Historical Promotion of English Dress in Ireland (Rooney, 1909)

1.112-19, 513-16. William Rooney, Prose Writings, (Dublin and Waterford: M.H. Gill & Son, Ltd., n.d.[1909] ), pp.114-18. BL YA.1991.a.13422

Extract from William Rooney, Prose Writings (1909), on historical attempts to promote the adoption of English dress in Ireland.

Mulligan’s style of dress and his eagerness, by way of his cast-offs, to get Stephen to dress in the same way, can be usefully read against the context of historical attempts on the part of the English to get the Irish to adopt English fashions, by way of measures which went hand in hand with the suppression of the Irish language. In this extract from William Rooney’s ‘Gaelicism in Practice’, a lecture delivered before the Celtic Literary Society in Dublin on the 4th of January, 1901, he lays out that context: Sir John Davies’s idea that such policies will quickly tend towards the complete subsumation of a separate Irish identity are especially interesting. At the point at which the passage opens, Rooney has just described the tendency of the Norman settlers to adopt Irish fashions and styles of dress:

This fancy to appear in the garb and style of the natives did not recommend itself to the Britishers in authority, and hence the Statute of Kilkenny, passed in the reign of Edward III., prohibiting the use of Irish fashions in dress or language. Yet, though the English objected to the styles of the Irish tailors of the 14th century, they had no objection to the manufactures of the Irish looms; for we find the Irish frieze allowed into England free of duty by an Act passed in the 28th year of this monarch’s reign. . . . In the reign of Henry VII. an Act was passed ordering the Irish lords who attended the Parliament to appear in the same Parliamentary robes as those of England or suffer a penalty; but this Act had little or no effect. In the next reign, that of Henry VIII., the citizens of Galway were ordered to “wear no mantles in the streets, but cloaks or gowns, coats, doublets, and hose, shapen after the English fashion, but made of the country cloth or any other it may please them to buy;” and every loyal woman was forbidden to wear “any kirtle or coat tucked up or embroidered with silk, or laid with uske after the Irish fashion, or any mantle, coat, or hood of the said pattern.” Spenser, some years later, reviles the fashion in dress, more especially of the men. “The cloak,” he writes, “ is a fit house for an outlaw, a meet bed for a rebel, and an apt cloak for a thief. Firstly, the outlaw, being for his many crimes and villainies banished from the towns and houses of honest men, and wandering in waste places, far from danger of law, maketh his mantle his house, and under it covereth himself from the wrath of heaven, from the offence of the earth, and from the sight of men. When it raineth it is his penthouse; when it bloweth it is his tent; when it freezeth it is his tabernacle. In summer he can wear it loose, in winter he can wrap it close; at all times he can use it, never heavy, never cumbersome. Likewise, for a rebel, it is serviceable; for in this war that he maketh — if at least it deserve the name of war, when he still flieth from his foe, and lurketh in the thick woods and strait passages, waiting for advantages — it is his bed, yea, and almost his household staff. For the wood is his house against all weathers, and his mantle is his couch to sleep in; therein he wrappeth himself round, and croucheth himself strongly against the gnats, which in that country do more annoy the naked rebels whilst they keep the woods, and do more sharply wound them than their enemies’ swords or spears, which can seldom come nigh them. Yea, and oftentimes their mantle serveth them when they are near driven, being wrapped above their left arm, instead of a target; for it is hard to cut through with a sword. Besides, it is light to bear, light to throw away, and being, as they commonly are, naked, it is to them all in all. Lastly, for a thief it is so handsome as it may seem it was first invented for him, for under it he may clearly convey any fit pillage that cometh handsomely in his way. And when he goeth abroad in the night on freebooting it is his best and surest friend.”
¶¶The passing of strictures by Spenser was not the only effort made to wean the people, both the nobles and commonalty, from the use of their native garments. Sir John Perrott, Deputy, made presents of cloaks cut in the English fashion to the various Irish and Anglo-Irish lords — but, though they accepted them, they still continued the use of their own long-flowing mantles, while the country people clung to their warm friezes. In the reign of James I. attempt was made to damn the glibbe, which Spenser had also anathematised as a mask for all kinds of villainy. Sir John Davies, writing in 1613, rejoices that the enactments of James have “reclaymed the Irish from their wildness, caused them to cut off their glibbes and long haire, to convert their mantles into cloaks, to conform themselves to the manner of England in all their behaviour and outward forms,” so that he hopes “the next generation will in tongue, and heart, and everyway else become English; so as there will be no difference or distinction but the Irish Sea betwixt us.”

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