The shawl is an Irish fashion statement of old, worn through the centuries, created out of necessity, and wrapped around shoulders with pride in the face of dire poverty.
The shawl featured prominently in photographs of Irish women from the 19th century. After a little research into this subject I now view the shawl as a garment of great historical significance.
To celebrate the shawl as a symbol of Ireland, I’m also delighted to host a little giveaway for a beautiful green, cashmere pashmina. Thanks to The Pashmina Store for sponsoring this giveaway.
However, before entering our little giveaway to win this elegant prize, why not check out a little history of the Irish shawl.
History of the Shawl
Women today enjoy beautiful pashminas, and luxurious, glamorous shoulder drapes of multi-colored hues. But Irish women of old knew how to wear a shawl.
In days gone by a wool, plainly colored wrap provided practical defense against the elements, in a country infamous for gale force winds and lashing rain.
The word shawl is derived from Sanskrit and some of the first shawls were created in the Kashmir region of India. Historians believe India is the true home of the decorative shawl, where finely spun mantles were created.
But the Irish also embraced the shawl.
The Irish word for shawl is seál and is pronounced just like the English. However a more ancient Irish word for a shawl is “brat” (pronounced braw-th).
In Medieval Ireland a mantle or brat was used as an outer covering. It was a cross between a cloak and a shawl. Made of thick wool with fancy fringing these rectangular or semi-circular coverings protected the wearer from the Irish weather.
Believe it or not Irish brats or mantles became so popular in Europe that in the year 1482 the Pope’s agent got permission to export them (found on the McGinley Clan website).
The Playboy of the Western World:
Pegeen Mike, the love struck leading lady of Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, sported her shawl across the world’s stages in the early years of the 20th century.
She wrapped herself in its warm embrace, as she lamented the loss of her playboy.
I wonder if the actresses who played Pegeen Mike found comfort in their costume shawls, or perhaps they found courage in their shawls to face the world and the controversy surrounding the play when it was first staged.
Shawls On Old Irish Banknotes:
In the 1920’s our new Irish banknotes bore a hauntingly beautiful image of a shawl bedecked lassie.
Cathleen Ni Houlihan leaned on her harp beside a beautiful lake side scene. Draped beguilingly over her tresses, her shawl subtly framed her face.
Her much loved banknote image became widely accepted as the perfect interpretation of traditional Irish womanhood.
The irony of this whole shawl image, is the model for the portrait, Lady Lavery, was not Irish at all. In 1923, Sir John Lavery painted his wife Hazel, as this iconic image of Ireland, even though she was an American.
I wonder if we would have been as proud of our new banknotes, if they had boasted a shawl bedecked image of Pegeen Mike, keening for her lost love, in a torrent of pain and anger.
Perhaps Pegeen Mike would have been a more realistic image of Irish womanhood.
In 1976 a new image of a shawl wearing Irish woman appeared on our currency. This time Medb (Maeve), the legendary Queen of Connacht in Irish mythology took center stage, sporting a warm woolen shawl or brat.
The good Queen Maedb wore her shawl with pride, circulating around Ireland until 1990 when she was replaced by the one pound coin.
Perhaps her image is a better representation of Irish womanhood than the beautiful Lady Lavery. Medb undoubtedly represents a strong Irish woman. I wonder if she wore her shawl to face oncoming armies and lead her men to battle.
The Galway Shawl:
“The Galway Shawl” is an old Irish folk song that tells the story of a rural Irish courtship. Songs like this one reassured Irish girls they were beautiful without adornment. The songwriter praises his Galway girl:
“She wore no jewels, nor costly diamonds,
No paint nor powder, no none at all,
But she wore a bonnet with ribbons on it,
And around her shoulders was the Galway shawl.”
Alack and alas, like many Irish ballads, the song ends sadly. The poor girl’s suitor leaves her high and dry, and heads off towards the beckoning hills of Donegal.
He may have forgotten her charms, but he’ll always remember her Galway shawl.
The Ould Plaid Shawl:
Another old Irish folk song about a shawl wearing Galway girl was written by a Kinvara man called Francis Fahy.
Once again only a simple shawl was necessary to transform this young girl into an angelic beauty.
“Not far from old Kinvara, in the merry month of May,
When birds were singing cheerily, there came across my way,
As if from out the sky above an angel chanced to fall,
A little Irish cailín in an ould plaid shawl.”
If only girls today were happy enough with a simple shawl as a fashion statement, like the Galway girls of days gone by.
The Quiet Man:
The most famous of all shawl donning Irish colleens must be Maureen O’Hara who wrapped herself up in her brown shawl in many scenes of The Quiet Man.
Mary Kate Danaher loved her shawls. She spied on her man Sean Thornton, while clasping her brown wool shawl.
Mary Kate’s shawl is on display in The Quiet Man Cottage Museum, in Cong, County Mayo.
But not only Mary Kate wore a shawl proudly. Fringed or embroidered shawls appeared on many characters throughout the movie, perhaps serving as a tribute to this traditional Irish garment by the director, Ford.
Wrap Up (Pun Intended):
Irish women have worn shawls for centuries. In days gone by an Irish woman gathered her shawl about her to go about her way.
I can safely say that a long line of Irish women who have gone before me wore shawls. Years ago I remember seeing a photo of my great grandmother wrapped in a shawl. I don’t have the photo to share on this post, but if I ever get a copy of it, I’ll be sure to add it here.
And now it’s time for our giveaway ……
The Pashmina Store, one of the largest online suppliers of pure, grade A, handcrafted cashmere at value prices introduced its pinch-proof pashminas for St. Patrick’s Day parades.
They have kindly offered to sponsor the prize of a beautiful green pashmina wrap for one lucky reader of Irish American Mom.
The Pashmina Store is also celebrating the rich spirit and culture of the Irish, along with annual tradition of wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, with a 10% off coupon on purchases of $50 or more through March 17, 2015.
Everyone can be as lucky as the Irish and take advantage of this promotion by entering GREEN2015 at checkout.
“Whether it’s kelly, lime or emerald, our pure cashmere pashminas can add just the right pop of green on St. Patrick’s Day at work, at the parade or the pub,” said Blair Rhodes, co-owner of The Pashmina Store.
“With record-cold temperatures, bundling up is even more important this year than ever before. Wearing one of our luxuriously soft and pure cashmere and silk scarves, wraps and stoles is a sure way to look fashionable, stay warm and make others green with envy.”
One lucky winner will receive a pure pashmina wrap in green.
To enter just leave a comment on this blog post by noon on St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday, March 17th, 2015. Any comment will do, but if you need inspiration why not tell us about what comes to mind when you think of traditional Irish dress or costumes.
A winning comment will be chosen randomly. Remember to leave your e-mail so that I can contact you should you win. Your e-mail won’t be published or shared, just used to contact our lucky contestant.
Winners will be announced onTuesday March 17th, 2015.
You may check out Irish American Mom’s complete terms and conditions for sweepstake entries by clicking here.
Thanks to everyone who supports and enters this little giveaway. Wishing you all a little bit of Irish luck this St. Patrick’s Day.
March 17th, 2015 – We Have A Winner
Congratulations to R. Mullen, who is our lucky winner, and was selected randomly using the “Pick Giveaway Winner” plug-in for WordPress websites.
Thanks to everyone who joined in and enter this little giveaway, and a very happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone.
And a big thank you to The Pashmina Store for sponsoring this wonderful prize. Wishing them every success with their wonderful artwork.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings),
Irish American Mom
Disclosure: Irish American Mom does not have a business relationship with The Pashmina Store. No cash payment was received for publishing this giveaway post. I wish to thank them for graciously sponsoring the prize for this St. Patrick’s Day giveaway.
Pashmina image published with permission of The Pashmina Store.