Several photos of St. Enda’s students wearing kilts still exist; one of the most famous shows a group of students engaged in military drill with their instructor, Conn Colbert, who served as physical fitness master for the school. All of the students and Colbert are kilted; the boys wear school jumpers while Colbert wears a brass-buttoned jacket, the official uniform of the Fianna Eireann
, the Irish Nationalist Boy Scout organization formed by The Countess Markiewicz in 1909 and named for the ancient Irish warriors lead by the legendary Fionn mac Cumhaill. (Sisson, pp. 125-127)
While kilts were not widely adopted by the Irish, they continued to be worn by pipe bands in the years following the Anglo-Irish War and the Irish Civil War of the early 1920s; Kilt-clad pipers could be found among the Garda Síochána
(The Irish Police) and the Irish Defense Forces, as well as among civilian Irish dancers. Even today, the Irish Army and Air Corps maintain pipers in a similar vein to the pipers of the Scottish Regiments of the British Commonwealth. Irish pipers continue to accompany Irish soldiers on United Nations Peacekeeping missions, and their pipes have been heard in such locations as the Congo, Cyprus and Lebanon.
Of course, not all approved of the adoption of the kilt by Irish pipers. In his Irish Minstrels and Musicians
, Francis O’Neill, the noted collector of traditional Irish music & Chicago Police Officer, stated in relation to the popularity of the “Scotch” warpipe in Irish circles:
When very young I learned that there was no royal road to Euclid, but there seems to be a royal road to Irish piping. A fellow has only got to get a set of warpipes, hang a kilt around his middle, and throw a bedgown over his shoulders, and he decomes an Irish piper.
Ironically, at the same time that some in the Nationalist community were adopting the kilt, Irish Regiments of the British Army were also seeing pipers in saffron kilts in their ranks. An article from the April 29, 1900 edition of the New York Times discussing the Boer War, mentions a motion in Parliament to kit out the newly-raised Irish Guards regiment in kilts. The article does not take a kind view of such a measure, mentioning the reports from South Africa of the “suffering of the bare-legged Highlanders and of the sorrows attached to this out-of-date uniform.”
The article also criticized the aforementioned Baron Ashborne and his attire, as well as Queen Victoria’s decision in 1900 to allow Irish regiments to wear the Shamrock on St. Patrick’s Day (a custom which continues to present day). The so-called “Shamrock craze”, as the author refers to it, was simply another failure of the English people to “grasp the nature of Ireland’s needs”.
Between the end of the Boer War in 1902 and the First World War, a number of Irish regiments began to add pipers to their muster rolls; in 1909, the Leinster Regiment’s Regimental Journal reported:
The pipers have no distinctive features of dress. (author’s emphasis) They wear dark blue forage caps with scarlet welt band. Their scarlet tunics have white pipe scarlet shoulder straps bearing the regimental title in white embroidery and white piped dark blue collar and cuffs. (Harris, The Irish Regiments 1683-1999, 201).
The journal also gave a description of the first public appearance of the Leinster’s pipers on St. Patrick’s Day of that year; again, no mention was made of kilts at all; however, a photo dated 1919 of the Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment, HRH the Prince of Wales presenting decorations to the men of the 2nd Battalion of the Leinsters shows a Piper J. Fagan clad in a kilt with Scottish style tam-o-shanter. (Harris, p. 202)
In another photo from Harris’s The Irish Regiments 1683-1999
, two pipers of the 5th Battalion Donegal Militia, Royal Inskilling Fusiliers (taken in Dover in 1901 when the battalion was preparing to depart for South Africa) are again clad in full-dress scarlet tunic and blue trousers; not a kilt or caubeen in sight. The only odd bit of kit are khaki slouch hats in the Australian style.
Both Harris and David Murphy’s Irish Regiments in the World Wars
(Osprey Publishing, 2007) tend to agree that the adoption of saffron kilts by Irish regimental pipers seems to come during the First World War, and before the official authorization of pipers for said regiments. The Irish Guards received their pipers in 1916, and a photo from that year shows the more traditional Irish pipers kit, including saffron kilt.
By the end of the First World War, and in to the 1920s, the “traditional” Irish pipers uniform became fully authorized - in 1927, the Royal Inskilling Fusiliers pipers uniforms contained “as many of the distinctive features of the regiment and ancient Gaelic costumes and decorations as possible.” Of the kilt, the regulations specifically stated: “The saffron kilt, pleated all around.”
By the Second World War, the Irish piper’s costume had become standardized, with saffron kilt, green caubeen and the brat, or cloak. Besides the Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army, the South African Irish Regiment and the Irish Regiment of Canada still maintain pipers and the now traditional Irish uniform today.