Is Austria the true home of the kilt?

06-08-2004

Tartan and the Scots go together like a Scotsman and his kilt - or is that an Austrian and his kilt? In the Southern Austrian province of Carinthia a claim is being made that the Tartan was worn by the Celts of Central Europe long before it migrated to Scotland.

A small scrap of Tartan in Vienna's Natural History museum may have Scottish tailors quaking in their brogues. The sample is actually one of the oldest pieces of Tartan in the world and may indicate that Austria - not Scotland - is the true home of the kilt.

Tailor Thomas Rettel has a family business based in the mountainous region of Southern Austria, close to where scraps of the original checkered cloth were found. He now designs and sells his own range of kilts and highland gear. Mr Rettel, head of the Carinthian Highland Club, says the Celts may have conquered Scotland but originally came from Europe and the Austrians have every right to lay claim to the traditional Tartan:

"The Celts were in Austria first and developed Tartans and then brought them over to Scotland. So, we have very much the right to do this. But still, we want to work together."

This Carinthian Celt plans to create a new traditional costume for the locals. Instead of the Lederhosen and the Dirndl, the traditional clothing known as "Trachten", he wants them to "kilt up".

"People from some of the nationalist parties ask what a kilt has to do with Carinthian clothing. They say the suit is traditional and that is only ninety years old. So, where does tradition start and where does it end?" If you go back a little, to the Middle Ages or so, you seldom find people who wore trousers."

Mr Rettel is doing a roaring trade. Even Scottish kilt wearers are among his enthusiastic customers. But not everyone is convinced that Austria can lay claim to the original Tartan. Scottish dance teacher and historian Felix Hammelbeck says for him, Tartan will always be connected to Scotland:

"The question is how to define a Tartan. Basically, you would say the Tartan is a traditional cloth made in Scotland or related to Scotland. If you weave and change the thread, you quite easily get a checkered cloth but to give a certain pattern a name and use it for special occasions and special people, then that is something you would connect to Scotland."

Despite the debate, Mr Rettel intends to continue his line of original Celtic kilts. Though not a Scotsman by birth, like a true kilt wearer, he never lets on just what is underneath the pleats.

06-08-2004