Footwear In Ireland

IRISH SHOES: ARCHÆOLOGICAL SPECIMENS

An examination of the material shows that it is possible to divide the shoes into five main groups. Of these,four are comprised of shoes of a single-piece type, the the shoe, in each case,having been cut in: a single piece out of the leather or hide, all the partsbeing left attached to each other and no additions of separate pieces beingmade. In the remaining group the shoe is built up of a number of separatepieces stitched together. It is proposed, in the first place, to describe themain character­istics of each of the five types and, in the second, to attemptto relate the types to such chronological data as are available.

TYPE 1

(Figs. 3, 4, 5)
This group consists of a smallnumber of shoes of which fifteen specimens are known to the writer. Of thesethirteen are in the National Museum of Ireland and one each in the BelfastMuseum and Art Gallery and the Armagh County Museum.2 In their general featuresand individual details all shoes of the group are very much alike and wherecircumstances for their preservation have been favourable it is seen that theyare astonishingly sophisticated. Despite their complex pattern they remainsingle-piece shoes although the writer, for one, is at a loss to understand whytheir makers should, apparently, have made things more difficult for themselvesby keeping to the single-piece tradition by, as it were, a technical tour deforce when they might have achieved the same result by building up the shoefrom separate pieces, a pro­cedure which should have presented no difficultiesto tradesmen of their accom­plishments.

Fig. 3. Shoe: Type 1. National Museum S.A. 4: 1926. Unlocalised.

Fig. 3. Shoe: Type 1. National Museum S.A. 4: 1926. Unlocalised.

Fig. 3 shows a typical shoe ofthis type with, so to speak, the seams unpicked and the leather spread out flatto show how the leather was cut out. It must, of course. be understood that inthis and the similar figures of other types there is no suggestion that theleather was cut to this mathematical accuracy in the first instance althoughthere must have been a reasonable approximation to it. In practice some detailscould have been left in the rough until the finishing stages .and there musthave been considerable trimming calTied out in the course of the sewing. Shoesof this type have a broad toe pointed in the middle and a long slender tonguewhich lay on the wearer’s instep. The sole and sides are formed of onecontinuous piece of leather but the vamp is a flap almost but not quitedetached, it being joined to the side by a small neck either on the left orright. In six out of the fifteen shoes of the group the connecting neck is onthe right side, in the remainder on the left. Around the margin of the toe partthe’ leather of the sole curves upwa.rds around the side of the foot. The flapwhich forms the vamp is folded over and sewn edge-to-edge with this all roundits perimeter, except, of course, where the connecting neck is (Fig. 3). In thecutting out of the leather a small narrow tag, perhaps 5 cm. long, was leftprojecting at the point of the sole in front (Fig. 3, a). When the vamp hadbeen sewn in place this tag was bent up across the junction of vamp and sole and sewn inplace along the centre-line of the vamp where, even in those specimens where ithas disappeared, the mark of it is usually traceable; The only other seam inthe shoe is that at the heel but, unlike the shoes of the three followingtypes, it does not run perpendicularly up the back of the heel but comes on thequarter of the shoe near. the heel, either to left or right. As in the case ofthe toe seam, the leather in this one is joined edge-to-edge with fine closestitches. The thread used in both is twisted from a number of fine toughstrands which are neither vegetable fibres nor animal hair1 and Wildeis-probably correct in stating that they are of gut. The remaining part of the shoeto be described is the instep tongue. This projects from the centre of theupper edge of the yamp of which it is an integral part. The remarkable thingabout the tongues of these shoes is the decoration which is worked upon them,either at the tip or at the base or both. This decoration is executed inpatterns characteristic of the Early Christian period and in a.techniqueremarkably delicate and very remarkably assured. Fig. 4 illustrates thepatterns on the tongues of all those shoes where they have survived except thaton the shoe of this type in the Belfast Museum a sketch of which is shown in Fig. 5.

Fig. 4. Shoes: Type 1. Decoration: Heels (above), Vamps (below). (All in National Museum of Ireland) a. W 22. Carrigallen,Co. Leitrim. b. 1902: 66. Craigywarren Crannog, Co. Antrim. c. S.A.5: 1926. Unlocalised. d. S.A. 41926: Unlocalised. e. E ZI: 716.Crannog 61. Lough Gara, Co. Roscommon. f. E ZI: 856. Crannog 61, Lough Gara, Co. Roscommon. g. 1902: 67. Craigywarren Crannog, Co. Antrim h.E 6: 788. Ballinderry CranncgNo. z, Co. Offaly. i. E 6: 789. Ballinderry Crannog No. z, Co.Offaly.

Fig. 4. Shoes: Type 1. Decoration: Heels (above), Vamps (below). (All in National Museum of Ireland) a. W 22. Carrigallen,Co. Leitrim. b. 1902: 66. Craigywarren Crannog, Co. Antrim. c. S.A.5: 1926. Unlocalised. d. S.A. 41926: Unlocalised. e. E ZI: 716.Crannog 61. Lough Gara, Co. Roscommon. f. E ZI: 856. Crannog 61, Lough Gara, Co. Roscommon. g. 1902: 67. Craigywarren Crannog, Co. Antrim h.E 6: 788. Ballinderry CranncgNo. z, Co. Offaly. i. E 6: 789. Ballinderry Crannog No. z, Co.Offaly.

Fig. 5.Shoe: Type 1. Belfast Museum. Unlocalised. Sketch of decorationon tongue (left)and on heel (right).

Fig. 5.Shoe: Type 1. Belfast Museum. Unlocalised. Sketch of decorationon tongue (left)and on heel (right).

In a number of cases decoration also appears on the heels and, with theexception of the Belfast shoe, the heel decoration of which is sketched in Fig.5, this has also been shown in Fig. 4. A peculiar feature of these shoes is acharacteristic scoring of the leather in certain fixed places. The scoringconsists of a cut in the outer surface of the leather penetrating to, perhaps,half its thickness. The scores are straight lines which may be single, doubleor treble. In a number of cases the score has gone right through the leatherbut this is, probably, merely the result of the leather cracking through alongthe line of the score. In all but a few of the shoes one or more of thesescores run down the centre-fu;le of the vamp from the base of the instep tongueto the point of the toe, apparently passing under the tag which was sewn inplace there. Where the heels of the shoes have survived it is normal to find apair of these scores symmetrically placed about the centre-line of the back ofthe heel. The ends of each pair are farther apart below than above so that thelines converge upwards but they do not reach so far as the upper edge of theheel. If these scores are not wholly ornamental they must have been intended togive added flexibility to the leather at the points where they occur. In thecase of one shoe (Reg. No. S.A.5: I926, N.M.I.), the find locality of which hasnot been recorded, a separate triangular inset has been sewn at the bottom ofthe heel to provide extra width at that point. Strictly speaking, this shoecannot, owing to the presence of this separate heel-piece, be classified in thesingle-piece type but to exclude it on this technicality would be merepedantry. In addition to the foregoing ornamental or quasi-ornamental features,one shoe of unknown provenance (Reg. No. S.A. 4: I926, N.M.!.), which is thebest preserved of all, has been tooled to leave raised bands bordering theedges. Some, at least, of these shoes were provided with lacing holes at thesides through which a thong could be passed to fasten them over the instep. Incontrast with the rough-and-ready holes and slits which fulfil this purpose onshoes of other types these openings in the present type are geometrically cutand squared.

In the case of the publishedaccounts of two shoes of this type from Ballinderry Crannog No. 2, Co. Offaly,some emendations are called for in the light of the experi­ence gained inexamining the group as a whole.1 About one shoe it is stated: .. Of this type there was only one positive example (Fig. 24, 525). This has a decorated tongue made in onepiece. Around the front of the shoe was a semi-circular slit on the edges ofwhich are holes for the string by which it was kept closed and made adjustable. This shoe has also evidence of the attachment of a sole.”2 An examination of the shoe itself shows thatthis is mistaken in several particulars. The vamp was sewn per.nan­entlyedge-to-edge to the neighbouring upturned margin of the sole v’lith gut as inall other shoes of this type. It was not closed with string and was notadjustable and never intended to be. There is no basis at all for thesuggestion which seems to be made that the seam was closed with a runningstring which could be slackened or tightened to suit the wearer’s foot. Inregard to the” evidence for the attachment of a sole,” it is certainthat while a number of these shoes have stitch holes in the sole, these merelymark the places where patches were sewnl on to effect a repair when the solehad become worn and that they do not constitute evidence for an extra separatesole as a regular feature. Such patches are to be found still in situ onshoes of other single-soled types but there is no proof at all forthcoming thatone-piece Irish shoes of any type were ever provided with second soles.

Of another shoe the reportstates: .. Another decorated shoe was similar but too little remains to be sureof its precise form.”3 An examination of the fragment, which consists ofthe right half of the toe, removes any misgivings the excavator may have hadabout its type. Referring to the published illustration it can be seen that theportion to which the decorated piece is attached on the right is half of thevamp. The narrow portion at the extreme right is the upc~rved edge of the soleand the holes through, which the two portions were sewn together are stillvisible on their opposing edges. The horizontal edge which appears at thebottom of the figure is undoubtedly a clean cut v’lithout any trace of sewing.Whether the cut occurred accidentally in the course of excavation or in ancienttimes is of no moment since the absence of sewing shows that it cannot be anoriginal edge. It is certain that the leather fonnerly continued beyond it toform the right side of the shoe to which, as can be seen from the figure, thevamp was attached by a small neck in the usual manner. The instep tongue wasdecorated v’lith a key-pattern at its base and from it a central score continued up its middle but the unusually narrow tongue has disappeared leaving only a tiny stump. Like other shoes of this type this one had the vampscored longitudinally down its centre to the tip. Either the score cut rightthrough the leather in the first instance or it was so deep that the leatherparted cleanly along the cut at a later stage for the straight line ofthe score can be seen running from the ornamented base of the tongue down towards the point of the toe.

In the National Museum there is a fragment of a third shoe of this typefrom the Ballinderry excavation (Reg. No. E6: 860) which was not identified assuch and, consequently, not published in. the report. It is in poorpreservation but the vamp still retains the sewing marks around its edge andremains attached to the sole to which it was joined on the right side.

Of the shoes of this type in the National Museum three (E 21: J16, E 21: 856, E 21: 1472) come fromthe excavation of Crannog 61, Lough Gara, Co. Roscommon; three (E 6: 800, E 6: 789, E 6: 788) from theexcavation of Ballinderry Crannog No. 2, Co. Offaly; two (1902: 66, 1902: 67) from the excavation of Craigywarren Crannog, nearBallymena, Co. Antrim; one (W 22) froma bog at Carrigallen, Co. Leitrim; one (S.A. 22: 1925) from a bog at Kilcloony, near Ballinasloe, Co. Galway;one (1880: 9B) probably from Co. Tyrone; and two (S.A.4: 1926, S.A.5: 1926)from unrecorded localities. The single shoe .of this type in the Belfast Museum is of unknownproven­ance, while the specimen in the Armagh County Museum (347: 1935), whichdiffers from all the others in being furnished with a cross-strap instead of an instep tongue, was found in a bog at Tromagua, Carrickmore, Co. Tyrone. Theselocalities show that the type enjoyed a wide distribution in the country.

TYPE 2

(Fig. 6)
Shoes of this type are single-piece specimens of considerably simpler cutthan those of Type1, as can be seen from Fig. 6, which shows that the leather was cut out symmetrically about a central line which ran from heel to toe throughthe middle ,of the sole. The front wings of the piece of leather were folded upand sewn edge-to-edge to produce a pointed vamp with a seam which ran up it from toe toinstep (Fig. 6, a). There is, normally, an ornamental tag or tonguewhich projected from the centre of the vamp on to the wearer’s instep. As each halfof this tongue is continuous with the leather on its side of the vamp provisionhad to be made for it in the cutting out, as shown in Fig. 6, b, and the twohalves were joined in the same seam which joins thehalves of the vamp.These tongues were cut in a variety of patterns: rectangular, triangular or rounded. The wings forming the backof the shoewere folded up at right-angles to the sole, the position of which is outlined by thebroken line in Fig. 6, b, and sewn edge-to-edge vertically up the back of the heel. When these edges werebrought together a small,more or less triangular fold of leather appeared projecting backwards at thebottom of the heel.This was utilized in one of two ways. In the first the edges ofthe fold were slit to leave a piece of leather attached to the parent piece (Fig. 6, c). This flap was trimmed to a regular shape-triangular,rectangular or semicircular. The lower part of the edges of the heel seam were then cut to leave an opening into which the flap could be fitted and its edges were5e\\>11 to the adjoining ones of this aperture (Fig. 6, d), while above thisinsertion the heel seam continued upwards in a vertical line. By sewing in theflap in this manner additional room was provided for the width and backwardprojection of the wearer’s heel as well as producing a neat finish to this partof the shoe. The second method of utilizing the flap was cruder. \¥hen, as inthe first method, its edges had been slit to leave a partly detached flap itspresence was ignored until the heel seam had been sewn from bottom to top. Theback of the shoe being thus closed the flap remained sticking out at the bottomin line with the sole. It was first trimmed to some symmetrical shape­square,rectangular or half-elliptical- and bent up at the back of the heel to coverthe lower part of the seam and there perfunctorily secured in place by a coupleof stitches through its upper part (Fig. 6, e). Although the toe and heel seamsare sewn with gut the stitches holding the flap in place are often of thong.When utilized in this fashion it is probable that the ~ap had little functionalvalue beyond affording some protection against accidental cutting of thestitches in the lower part of the heel seam. On the c;>ther hand, it wasessential to retain the flap since to have cut it off would have been to leavea horizontal slit at the base of the heel which it would have been difficult to closesecurely by sewing.

Fig. 6. Shoe: Type 2. National Museum W 11. Ballymacomb, Co. Derry. (Decoration not shown)

Fig. 6. Shoe: Type 2. National Museum W 11. Ballymacomb, Co. Derry. (Decoration not shown)


As has peen said, shoes ofthis type are sewn with gut except in the case of the couple of stitchesholrnng the heel flap when it comes outside the heel seam, in which case thongis generally used. Two shoes m the National Museum have the heel seams sewn withthong instead of gut but it is probable that in these instances the originalsewing was with gut and that the thong was used in a later repair. The edge-to-edge sewing is always extraordinarily competent and neat. An examination ofthe heel seams suggests that the normal procedure was to carry out the sewingwith the shoe turned inside out and to turn the shoe back when the seVlring wascompleted and the leather still moist. In some cases it would seem as if achannel had been opened along each edge of the seam and the stitches laid, init. In the great majority of specimens the stitching is wholly concealed but ina few it is taken in simple loops across the seam on both faces. The vamp seamappears to have been sewn with a single thread which pulled the edges of the moist leather into a series of interlocking ridges. While these in themselveshad a decorative effect their , regularity in some cases appears to have been improvedand enriched by tooling. Occasionally the seam is bordered on each side by aridge which, to judge by the gut stitches breaking through the surface in somefrayed examples, seems to have been fonned by stitching. As there is no obviousconnection between these stitches and the closure of the seam the ridges musthave been purely decorative.

In a minority of specimens-twelveout of forty shoes of this type examined­there is no means of fastening theshoe on the foot so that it must have been worn slipper-fashion, In theremaining cases, where the shoes are reasonably intact, it can be seen thatholes or horizontal slits, from one to three in number, have been cut on eachside of the shoe below the upper edge in the space between the instep and theside of the heel (Fig. 6 a). There is usually the same number of these openingson each side but in a few cases there is one more on one side than on theother. In some instances the crude way in which these holes are cut and theirhaphazard spacing contrast so markedly with the neatness of t~c sewing andgeneral finish of the shoes that they seem to be amateur after-thoughts ratherthan the work of the original craftsman. In any event, they were intended tohold a thong which passed over the instep to fasten the shoe to the foot.

The only examples displaying surface decoration are two in the NationalMuseum (W 10, W Il) from a bog at Ballymacomb, Co. Deny, which have all theappearance of being a matching pair, one of which is illustrated by Wilde.l Inthese the greater part of the surface is covered with incised ladder­patternsand irregular triangular and curvilinear motifs. A small number of shoes bearon the sides and upper part of the vamp small rectangular slashed panels formedby slitting the leather into a series of narrow ribbons about 2 mm. wide, theupper and lower ends of which are left attached to the surrounding leather.Three shoes so decorated are in the Belfast Museum (229: 1955, 453: 1936 andone unnumbered specimen) and two in the National Museum (1928: 352,1933: 762).The character of these decorations calls to mind Moffet’s allusion in the IrishHudibras (35):

” Adorn’d withcurious cuts about;
As was the new made brogues, which they,
Both wore in honour of the day.”

The known find localities ofshoes of this type are distributed over the following counties: Antrim, Armagh,Derry, Tyrone, Cavan, Monaghan, Mayo, Leitrim,Galway, Offaly, Westmeath and Tipperary.

TYPE 3

(Fig. 7)
Shoes of Type 3 are cut out inexactly the same way as those of Type 2. The difference between them lies inthe method of closing the seams and to a lesser extent in the fact that most ofthem are made of stouter, thicker leather, which, in some cases at least,appears to be rawhide. The halves of the vamp were joined by piercing theadjacent edges with holes or slits which vary in number from as few as five toas many as ten on each edge. A single thong, 6-7 mm. wide and about 2 mm.thick, was used to lace the seam. A knot on one end served to anchor it on theinside of the lowest hole on one side of the seam. The free end of the thongwaS then put through the corresponding hole on the opposite edge, passing fromit to the next on the other and so from side to side through the holes untilthe topmost one was reached. The thong was then pulled tight and knotted inplace. The tension of the thong threw the edges of the seam into a series of” pipes” or puckers, those on one edge inter-locking with those onthe other to produce an effect ornamental in itself. The heel was laced in asimilar manner through holes on each edge which varied in number from five tonine. Where sufficient of the specimens have been preserved to allow ofexamination of the sides it is found that most of these shoes are provided withlacing holes at the sides, generally three in number, through which they couldbe fastened to the foot by a thong across the instep. One shoe in the NationalMuseum (W 8) is provided with a much more elaborate fastening arrangement. The side of the shoe ispierced below the edge with a series of eleven evenly spaced small holesoccupying the space between the front seam and a point about half-way along thelength of the shoe. A flat thong 4 mm. wide is threaded out and in throughthese holes around the front of the shoe, the two free ends of which are available for tying over the wearer’sinstep. One of these free ends is plain but the other is shaped into an eye orloop through whic~ the other can be passed to tie the ends together. Inaddition to this fastening the hinder part of the shoe has two horizontal slitson each side below the upper edge in one of which is a fragment of a thong 5mm. wide. It would seem that this shoe was fastened to the foot both from frontand rear.

Of the eighteen extantspecimens of the type known to the writer eight have no trace of a heel flap,six are defective at the heel and four have flaps. In the last cases the flapis rectangular and is sewn in place outside the heel seam by stitches of athong. No shoe of this type bears decoration of any kind.

The known find localities ofthis type of shoe. are distributed over the following counties: Armagh, Cavan,Monaghan, Longford, Roscommon, Westmeath, Offaly and Clare.

A still surviving shoe of Type 3 is represented by the bróg úirleathair,rawhide shoe or so-called” pampootie ” ofthe Aran Islands. It claims its place here because it is a lineal descendant ofType 3 from which it differs only in the fact that, in modern times at allevents, it is laced with a strong cord or length of fishing line and not withthong and in the way in which the free ends of the lacing cords are utilizedfor fastening the shoe on the foot. It is made from rawhide, the hair beingleft on and worn on the outside. In some recent examples the toe and heel seamsare of equal length so that the newly-finished shoe, before it is expanded intoshape by the wearer’s foot, looks llke a shallow rectangular pouch sewn up.both sides.

Fig. 7. Shoe: Type 3. National Museum W 5. Drumacoon Bog, Co. Cavan.

Fig. 7. Shoe: Type 3. National Museum W 5. Drumacoon Bog, Co. Cavan.


In specimens of this kind the vamp is very short but older examples have a long vamp andsides which rise to the back of the heel which lend them a more shapelyappearance. To close the vamp seam a series of slits, five to seven in number,is made along each of the meeting edges. A stout cord with a knot at one end ispassed through the lowest slit on one side so that the knot comes on the insideand lodges in the point of the toe. The cord is then threaded through the slitsexactly as the thong is in shoes of Type 3. When the upper­most slit of the toeseam has been reached the cord is threaded through a further series of aboutseven slits which are placed below the edge of the outer side of theshoe between the front seam and a point half-way along its side. Between eachtwo slits the cord passes over the upper edge. The heel seam is laced with asecond length of cord in a similar way; the knot at the end of it lying insidethe heel at the bottom. The heel seam having been laced, the cord is threadedthrough another series of about seven slits made below the edge of the shoe on the inner sidebetween the heel and the mid-way point of the side (Fig. 8). ‘What remain ofthe free ends of both cords are now available, one at each side of the foot inthe middle, to be tied together over the instep to keep the shoe in place.”’hen the cords are pulled tight they draw the edges of the shoe in over thesides of the foot for snugger fitting. The fact that the cord is passed overthe edge between each of the side slits rucks the hide enough to keep the slitsopen and so obviates the cord binding in them. The writer has not observed thisparticular method of having a continuous lacing from seam. to instep fasteningin any ancient shoe of Type 3 which he has examined.

The hides for the” pampooties ” are at present obtained in asalted condition from Galway. The life of these shoes is very short, averagingno longer than a month.l The Aran terrain is, admittedly, exceptionally ruggedbut even allowing for longer wear in gentler country the period is an index ofthe comparatively short wearing life of the single-piece shoe.

Fig. 8. Rawhide Shoe (bróg úírleathair). National Museum 1908 : 247. Aran Islands, Co. Galway.

Fig. 8. Rawhide Shoe (bróg úírleathair). National Museum 1908 : 247. Aran Islands, Co. Galway.

TYPE 4

(Fig. 9)
There is still anothersingle-piece shoe which differs from the three foregoing types in the method bywhich the toe-piece is formed, for it can hardly be said to possess a vamp. Ofthe ten- examples known to the writer, all in the National Museum, six appearto be of rawhide. On one (1945: 360) some hairs still remain attached to theouter surface while the inner surface of another (1944: 284) is covered withlong hair. In all except two the heel seam is laced with a thong in the mannerof Type 3 and one (1941: 1044) is provided with a heel flap which is stitchedin place with thong outside the lower part of the main heel seam. The front ofthese shoes, however, is formed by a techmque wholly different from that usedin any other type. Instead of being cut with two wings -,,,hich could be joinedtofonn a vamp the leather for the front of the shoe was cut in a broad half-oval. A short distance in fromits edge a series of slits was made through which a thong was threaded which, whenpulled tight, gathered the margin of the leather up around the side of the footwhere it set in position (Fig. 9)’ The slits for the running thong may beeither horizontal or vertical and they vary in number from twelve to twenty. Inmost cases they are confined to the toe region but in some they extend along the sides to the middle ofthe shoe.

Fig. 9. Shoe : Type 4. National Museum 1945 : 360. Ballyhagan, Co. Kildare.

Fig. 9. Shoe : Type 4. National Museum 1945 : 360. Ballyhagan, Co. Kildare.


Three shoes exhibit an interesting variation of this technique. In one(1937: 230) each side of the shoe, from the middle to the toe, was slit downwardsfrom the edge at regular intervals to form twelve rectangular tags. In the centre ofeach tag a vertical slit was made and a single thong was passed through thetwenty-four slits to gather the margin of the shoe in on the foot. The secondspecimen is rather fragmentary but it can be seen that the greater part of thewhole margin of the shoe was cut into a series of similar tags, about 2 cm.long and wide, of which seven remain on each side, each tag having a verticalslit about 1’5 cm. long. The third example, probably from Dunmore Cave, Co.Kilkenny, has twentyreight pierced tags around the margin and since it has noheel seam it must have resembled a bag for the foot rather than a shoe. Incases where the margin has been cut into these tags the tension of the runningthong has twisted them around at right-angles to the plane of the side of theshoe so that they form a sort of rigid frill.

The following are the find localities of such specimens of this type ashave been discovered: Drumcooly, Co. Offaly (1937: 2372), Edenderry, Co. Offaly(29: 1917, Derryholmes, Co. Offaly (17.9.37), Derrygunnigan, Co. Offaly (1954:5), Ballyhagan, Co. Kildare (1945: 360), Sheean, Co. Kildare (1945: 371),Annadruse, Co. Westmeath (1944: 284) and Cappanasruhan, Co. Galway (1941:1044). All the above are in the National Museum.

Despite the relatively small number of examples which have been foundthere are enough specimens, sufficiently widely distributed, to show that theyconstitute a definite type.

TYPE 5

(Fig. 10)
We have now come to the end of the series of single-piece shoes and inthis final type we encounter the first built-up Irish shoe and the type whichnineteenth-century writers had in mind when they referred to the”brogue.” While there are minor variations in assembling it the generalmethod was as follows. The upper consisted of four pieces: a large vamp cutfrom a single piece reaching past the middle of the shoe at the sides andcoming well up in a rounded tongue on the wearer’s instep (Fig. 10, a); .a heel-piecewhich sloped down horn the back to meet the vamp at the sides where it wasstitched to it (Fig. 10, b) and two fastening flaps which were sewn to theinclined sides of the heel-piece so that they ran upwards at an angle to meeton the wearer’s instep (Fig. 10, C and d). The lower margin of the upper wasbent over and sewn to the sole. Between upper and sole there was inserted anarrow strip of leather so that the stitches passed through three thicknesses.There was, generally, an insole stitched to the sole and formed of two partsskived together at the waist. No find of a shoe of this type retains any heellifts but a few bear a pattern of stitch ho~es in the heel region which indicate their former presence. In most,but not all, shoes of this type the stitching is done with thong.

The method by which the shoe was fastened on the foot remains remarkably uniform throughout the series. Inone of the flaps two pairs of holes were made near its extremity. Two thinthongs were cut from a single piece of leather and were left attached to asmall piece of the parent strip at one end. This piece was placed under theflap and the thongs threaded out through one pair of holes and down through the other pair to emerge fromunder the leading edge of the flap (Fig. 10, e). Two pairs of similar holeswere made near the extremity of the opposite flap and its tip bent down so thatone pair came above and the other below. The free ends of the thongs were thenthreaded through these holes and the ends tied together so that, unlike themodern shoe! the knot came somewhat to on~ side of the instep and not in itscentre (Fig. 10).

Fig. 10. Type 5. National Museum 1945 : 79. Clonbrown, Co. Offaly.

Fig. 10. Type 5. National Museum 1945 : 79. Clonbrown, Co. Offaly.


This type of shoe remained in use till well pastthe middle of the nineteenth century so it is unnecessary to enter detailsabout the distribution of older specimens but examples have been recovered frombogs in all the provinces.

DATING EVIDENCE

TYPE 1

Three shoes of this type were found inthe excavation of Ballinderry Crannog No. 2, Co. Offaly {E6: 788, 789, 860,N.M.I.).l The excavator in the original report dated the crannog settlement toabout the eighth century A.D. but has subsequently suggested an earlier datingin the sixth-seventh centuries for it. 2 Three shoc~ of the same type came to lightin the excavation of Crannog 61 at Lough Gara, Co. Ros­common (E21: 716, 856,1472, N.M.I.). They were found at the lowest level of the second phase ofoccupation of the site in a layer immediately above the Late Bronze Agestratum. In the excavator’s opinion the context in which they were discovereddates to before 500 A.D. and may be as early as 200 A.D.3 Craigywarren Crannog,Co. Antrim, yielded two shoes of the type.4 The excavator was disposed to datethe occupation of the site not later than the tenth century but since thestratigraphy was not clear some levels could be of an earlier date. While thechronology of the Early Christian period in Ireland is still controversial indetail it is certain that eight out of the fifteen kno,,,n specimens of theseshoes can be placed well within the period and some, at least, probably asearly as the sixth century. Moreover, two of the shoes from Ballinderry, two from Craigywarren and one from Lough Gara all beardecoration. the motifs of which a.re in character with the art of the period.Of the remaining shoes, which have come from undated or undatable contexts, one from abog at Carrigallen, Co. Leitrim (W 22, N.M.I.) and two of unknown provenance(S.A.4: 1926, N.M.I. and Belfast Museum) bear ornament of a similar style. Inaddition to these features the whole group shows great uniformity in theremarkable cut of the shoes; the consistent presence of such details as thesewn-down tag at the tip of the toe, and the peculiar scoring on vamp and heel;the shapeliness of the shoes themselves and the unvarying excellence of thecraftsmanship all of which combine to create the impression of a veryhomogeneous class confined to a fairly limited period. On present evidence thewriter ventures to think that all shoes of this type date to the EarlyChristian period.

TYPE 2

A shoe of this type was found in Ballinderry Crannog No. 2 {E6: 790,N.l\U.),5 sixth-seventh centuries. At Lagore Crannog, Co. Meath, one shoe ofthe type was found unstratified but it can hardly be later than the tenthcentury A.D. and might be as early as the seventh.1 One was found in a crannog in DrumacrittinLake, Co. Fermanagh2 and another in Cloonfinlough Crannog, Co. Roscommon,s theoccupation of both of which falls within the Early Christian period. It isinteresting to note that the figure on the first page of St. Matthew’s Gospelin the Book of Kells,4 eighth century, wears .shoes of this kind while, underfavourable lighting conditions, it can be seen that on Muiredach’s Cross,Monasterboice, in the panel representing the Commissioning of the Apostles,Christ wears similar shoes.

TYPE 3

Only four shoes which can,with any probability, be identified as belonging to this type have been foundin datable contexts. One from Lagore Crannog, Co. Meath, exhibits suchpronounced” piping” on the vamp seam, the edges of which bear holesup to 2 mm. in diameter, that, although all trace of the stitching itself isgone, it must, almost certainly, have been laced with a thong.5 Its date wouldfall before the ninth centmy. Fragments of three shoes from Crannog 61, LoughGara, Co. Roscommon, show” piping” of such a similar pronouncedcharacter on their vamp seams that they, too, must have had their vamp seamssewn with thong (E21: 381, 980 and 1328, N.M.I.). They came from the firstlevel of the second phase of occupation of the crannog, immediately above theLate Bronze Age stratum, which, as has been stated, is dated by the excavatorto the period 200-500 A.D.

TYPE 4

No shoes of thistype have been found in datable contexts.

TYPE 5

The only approximately datableshoes of this type known to the writer are the pair which were found on themale body discovered in a bog in the parish of Killery, Co. Sligo, in 1824.6Although they are imperfect they can, with reasonable certainty, be ascribed toType 5. On the basis of the costume in which the body was clothed it has beendated to the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries.

DISCUSSION OF IRISH FOOTWEAR

Summarizing the infonnationwhich emerges from an examination of the surviving specimens of Irish footwear we find: (a) that they consistvirtually exclusively of shoes; (b) that of the five known types four are single-pieceshoes; (c) that three of these types (r, 2, 3) can b~ traced back to theearly centuries of our era; (d) that the finest of all the types of Irish footwear (r) is one of the earliest vouched for and thatapparently, it became extinct still in the Early Christian period; (e)that one of th~ early types (3) survives in use to the present day in therawhide shoe of the Aran Islands; (1) that the earliest evidence for thebuilt-up shoe with a separate sole is in the sixteenth-seventeenth century.

Reviewing the literary data onIrish footwear given above (I-SI) in the light of what can be learnedfrom the study of surviving examples it is evident that the single­soled shoein one or other of its types (2, 3 or 4) was in widespread use in the countrydown to the end of the seventeenth century and probably later. The rawhideshoes referred to in r681 by Dineley (3I) and in r690 by Stevens (33)must be shoes of Types 3 or 4 since it would scarcely be feasible to make ashoe of Type 5 out of raw­hide. As it is unlikely that shoes of. Type 5 wouldearn the scorn which Madden in 1738 poured on the brogues of his day (36) it isprobable that he had shoes of the same types in mind. Indeed, so late as theend of the last ‘century a shoe of Type 3 was still in use on the mainland ofthe country along the Conamara coast (49). It will be seen, therefore, that thesingle-piece rawhide shoe is not a recent insular expedient of the Aran Islandscommunity but that two centuries ago it was in widespread use in the countryand that it has a continuous history reaching back, at least, to the earlycenturies of the Christian period. It is interesting to observe that in r690Stevens noted the necessity for keeping the untanned hide of which such shoeswere made wet to render it supple and that in 1892 Haddon and Browne recordedthe same practice in the Aran Islands, where the writer has seen it stillresorted to. A point of further interest is that the term br6ga1i,irleathair (rawhide shoes) which is the current Aran name for them isthat used in the mid-seventeenth century text of Pdirlement Chloinne Tomdis(26).

In the seventeenth centurythey were, evidently. confined to the poorer classes or, at all events, lookedupon as a sign of social inferiority since in the P4irlement, which is asatire on the peasantry, they are bracketed with the clumsy and outmoded articlesof dress which they wore. Presumably, the more fashionably attired had by thattime adopted the built-up shoe of Type 5 for the introduction of which the fmdfrom Killery, Co. Sligo, suggests a sixteenth-seventeenth century date. Whileit is not proposed here to attempt to trace a possible antecedent for the shoeof Type 5. it cannot have developed out of any of the known native types andmust have been made after an imported model. It gradually ousted thesingle-piece shoe except in certain limited areas of the west but underwent solittle development itself that by the nineteenth century it had become acuriosity to visiting strangers (43, 4S). It is ironical that thethong-sewing which is always quoted as its chief technical peculiarity andwhich, on theoretical grounds, might well seem an indubitably primitive char­acteristicis not, in fact, to be found in early native shoes at all since shoes of Types 1 and 2 were sewn with gut and where thong is present, as in Type 3, it isused in a ” lacing” rather than a ” sewing” technique.Shoes of Type 5 survived in use in many parts of the country till well past theturn of the last century (46,47, 50, 5I) and a pair made about I900 byone of the last broguemakers, then aged eighty and living in the Roscreaneighbourhood of Co. Tipperary, is in the National Museum.

The single-soled shoe, whetherin its more sophisticated form of tanned and gut­sewn leather or in its ruderone of rawhide laced with thong, is identical in type with shoes in many partsof Europe. The early Irish word for it was cuaran although the name brag virtuallysupplanted this at a later date. . Similar shoes, both of tanned and untanned leather,were used in the Isle of Man, where they were known as” carranes,”lin Scotland, where they were called “rulliO~S,”2 and in Shetland,where the term “rivlins” was applied to them.3 They are known fromearly times in Norway, Denmark and Germany and in certain districts of thefirst country they have survived in use until modem times, as they have inIceland and the Faroes.4 They were worn in medieval Sweden and were tillrecently in use in Estonia, Latvia, Russia and Hungary.

Returning to the pictorial matter listed in the footwear survey above,it will be appreciated that it is impossible to take minor details of shoesvery seriously in pictures of such derivative types as most of those at ourdisposal are but what we have learned from an examination of the shoes themselvesmakes us regard them with suspicion. For instance, however well other detailsof the Diirer picture of Irish soldiers(6) fit known facts there is noresemblance at all between the three different kinds of shoes which he depictsand those of any known Irish type. In most of the Derricke pictures the shoesseem done to a schematic formula. The only ones which exhibit any detail arethose of ” Donolle Obreane the Messenger” (I3 d) and “Th~ Submission of Turlough O’Neill” (I3 f). In these the Irishpersons are seen tQ be wearing.shoes which are certainly not single-piece onesbut which do not resemble those of Type 5 and which are, in any event,identical with those worn by the English. It is hardly necessary to say that noIrish shoes are known resembling those which appear on the participants in theIrish procession in Stuttgart in I6I7 figured byMcClintock.6 Even in the case of the three figures in the wall painting in HolyCross Abbey7 the shoes are represented as coming up over the ankles which nosurviving Irish shoe ever did.

The fact that all the ancient shoes have lain for long periods in the waterlogged sites which have preserved them makes it difficult to determine whether they are made of tanned or untanned leather. On general appearances, however, it seems probable that all those of Types 1, 2 and 5 are of tanned leather. In the case of Types 3 and 4 many specimens are, undoubtedly, of rawhide and, as has been mentioned, some even yet retain part of the hair on the outer or inner surface.

Tanned leather was, of course, used in early times and oak bark was the tanning agent. “the ‘dire” –fine of the oak: a cow-hide is due for stripping off it the barking of a pair of woman’s shoes: and an ox-hide for the barking of a pair of men’s shoes…” This occurs in a Brehon law passage dealing with the fines for damaging one of the “chieftain” trees and the fines relate to the stripping of as much bark as would tan a pair of woman’s and a pair of men’s shoes respectively. If, later, we learn that in the early part of the sixteenth century very little tanning “apart from what was necessary for home consumption” was carried on in Ireland and that in the seventeenth century tanning on an industrial scale did not develop, due, to some extent, to the destruction of the woods and the consequent shortage of bark these assessments of the status of the tanning industry in the country do not warrant the deduction that all the native was made of rawhide. On the contrary, there is, as we shall see, reason to believe that tanning was carried on by the broughmakers on a small but adequate scale to meet their own needs. Even when supplies of bark dried up completely a substitute was found in the roots of the tormentil (Potentilla sp). Smith, writing of Co. Waterford in 1745, notes that it is “recommended as a good ingredient for tanning leather. These roots are very easily propagated; an if they begins to grow scarce, and might be of advantage for the preservation of our timber.” He also refers to Maple’s account of the process published in Dublin in 1739 and to the resolution of the House of Commons giving encouragement to his proposal. Dealing with the Ballinskelligs district of Co. Kerry, the same writer in 1756 again alludes to the the use of tormentil: “The country folks hereabouts are not unacquainted with the use of tormentil roots in the tanning of leather, with which they tan tolerably well for their own consumption. Oak bark is not to be had, the woods, as I have already noticed, being all destroyed for smelting iron ore.” The use of this plant continued into the nineteenth century for in 1809 it is observed: “The common Tormentil (Tormentilla erecta) is found in great abundance in the mountainous districts of Ireland. It is used as a substitute for oak bark intanning.” In a description of the Aran Islands in 1824 it is said: “…The tormentil root. . . serves them in place of bark for tanningleather.” It affords an interesting corroboration of the accuracy ofIrish folk tradition to note that in 1938 it was recorded in the Cahirdanieldistrict, Co. Kerry, that a bog known locally as Portach a’ Leathair (Bogof the Leather) received its name from the fact that leather was tanned there\\ith nL~alfartaig (tormentil).3 In 1941 a shoemaker-farmer, agedsixty-six, in the parish of Dromod, Co. Kerry, recalled that in the old daysshoemakers tanned their leather aprons with ~ormentil (nialjhar/'(lCh) inbog-holes in that neighbourhood’ while in 1949 the use of the same plant (lIeal-urtach)for tanning was recorded from the parish of Glenbeigh in the same county.5 Nealfhartach isdefined by Dinneen: .. The plant tormentil; it has a hard woody root, produces a smallyellow flo\vcr and grows on ‘ old’ land and on hillsides; . . . it is used in dyeing and tanning; leathar néalfhartaighe, home-tanned leather.”

In addition to the use of tomlentil, it is stated in 1812 that, owing tothe scarcity of oak bark: ” Birch and alder”bark are very much usedas a substitute.”6 This is corroborated by a statement recorded in 1937from an informant aged seventy who was born and reared near Tullow, Co. Carlow:” The grandfather also did much trade with a firm in Kilkenny in birchbark, so necessary at that time for the tanning business. ”

While every man who wore rawhide shoes could, probably, make his own,the gut-sewn examples of Type 2 were far beyond the capacity of an amateurwhile the uniformly excellent specimens of Type I ca~led for superlativeprofessional skill. In the Early Christia.i1 period, therefore, it is evidentthat there were highly specialized leatherworkers whose accomplishmentscompared very favourably with those of their fellow craftsmen in metalalthough. only a few decayed scraps of their handiwork survive. The extinctionof shoes of Type I did not, of course, mean the disappearance of shoemakers foralthough we lack dating data for them the large numbers of shoes . of Type 2 which survive suggests that they were in common use over avery long period and their existence presupposes skilled tradesmen to makethem. In later times these tradesmen were known as “broguemakers”since they produced the ” brogue” or native shoe of whatever type wascurrent at the period. We find them so called in 1625 (22) and the nameremained in common use till the latter half of the nineteenth century. They had a status separate from shoemakers and even in 1838 the two trades are listed separately by Donaldson in Co. Armagh. Apart from the differences in style of the shoes which they produced the chief distinction between the brougemakers and the shoemakers was that the former did all their sewing with a thong which Wilde considered a much more durable medium than the shoemaker’s waxed end.

Compared with shoes brogues were always cheaper. In 1598 it was estimated that if the English army in Ireland were equipped with brogues “the soldiers may have three pairs of Irish brogues for the price of one pair of shoes, viz., at 9d. the pair of brogues;…” About 1627 a memorandum which itemizes the cost of fitting out soldiers in Ireland states that “Shoes will cost 2s. 6d. the dozen. Brouges 1s.” Even if there is an error of underestimation here, as thee seems to be, the relative prices of shoes and brogues still remain nearly in the ratio of three to one. By the end of the eighteenth century the difference in price had narrowed to the point where brogues were two-thirds the price of shoes, probably because by this time the practice of providing them with a thick separate sole had become universal, increasing the total amount of leather required and the time necessary for their manufacture. This is borne out by a Clare list of footwear prices of 1808 which states: “Shoes, generally of leather badly tanned, are sold for, single pumps, 6s.; turned pumps for beaux, 7s.; with soles, 8s.8d.” The pump was still greatly used for dancing which was so popular in the Irish countryside that a considerable body of dancing masters earned a livelihood by catering for what was considered part of education to take one’s place in rural society. If we are to judge by the Roscommon figures from 1830-1 the gap between prices of shoes and brogues continued to narrow for in those years we find brogues quoted at 5-7s. per pair and shoes at 7-8s. but the former seem to have remained somewhat cheaper to the end since economies could be effected by leaving them unlined.

The brogues were sold at faires from a large basket called a “kish” or “kesh” (Irish cis, a wicker basket, Dinneen), whence the proverb: “As ignorant as a kish of brogues.” The memory of these survived until comparatively recent times for an informant in Galbally, Co. Wexford, stated in 1937: “At that time they used to have kishes of brogues at the faires selling them, big boxes with lids on them and hinges like a bin for corn. ‘Twas ould Tom Ryan was telling me that and he reminded them when they were living in the little house beside the Raith.” There is a strong tradition that brogues were not made to fit left and right feet but thatcomponents of a pair were exactly alike and would fit either foot equally well.An informant aged ninety ­two in Seemuldoon, Parish of Derryvullen, Co.Fermanagh, stated in 1938: .. The boots in old times were all straight, therewas no difference between left or right at all,”! while another, agedseventy, in Caherdaniel, Co. KCIT)’, maintained the same thing.

This tradition is borne out bythe fact that in the case of all the shoes of Types 1, 2, 3 and 4, and most ofthose of Type 5 examined by the writer there was no attempt to adapt the shoein its making to either the left or right foot. In many cases it can be seenthat the ~hoc was worn on onc or the other but this is due to distortion of theoriginal symmetrical shape ~f the shoe by being worn permanently on one footand is an accidental and not a premeditated feature.

HAY OR STRAW IN SHOES

There is another usage connected with footwear which in its Irish contexts seems at first sight of no significance but which, seen against thebackground of European custom, assumes considerable importance as a pointer toancient cultural relationships and which has an important bearing on thehistory of the soleless stocking. This is the practice of wearing hay or strawin shoes. Although there are, probably, some which have not yet come under thewriter’s notice, the total number of references to this practice in Irelandappears to be small but, fortunately, they are spaced widely enough in time anuplace to show that it was both old and widespread. The following are theinstances of the custom which the writer has met:

1. In thc Senchu.s IHor, when OCCasiOIlS ofcxcmption from distress arc cnumcrated, there occurs a phrase: Aitherachdlui n-assa: .. Changing the ,visp of his shoe.” The gloss on thisgives us further information: .. Changing the wisp of his shoe, i.e., while thecleric is changing the wisp of his shoe or his’ curan,’ i.e., a wisp of strawwhich is between his foot and his shoc. when his shoe is cutting him, i.e.,when going into the corn field in the harvest time; it is a proof tohim.”

2. In an account of the parish ofAghaboe, Co. Laoighis, in 1814 it is stated: .. Thenativc peasants have cOllStantly straw or hay in their brogues….

3. In the Halls’ description of the Irish” brogue” (1840)already referred to it is said:

“… The brogue is worn larger than tire foot, and tire difference isfilled up with the sap of hay or straw.” The” sap” of hay orstraw must be either a misunderstnding or a misprint of the Irish word”sop” (a wisp) which has been adopted into the English of Ireland. Thesentence should read: .. The brogue is worn larger than the foot, and thedifference is filled up with a sop [wisp] of hay or straw.”.

4. Reffering to the barony of Scarawalsh, Co. Wexford: “A tall, muscular, high featured farmer was seen coming in at the gate: his lower lip had a habit of hanging, his brogues were innocent of grease, the strw with which they were lined was looking out dismally over the quarters and through an old hole in the uppers….”

5. From the parish of Kilcatherine in the Eyeries distric of the extreme south-west of Co. Cork it is recorded in 1910: “It is no unusual sight to see men and boys wearing shoes stuffed with hay or fine straw (without stockings). This custom gradually died out, though anois is aris (now and then) old men keep hay under their stockings in winter: they say it is warmer than a flannel insole.”

6. In a song recorded in Ballynakill, Co. Galway there occurs a line:

“Ná sanntuigh lóais (?) mbeadh sop in a bhróga.”
“Do not long over a … (?) with a wisp in his boots.”

7. From old people in the parish Rathaspick, Co. Westmeath, it was recorded in 1940: “Clogs—wooden soles, leather uppers, narrow strips of iron on edges of soles and iron tips—were frequently worn by men, women and children. Insoles of hay or wool used in them.”

8. In the parish of Kilaraght, Co. Silgo, it was recorded in 1940: “Many men wore no socks while working and stuffed a wisp of hay in their shoes for heat and comfort.”

9. In the course of a description of the process of tanning as carried out in Drogheda in former times, the following observation occurs: “The heavy brogues worn by labourers were very large and heavy. They were laced for a part of their length and at the top were secured by clasps or hooks. The wearer used a handful of straw in each boot, as insoles are used to-day. Every night the straw was removed and fresh straw put in.”

Here we have evidence for the custom from the early centuries of Christianity to within living memory and from localities dispersed enough to suggest that it was to be found everywhere in the country. The same custom is widely found in northern Europe.

The use of hay of straw in shoes has a considerable significance in connection with the subject of this study. Besides acting as an absorbent cushion for the foot of the wearer of a single-soled shoe it obviated the necessity for soles in such stockings as might be worn with it. If it were necessary to wear stockings as a protection for the leg and exposed upper of the foot these not be provided with soles since the straw or hay would more than adequately fulfil their function, as well as having the advantage of being easily renewable. Nor was the wearer confined to these two articles for padding his shoes since flaw-tow, which must have been a plentiful byproduct of the domestic manufacture of linen, raw wool, feathers, or, at a pinch, dry grass pulled from a naturally withered tussock could replace them.

CONCLUSION

We have found reason to believe that some people went barefoot in ancient and medieval Ireland and plenty of evidence that large numbers did so from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century. We have found soleless stockings in use everywhere among this barefoot population in the nineteenth century. We have seen that there is every reason to believe that stockings in ancient and medieval Ireland were of the soleless type, even when worn with shoes. We have seen that the commonest and most widespread name (troighín) used for these stockings in the nineteenth century is a native word of ancient ancestry. We have seen that they afforded a necessary protection against a specific disease to which climatic conditions of the country rendered barefoot people liable. We have, in the case of another article of footwear, seen the tenacity of custom which perpetuated the wearing of an ancient type of hoe down to our own day. We have seen that similar articles of footwear, both shoes and stockings, are to be found elsewhere in Europe as part, apparently, of a very old cultural heritage. There are, therefore, very substantial grounds for seeing in these soleless stockings of the last century the final phase of a continuity in a custom and thing stretching back, at least, to the early centuries of Christian civilization in the country.



Source:
Lucas, A.T. (1956). Footwear in Ireland. The Journal of the County Louth Archaeological Society 13(4).

Note: This on-line article is only a small portion of the original. Included here are only pages 366-385 plus the Conclusion on page 393. (The original in the Journal is pages 309-394.) For efficiency, many of the sources quoted in the original article have been omitted. It is highly recommended to seek out this full article for it’s cultural value and references for further study. You can normally get a copy of this article from your local Public Library through Inter-Library Loan (ILL), usually free of charge.