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Uniforms within the Regiment...

The origin of the Saffron Kilt

The common form of dress in both Scotland and Ireland used to be the "leine - chroich" or saffron shirt. All it was, was a tunic worn loose down to approximately knee level, and it was normally saffron coloured. Saffron is a dye extracted from the Crocus flower, and was used by the Celts of Northern Europe as a dye from at least as far back as the time of Christ.

Along with the saffron shirt a large heavy woollen cloak was normally worn, which in the old days was referred to as the Great Irish Mantle. So we can imagine the Irishman and Scotsman in the middle ages in a saffron tunic rather like a long shirt and covered in an enormous woollen cloak fastened by a large brooch.  From these articles of clothing come the saffron kilt of Ireland and the tartan kilt of Scotland, the great cloak pipers in the Royal Irish Rangers wear and the plaid the Scottish pipers wear. Spencer a writer and poet of the 16th century describes the great mantle or cloak of the Irish as follows :- "It was their house, their tent, their couch, their target (shield). In summer they wear it loose, in winter wrap it close."

From about the 1600's the wearing of a saffron shirt, or kilt as it had now become was gradually replaced in Scotland by the poorer folk, by wearing woollen coloured tartan clothing because saffron was a very expensive dye. The gentry in Scotland wore saffron for a little longer, until they eventually started wearing tartan coloured kilts as well, and saffron in Scotland disappeared altogether. The story was very nearly the same in Ireland, where the poor folk again started to wear coarse woollen tunics, although they still wore the great mantle or cloak.  The gentry in Ireland stopped wearing the saffron and started imitating English dress except in the West and North West of Ireland, and it seemed as if the wearing of the saffron kilt would have died out altogether. However there was a great Celtic (Gaelic) revival by the aristocracy of Ireland in the 18th Century, and this new interest kept the wearing of the saffron kilt alive, although it is normally only worn now on special occasions, unlike the Scots who wore their newly developed tartan for common use.

The saffron kilt worn today by the Royal Irish Rangers is of the original design and carries all three badges of its former regiments as depicted in the photograph above.

Irish Pipers in the British Army

Originally brought from the Mediterranean by Celtic migrants, the bagpipe was common in Medieval Britain. By the nineteenth century, it had died out except in Scotland, Ireland and Northumbria.  Irish pipes come in two forms , the mouth blown war pipe, and the bellows-blown union or 'Uilleann' pipe . The war pipe was the outdoor instrument, while the 'Uilleann' or 'parlour' pipe was played seated and indoors. Little is known of the old war pipe. It is chronicled as being used during the Border Wars of 1540-1550 , described as a mouth blown instrument with two drones of unequal length with a long chanter .
Persecution of Scotland and Ireland during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries meant that the Irish Regiments in the British Army Judiciously avoided the instrument, though in a Dublin newspaper 2 November 1793 there was a report of a war pipers band in Major Doyles Regiment . This regiment was to regularise as 87th. of Foot ( Prince of Wales ) Irish Regiment. Pipers at this time were attached to companies and their instruments and embellishments were provided by the officer commanding.

Pipers seem to have disappeared from Irish Regiments at the start of the 1800’s . The revival of the Irish piper can be traced to circa 1859 when the Royal Tyrone Fusiliers Militia appointed pipers using the Piob Mor, literally the 'Great pipe' or Irish pipe. The 87th (Royal Irish Fusiliers) when stationed in Aldershot in 1864 had a piper who played a 'combination pipe' which could be played 'as the present Irish pipe', or 'like the old Irish war pipe'. It must be pointed out that until the 1880s the pipers did not play accompanied by the drum in the modern manner. The Royal Tyrone Fusiliers were emulated by the Prince of Wales's Own Donegal Militia and by the 2nd Battalion Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers to which both were affiliated.

Colonel George Cox, when commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion Princess Victoria's (The Royal Irish Fusiliers) between August 1887 and August 1891, is credited with supplying eight sets of war pipes which were modelled on the sixteenth-century Piob Mor. Pipes also came to the Leinster Regiment by presentation, to the 4th Battalion (Queen's County Militia) by their Colonel, Lord Castletown of Upper Ossory in 1903. The 1st. Battalion Leinster Regiment is known to have started its own band in 1908 and the regimental journal reported, in 1910, the efforts of the 2nd battalion to change from the Highland to the war pipe.   The pipers were volunteers from the Corps of Drums and the companies until 1920 when they were accorded official recognition:

Pipers in the British Army

It has been decided that the peace establishment of Irish Infantry Regiments (other than the Royal Irish Rifles) shall include one Sergeant-Piper and five Pipers. These Pipers will be included in the normal peace establishment of these Regiments, as in the case of Scottish Lowland Regiments."  As a Rifle Regiment the Royal Irish Rifles retained their buglers and did not adopt the pipes until 1948 when they were brought into line with the other regiments in the North Irish Brigade.  Following the Cardwell Reforms of 1881 the three new Irish Regiments adopted war pipes to underscore their identity ,followed closely by the London Irish Rifles . This war pipe differs from the Scottish type in only one respect - it has one tenor drone instead of a pair.  In 1908, the Pipe Major of The London Irish Rifles patented a bagpipe version named " Brian Boru" . He was Henry Starck, Bagpipe maker to the British Army . This Instrument has three drones , tenor, bass and baritone, and a chanter with extra keys, bringing the chromatic scale within the instrument's capabilities. The sergeant-piper of the 18th. (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (London Irish Rifles) introduced this chanter which had four keys. This allowed a fully chromatic scale, in E, to be played rather than the restricting eight notes, in A, of the Highland and war pipe.   So, by 1922, the remaining Irish infantry regiments were using both the War pipes and the" Brian Boru " pipes . In 1948, The Royal Ulster Rifles took to the War pipes, joining The Royal Irish Fusiliers, while The Royal lnniskilling Fusiliers preferred the "Brian Boru" pipes.  It should also be remembered that the London Irish Rifles had Pipes & Drums from 1906 and the Tyneside Irish Battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers had war pipes from their formation in 1915. All these pipers wore the saffron kilt.

In 1968, at the formation of The Royal Irish Rangers , the regulation three drone bagpipe was adopted. Meanwhile, following the formation of the Ulster Defence Regiment in 1970, each battalion raised its own Pipes and Drums.  The first hint we have of Irish pipers' dress as we would recognise it appears in an indistinct press photograph of the funeral of the Duke of Abercorn, on 9 January 1913, which portrays pipers of the 4th Royal Irish Fusiliers in bonnets with kilts and purses. From 1913, then, there appears an increasing sense of lrishness which manifests itself in the wider adoption of a 'national dress' for pipers.

Following the 1914-18 war full dress was, of course, in abeyance except for a few soldiers, among them musicians, and it was not until 1922 that it was issued again to line regiments. But this same date has particular significance for the Irish regiments for it marked the disbandment of five of their number and the demise of several young pipe bands. Many pipers therefore, would never have worn a full dress uniform, but only a cut-away service dress jacket with kilt and bonnet.
Who so ever began to introduce an Hibernian dress seems to have leaned heavily on Caledonian custom. The bonnet or caubeen does not seem to figure largely in Irish history and, indeed, a portrait (now lost) of Owen Roe O'Neill wearing what we would recognise as a caubeen circa 1610 is chiefly remarkable in that 'such a cap does not appear in any other Irish picture and may have been adopted from association with the Highland MacDonalds of Co Antrim.

By 1992 the caubeen, and equally the kilt, had become the standard dress of the Irish piper. Scottish custom seems also to have been followed, from 1919, in the striking of large versions of the cap badge for wear by pipers on their caubeens. From being a purely piper's item of dress the caubeen was adopted for all ranks of the London Irish Rifles, The Royal Ulster Rifles in 1937 and by the North Irish Brigade in 1948.

From 1922 the service dress gave way to a full dress with kilt and caubeen of issue pattern with which is now quite familiar.

Modes of Uniform

Different modes of Dress within the regiment