Have you ever studied a half-assed history book and come across the section on fabrics and clothing in different societies and cultures? If so you were probably as bored as I was. For all you Renaissance fans out there, I am not apologetic at all. It is that one part of a history book you tend to overlook, much like the industrial revolution and their Spinning Jenny. From reading about European traditional clothing in school to studying traditional Han clothing in China, I find any history to do with clothing to be really boring. Can you imagine walking through museum upon museum looking at clothing and pretending to be interested and impressed? Don’t get me wrong, I love museums, but I couldn’t hack hours of exhibition solely on clothing.
I started to wonder, what is Irish traditional clothing? Traditional clothing is common among most European countries, but very few wear them, except on special occasions. Every culture has traditional clothing, but not all cultures attach importance to them. Growing up in Ireland, I wasn’t even aware there was anything to be considered traditional, maybe kilts, but they are Scottish in my mind. Many historians think the kilt was adopted by the Irish to further distinguish ourselves from the British during the movement of nationalism in Ireland around the end of the 19th century. I guess, like the UK, we have traditional clothing, but we aren’t all that fussed about it. The clothing line in Peaky Blinders might be the closest thing you could get to what clothing might have looked like in the minds of people today. It was tweed suits, shirts and caps.
This isn’t historically accurate, its the dressing from a television show set after the First World War, but it’s an idea. I can’t help but be reminded by a scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail when King Arthur passes some peasants. Their reaction is how I think someone from the late 19th century and early 20th century might react to men dressed like this.
Large Man: Who’s that then?
Dead Collector: I dunno. Must be a king.
Large Man: Why?
Dead Collector: He hasn’t got shit all over him.
This kind of clothing just looks old-fashioned to most people and it has made a rebound in fashion at different times. The truth is, in the UK and Ireland, we don’t generally have traditional clothing, except in Scotland. Other countries take a lot of pride in their traditional clothing and it is hard for me to understand that. When I lived in China I had to learn about different patterns on clothing and their meaning and what colour meant which status and how birds and dragons on clothing was significant. Now don’t get me wrong, it can be interesting, but I don’t want to spend anything more than a day in lecture learning about it, let alone going to 4 museums which explain it all in painful detail.
When it comes to Ireland and the UK we attach cultural importance to a great many other things, for better or for worse, it really doesn’t matter. We don’t have traditional clothing, and our traditional food is honestly nothing to brag about. I had friends from Germany and Japan come to Ireland and when they asked me where can they eat some Irish stew, my reaction was “Why?”. You would cook stew at home, no sane Irish person would eat it in a restaurant. I’m pretty sure the only places that sell Irish stew in Dublin are tourist traps which make you pay twice the average cost of a meal that you get more out of (Talking about you Boojums).
I ended up bringing them to a quaint little pub off Grafton Street called Mary’s. It is a bit of a nostalgia pub. It sells hardware stuff and has a makeshift shop behind the counter for sweets and stuff that you might find in a village where the pub might be the only place to buy your necessities. The inside was adorned with old metal kettles, a picture of Christ, Kennedy and Pope John Paul II on the walls. It was as old-Irish as you could possible get without having to go to the country-side or abroad for that matter.
We had a good time, and my Germany friend stole a Heineken glass to bring home, I’ve no idea why though, he had already picked one off the street. For any of my friends who come to visit me in good old Éire, the pub is quite an important part of their trip. I don’t mean we stay in the pub 24/7 while they are over. I still have to take them all over Dublin and maybe out to Clare to see those cliffs, but the pub would always be a good place to really showcase some really Irish things.
While other countries try to showcase culture by exhibiting their food, language, clothing and history, we in Ireland and perhaps the UK attach more importance to other aspects of our culture. It is possibly a reason why many students who come from Asia find it quite difficult to interact with Irish students, after all the pub is important for most people here. I found in China, going out for meals was important and karaoke nights were a must for any group of friends. I think it was my friend Echo who was shocked that I would walk and eat my food. The two of us were late and she thought I would rather sit in the canteen and eat my dinner there. When she had told me we were already 5 minutes late for a lecture, I stood up and said let’s go and scoffed my food down on the way. She looked at me as if I had just found a cure for cancer while constantly looking impressed.
I walk and eat/drink all the time. I do it with my morning coffee, or if i’m in a particularly hectic day, I eat my lunch while going between buildings on my walk. It’s not ideal, but it isn’t a big deal either. I think, coming back to my main point, the idea of traditional clothing only extends to a novelty we associate with old times. For most people in Ireland, old time clothes would be a novelty, not culture. When I lived in China, there was a real pride in all parts of the culture. I suspect people were particularly “proud” of their culture because they were introducing me to it and perhaps felt they owed it to the culture as a whole to not badmouth it. It is like a teacher hitting a child and the father getting angry saying the child is only his to hit. As long as I am not foreign, I could badmouth the culture all I wanted, otherwise, you don’t know what you are talking about.
A few years ago, students in a Chinese university protested Christmas, telling other students to ‘boycott Christmas because Chinese people don’t celebrate foreign festivals’. The irony is they probably have iPhones, watch Japanese anime and the ‘Traditional clothes’ they are wearing were bought from a costume shop. I think this type of nationalism is hilarious.
If Irish people were to show up at the Chinese New Year Festival in Dublin with signs saying ‘Boycott Chinese New Year, Irish people don’t celebrate foreign festivals’ in tweed suits, they would be a laughing stock. The last time there was a racist rally in Dublin by Pegida, their rally was met with protesters who beat them off the street. This kind of protest against foreign culture is prominent elsewhere in the world and it is just as stupid as the above photo, I am only focusing on China because I have had personal experience there.
A lot of cultures place higher emphasis on different aspects of their culture, while food in China is important, having no sense of humour in Germany is also essential and if you are Irish, you place importance on a mantra that a serious thing is a joke, and a joke is a serious thing. Traditional clothing is not something we would pride ourselves on, or indeed have any real knowledge about.
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