Sgian Dubh dirk

image courtesy of Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.

p4A ItemID A079813
image courtesy of Skinner, Inc.

p4A ItemID B135110
A 22" silver-mounted presentation dirk with a topaz glass cabochon

p4A ItemID D9950523
A Scots skean-dhu dirk in the tradition form

p4A ItemID D9752928

Sgian Dubh

The Sgian Dubh is the traditional Scottish dirk used for centuries as a weapon and known to non-Scots as the dirk worn with highland dress. It is pronounced (Skeen’ Doo) which is the source of an occasionally seen spelling variant, skean-dhu.

The Sgian Dubh began life as a short utility knife but gained cultural importance when the English proscribed Scots from carrying weapons and wearing the kilt. Sgian is the Gaelic word for ‘blade’ or ‘knife’ and Dubh is Gaelic for ‘black’ or ‘darkness’ and can carry the meaning ‘hidden’, thus the Sgian Dubh was a knife that could be hidden on one’s person for protection. It was customarily carried in a special pocket under the armpit.

When the Scots met together in friendly groups, the custom of displaying their knives, a sign of peaceful intentions and transparency, was developed and the dirk was worn in a man’s hose top. This is the basis for the modern custom of carrying the dirk inside the hose on one’s calf when kilts are worn. The traditional Sgian Dubh usually had a wood or horn handle and was housed in a leather sheath. The ‘full dress’ dirk of today can be considerably embellished from its more purposeful ancestor.

Reference note by p4A editorial staff, June 2009.

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