The Origins Of Harris Tweed-Part One

13 05 2012

In ancient times, the climate of the Outer Hebrides was very different to what we know nowadays. Temperatures were much higher and the amount of rainfall that graced the islands was much much lower than the present day.

The warmer climes meant different eco-systems. Instead of moorlands and peat bogs, most of Lewis and Harris was covered in luxuriant grasslands, very similar to the savannahs of present day Africa. These tall grasses and rolling plains stretched for miles and were ideally suited for a nomadic existence.

Tribes of ancient Leodhsachs would travel the great plains around Ben Barvas, hunting the herds of antelopes and wildesheep, in a hunter/gatherer existence. Food was plentiful, the summers were long and the Comhairle hadn’t been invented.

The only real downside to this way of life was the large number of predatory beasts, such as lions and cheetahs, who had a tendency to leap out of the tall grasses and eat unsuspecting people.

The elders of the various tribes met up to discuss how best to avoid these attacks and eventually agreed that the most sensible way of dealing with the problem would be to remove the element of surprise the lions enjoyed. It was decided that specially trained squads of men would cut down the grass and remove the cover the predators lurked in.

The strongest (and usually largest) men of the tribes were chosen for this task, using large bronze scythes to cut back the grass. Over the years, more effective tools were developed and soon a range of semi mechanical mowers had been invented.

The mowers went into action on a daily basis and soon the tribes had cut out safe havens where the lions couldn’t jump out at them. The men who operated the mowers soon began to gain widespread respect, and the job of mower became a well paid and sought after post. These men became known as the Mows and tended to live outwith the main population settlements to be closer to their work. It is widely accepted that this was the origin of the present day soubriquet ‘Maws’.

An unexpected by-product to the grass cutting process was the huge amount of left over grass which started to pile up on the plains. Ancient man tried burning it, eating it and making boats out of it, but eventually the only practical use that could be found for the grass was to weave it into clothing.

The grass was hard wearing, easy to sew together and came in a wide range of green colour. It became very fashionable and was at first known as ‘Clothing from the Mower’ and eventually ‘Clothing Mower’. This eventually translated into ‘Clo Mor’ by the time modern day Gaelic came into use.

The craftspeople that used to make these garments used to make up short poems to pass the time. These small, or wee verses, became very popular beyond the Clo Mor industry and eventually gave the name to the present day Weavers.

Some of the popular fashion houses amongst Ancient Man included ‘Co? Co? Chan’eil’ and ‘Curam Dior’