

First of two photos of a pair of women, identified as Sioned and Cadi.

  Here, they are dressed in their work clothes, old garments that once were new and fresh…

…like the dresses that Sioned and Cadi wear in this companion photo, also dated 1875.  The colors are dark, but the details–polka dots, velvet trim and ruffles–reveal the feminine side of these Victorian Welsh ladies.

Another woman dressed in traditional costume, this time standing beside a large spinning wheel. Note that her drum-shaped crown is much taller than the hat in the first photo.


There is a long tradition of knitting in Wales; in the 17th-19th centuries, farm women spent many hours creating woolen scarves and shawls to sell to the English and other visitors.  It provided a much-needed additional source of income for poor farm families.


A captivating photo of a young Victorian girl in Wales, posing with her large dog.  Her clothing is indicative of a prosperous upbringing, far different from Welsh farm women.

Beautiful hair!  Even in black and white , this woman’s long braided hair has a rich sheen.

A scene you will often find when viewing vintage photos of Victorian Welsh women: ladies having tea.  The large frills on the cap on the right are lovely, but I imagine they would seriously impair your peripheral vision.

An earlier Victorian photo showing a hand-woven shawl with long fringe, an accessory used by most Welsh farm women. The shawl could be used to cover a nursing baby, carry food or kindling, or as head cover in inclement weather.


A grouping of older Victorian Welsh women in traditional clothing with various hat styles.  Note that some of the mob caps have been dyed black, a mourning custom of the Victorian era. 

I love the little lady on the right–she’s barely taller than the seated women!

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Celtic Red Hair From Vikings?

Jun 11, 2015 by

If you have Scottish and/or Irish ancestry AND red hair, you probably also have VIKING ancestry, according to a new study.

The director for Nordic Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands says red hair is modern evidence of the influence of the ancient Vikings in Celtic lands.

Professor Donna Heddle is the director for both the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for Nordic Studies. She is a leading expert on the Norse and has reached the conclusion that Scotland’s famous red hair is a vestige from the invading Vikings. If the compelling case which Heddle makes is true, it means the Vikings were very successful at spreading their DNA in this Northern kingdom.

Heddle explains that the perception that the invading Vikings were blond is a myth. The Vikings were likely red headed. Relatively few people in the world have red hair. Statistics are that only 0.6% of the population have that hair color. However, countries with the highest concentrations of red hair are all part of ancient Viking trading routes. Scandinavia, though long stereotyped for a high number blonds, has a high concentration of red haired people.

“The perception that the Norse were blond is nothing more than a prevalent myth,” she said. “Genetically speaking, the chances of them having blond hair weren’t that likely. The chances are that they would have had red hair. Interestingly, if you look at where red hair occurs in the world you can almost map it to Viking trading routes.”

Professor Heddle explains that in Ireland, the red hair concentrations are in the areas where the Vikings settled. She states that an observation of dispersal patterns shows a dark red spot in Scotland and a corresponding spot in Scandinavia. There is nothing similar to be found in Europe which lends further credence that the DNA gene for red hair had to have been imported from the Vikings and the Norse.

Source: Vikings Responsible for Scottish Red Hair Gene? | eCanadaNow

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Be Thankful For Your Celtic Heritage

Nov 26, 2014 by

Are you thankful for your Celtic heritage?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the US, a day for feasting and celebration, recognizing our many blessings and being grateful for family and friends, whether near or far.
All in all, it’s a traditional day not unlike ones celebrated by our Celtic ancestors, pagan and Christian alike.

Celtic heritage thankful

So, when you are counting blessings before the Thanksgiving meal, be sure to count the unique cultural gift we share and hopefully will pass down to our children and grandchildren: our Celtic heritage.





Then, after you’re done with all the “stuffing”, relax with the simple gifts of the Celtic harp:



Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all!

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The Glenfinnan Monument And The Unknown Highlander

Oct 20, 2014 by

The Glenfinnan Monument stands on the shore of Loch Shiel in the Scottish Highlands, near the town of Lochaber.

This 60 foot tall stone tower was erected in 1815 to honor Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his arrival at Glenfinnan (Gleann Fhionghain) in 1745.  It was in this remote Highland spot that Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his royal standard and began a war that would ultimately destroy a way of life for the Highland clans.


The Glenfinnan Monument on the shore of Loch Shiel. Image by Bernard Blanc


On August 19, 1745, Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of exiled Stuart King,  James II of England, journeyed from France to Eriskay in the Western Isles of Scotland. His intent was to lead an army of French, Irish and Scottish soldiers into battle against the English, and place himself on the throne of Scotland and England.   Bonnie Prince Charlie, or The Young Pretender, as he is often called, traveled to the Scottish mainland in a small rowing boat, coming ashore at Loch nan Uamh, just west of Glenfinnan.   On arrival, he was met by a small number of MacDonald clansmen, but within several days more MacDonalds, Camerons, Macfies and MacDonnells arrived to join Charlie’s cause.
Once enough clan support arrived, Prince Charlie climbed the hill near Glenfinnan and raised his royal standard, announcing his claim to the Scottish and the English thrones in the name of his father James Stuart, known as the Old Pretender.



Charles Edward Stuart, by Allan Ramsay, painted in Edinburgh in 1745

The Jacobite cause–and the way of life of the Highland clans– would end in defeat and tragedy just eight months later, at Culloden. The Prince fled after the defeat at Culloden, and was vigorously pursued by the Duke of Cumberland.   After being hidden by loyal supporters, Charles boarded a French frigate on the shores of Loch nan Uamh, close to where he had landed and raised his standard the previous year. He would never set foot on Scottish soil again.  The Prince’s Cairn (Càrn Prionnsa) now marks the spot  where Charles left Scotland, never to return.



The Prince’s Cairn marks the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie left Scotland, never to return. Image by Colin Smith


  The Glenfinnan Monument was erected in 1815 as a tribute to the Jacobite clansmen who fought and died in the cause of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.   A wealthy descendant of a Jacobite paid for the monument and it was designed by famed Scottish architect James Gillespie Graham. The Glenfinnan Monument now is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.


You might think the figure atop the monument is Prince Charles Edward Stuart, but you’d be wrong.

 The statue is that of an unknown Scottish Highlander in full kilt, an enduring memorial to the tragic results of the Rising of 1745.

This clever video gives you a bird’s eye view of beautiful Loch Shiel and the Glenfinnan Monument:

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It’s Time For The Greenville Scottish Games!

May 3, 2014 by

The Greenville Highland Games are calling and Aye must go!

Join me in Greenville, South Carolina on Memorial Day weekend, May 23-24, 2014,  for some awesome Scottish games, events and the world’s BEST KILT CONTEST! 


 To quote Dee Benedict, Board chair and Wild Eyed Southern Celtic woman:

In the finest tradition of marauding Scots, we are taking over Downtown Greenville and points north.  We are re-branding the whole kit and caboodle into one fabulous word, GALLABRAE, which is a mash up of two Gallic words meaning “Something bold and daring” and “beautiful highlands.”  That’s us!  Bold and daring Scots in the beautiful Highlands of the Upstate!

Some of the EVENTS:
5/23 Great Scot! Parade 6:00 pm
5/23 The Bagpipe Challenge! 7:00 pm
5/23 The Ceilidh! 7:00 pm
5/24 Demonstrators 8:30 am
5/24 The Greenville Scottish Games 8:30 am
5/24 The British Car Show 9:30 am
5/24 RAPTORS! 9:30 am
5/24 Opening Ceremonies 10:30 am
5/24 Celtic Jam 6:30 pm
11/16 Miss Greenville Scottish Games 7:00 pm

I will be hosting Rocking the Kilt, a new and fun contest to crown the man who who rocks our Celtic socks off in his kilt!

Open to ALL men in a kilt, between ages 18 and 100–claymores and dirks allowed, but not required, y’all.




We’ll have everything from wood faeries to border collies, hot Celtic music from Seven Nations to bagpipes and belly dancing with Cu Dubh, Southern fried haggis to traditional Scottish dishes and MUCH more.

Our featured clan this year is the wild and mighty Clan Kennedy, led by their hereditary Chief, the Marquess of Ailsa, Earl of Cassillis.

To purchase tickets and see the full schedule of performers and events, go to



You can read the online version of The Dirk, the official newsletter of the Greenville Scottish Games, by clicking HERE.

See you in Greenville, beautiful Celtic people–Alba gu bràth!

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National Tartan Day: Celebrating America’s Scottish Heritage

Apr 5, 2014 by

National Tartan Day is celebrated on April 6th in the United States to honor the many ways Scottish immigrants have contributed to the creation and growth of America.   In 2008, President George W. Bush signed a Presidential Proclamation designating the 6th of April, the date on which the Declaration of Arbroath was signed in 1320, as a day to celebrate Scottish heritage, and Tartan Day events have been steadily increasing ever since.   Although the celebrations are not as widespread or well-attended as Saint Patrick’s Day festivities, large National Tartan Day parades and events are held annually in New York City, St Charles, Missouri, Washington, D.C. and many other cities.

Can’t make it to one of those cities?

Show pride in your Scottish heritage and have your own cèilidh– break out your kilt,  bagpipe music and whisky and invite your friends and family over to rock the tartan!





There is some evidence that the ancient Celts wove cloth that looks like what we now think of as tartan, but the use of tartan as an identifying pattern for Scottish clans is a more recent invention.  In the late 16th century,   some historical sources refer to various types of checkered or patterned cloth among the Scottish clans.  By the 18th century, the tartan had become so closely associated with the Highland clans that the British Crown passed the Dress Act of 1746, banning the wearing of tartan, as a means of crushing the rebellious Highlanders and the Jacobite cause.  The Act was repealed in 1782, but by then tartan had become a part of the Scottish national identity and a symbol of Scottish freedom  for all Scots, not just Highlanders.




Not sure about the difference between tartan and plaid?   It’s a question I get asked frequently, especially in connection with clan ancestry research.
Tartan is a pattern on cloth consisting of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands in multiple colors, called breacan in Scots Gaelic. In weaving, the warp (the lengthwise yarns) and the weft (the transverse threads which are pulled through the warp yarns) are woven at right angles to each other, creating a distinctive pattern of squares and lines known as a sett.   There are setts for all kinds of things, such as the Scottish clans, several US states, and big companies like Harley Davidson– there’s even a Hello Kitty sett!

Plaid is not the same thing as tartan, although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably in the US.   The word plaid comes from the Scots Gaelic word plaide, meaning blanket, and originally referred to a piece of cloth used as a blanket or as a belted plaid, the original form of a kilt.  In Scotland today, if you ask for a plaid, you’ll likely be shown a piece of tartan designed to be slung over one shoulder or used as a blanket or throw for your bed.

The Grand Marshall at this years NYC Tartan Day parade is Howie Nicholsby, owner of world-famous 21st Century Kilts in Edinburgh and handsome Scotsman. Here’s a video from Howie about the kilt and its history:



Of course, it’s not  Tartan Day without a few Americans in kilts, right?!



Kennedy tartan

Kennedy tartan






US Navy tartan on left and US Army tartan on right, courtesy of Sportkilt

US Navy tartan on left and US Marine tartan on right, courtesy of Sportkilt



 Have a great National Tartan Day!

Sources and Links:

The Scottish Register of Tartans

This is the first place to look when researching your clan tartan.The Scottish Register of Tartans was established by an act of the Scottish Parliament in 2008, to protect, promote and preserve tartan. The Register is a database of tartan designs, maintained by the National Records of Scotland.

Scottish Tartans Authority-has a large database of info on tartans and clans

Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America,  by James Webb (2005)–great book!

Tartans of Scotland

New York Tartan Week

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Vannes, Brittany’s Royal Seaside City

Mar 28, 2014 by

Brittany, or Breizh as it is known in its native language, is the beautiful Celtic region of France, rich in history and a unique cultural legacy.  One of the most visited cities in Brittany is the seaside town of Vannes.   Founded over 2000 years ago, Vannes is situated on the Gulf of Morbihan–mor bihan means “little sea” in Breton– at the mouth of two rivers, the Marle and the Vincin, in Brittany.  It is a thriving market and tourist town, one of the busiest in southern Brittany.

Vannes takes its name from the Veneti, a seafaring Celtic people who lived in the region before the Roman invasions in the 1st century BCE.  Julius Caesar’s naval fleet attacked the Veneti in 56 BC at the nearby town of Locmariaquer; all the Veneti were either slaughtered or sold into slavery.   The Romans named the area (which was the chief town of the Veneti) Darioritum;  after the fall of the Roman empire in the 5th century , the town was renamed Venetis, then called Vennes for a long period ( pronounced “jwened” and spelt “Gwened” in Breton), before finally settling on its current appellation, Vannes. 






Vannes was the preferred residence of the Dukes of Brittany during the Middle Ages and became the Prefecture (County town) of Morbihan in 1791.   The Chateau de l’Hermine, also known as the Hotel Lagorce, was built in 1785 on the ruins of the original 14th century Chateau built by Duke John V, or Yann V in Breton, which formed part of the city walls of Vannes.    The original fortress was the seat of the Dukes of Brittany, and the present building is now a cultural museum.


Vannes is the birthplace of Claude-Michel Schönberg, actor, singer, songwriter, and musical theater composer, who created the idea and wrote the music for the Tony award-winning musical, Les Misérables, a huge international success, as well as The Pirate Queen, a musical about the life of Grace O’Malley, the Irish pirate, which was a huge box office flop.



To learn more about Vannes and the lovely Celtic land of Brittany, try any of the following sources:

Discovering Vannes

Morbihan Guide

Mairie de Vannes (Facebook)

TripAdvisor: Vannes

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