If you have questions, we have answers. Many people are interested in kilts, and all things Celtic, but are unsure of the history of this famous garment. Read on for some answers to our most commonly asked questions.
Wearing anything that can be construed as a weapon can be tricky. The Sgian Dubh can be classified as a knife or a dagger, depending on where in the world you are. Daggers are illegal in many places. However, there are places with “zero tolerance” when it comes to weapons, such as schools or airports. Always do some research on where you are going before you wear your Sgian Dubh.
A Dirk is a very sharp, dagger-like knife with either a single or double-edge construction. The Sgian Dubh is typically smaller. Historically, the Dirk was worn on the belt, and the Sgian Dubh would be worn in a sock. Both could be considered daggers, but the Dirk is slightly larger and meant to be more dangerous. The Dirk is a weapon while a Sgian Dubh might be regarded as the last defense or for eating.
Which side you wear your Sgian Dubh traditionally depends on whether you are right or left-handed. The Sgian Dubh is worn inside your sock on the outside of your leg. You should see two to three inches of the blade above your sock. Wear your Sgian Dubh on the side of your dominant hand for easy access.
There is no hard and fast rule as to how long a Sgian Dubh has to be. You will mainly find Sgian Dubh’s blade to be around 3.5 inches and the handle to be a similar length. Overall, the entire length will be between six and eight inches. They are usually not made with thick blades, and there is typically not a guard.
In Scottish Gaelic, dubh has more than one meaning. Traditionally, it means “black.” However, it can also mean “hidden.” In the case of a Sgian Dubh, it is more likely to mean hidden, as the Sgian Dubh is worn partially hidden in a kilt hose or sock. Sgian means knife. So, a Sgian Dubh is a hidden knife or a black knife, depending on your translation.
Gaelic is not a commonly spoken language. Many people in Scotland have learned it as part of their heritage or to honor their past. However, speaking Gaelic is not common practice. Sgian Dubh is pronounced skee-an-DOO.
There are different potential origins for the Sgian Dubh. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Scottish men carried a sgian-achlais, a slightly larger dagger concealed in their upper sleeve or jacket lining. There was also a smaller knife in a hunting knife set that resembled a Sgian Dubh. It was customary to remove weapons upon entering another's home. A concealed weapon was useful for extra protection in these cases.
Today, the Sgian Dubh is considered an ornamental weapon. Its origins are debated. There is evidence it was used as a knife to skin game after hunting. Many higher-ranking Scottish officers would not wear one as it was a sign of middle-class, as they would never have skinned their own kill. As time passed, however, it appears to be considered more a dagger and used to show wealth based on how decorated it was.
A Sgian Dubh was either used as a hidden dagger as a last-ditch defense or as a skinning knife in a hunting set. The Sgian Dubh was small and easy to conceal and carry. It makes sense it could have been used for hunting. There is also evidence it was used as a daily knife for eating or mundane activities. Sgian Dubhs became standard for many Scottish and Highland people around the mid-1800s.
The actual Sgian Dubh, as we know it today, a small dagger or knife worn in the sock or kilt hose and partially visible, was evident in the early 1800s. There is a portrait of the 15th Chief of MacDonnells of Glengarry wearing two Sgian Dubhs in his sock. By the 1850s, Sgian Dubhs were commonly worn with Highland Dress.