Revered weapon of the Highland warrior

The Scottish dirk has evolved from the medieval Bollock Dagger, sometimes more politely referred to as a Ballock Dagger and also in a very typically prissy Victorian manner, a Kidney Dagger. These are all one and the same knife and make no mistake, this knife was used for utility such as butchering meat and cutting wood, and very definitely for inflicting bodily harm upon people. It was widely used in the Anglo-Scottish Borders during the time of the Border Reivers and was a very effective weapon in experienced hands.

The medieval Bollock Dagger

The dirk was perhaps a more refined weapon than the Bollock Dagger, certainly in its later development, and was the weapon of choice for the ordinary Highland clansman. Not every clansman could afford an expensive Broadsword which cost very deep in the purse. The Broadsword was also far too cumbersome to be worn inside the home, whereas a dirk was a viable option in that respect. More assassinations were probably enacted with the dirk in Highland society than any other weapon, as it could be easily concealed within the pleated folds of the plaid and a deadly strike made from close range.

Highland society was a very martial one, ‘Scottish Samurai’ it has been said about the people of the time. It was a proud knife carrying culture long before a knife became the weapon of choice in the crime ridden inner city ghettos of today. Warfare was a way of life for the Highlander and was often brought about by inter-clan rivalries and territorial disputes. The dirk was worn proudly and openly displayed. Anybody not displaying their dirk would most probably have been viewed with extreme suspicion. The dirk was usually worn on a belt on either the strong side of the body on the hip, or between the legs like the modern day sporran. Both these options gave ready access to the weapon in a situation where a quick draw and defensive response was required.

In all a dirk would be around 18” long with the blade being some 12” in length. The dirk was a potent symbol of masculinity and manhood and upon coming of age, a boy would be entitled to wear the dirk and the bonnet. The dirk was of such revered status in Highland society that solemn and binding oaths were sworn open it.

The modern Scottish Dirk

It is quite possible that dirks were originally manufactured from cut down sword blades. They are certainly on the long side as far as conventional knives are concerned and are really only matched by the rifle bayonet.

In a combat situation a right handed Highland warrior would hold the dirk and targe in his in his left hand, with the point of the dirk facing downwards, and the broadsword in his right hand. This allowed for the dirk to be used as a stabbing and slashing weapon whilst defending with the targe and hacking with the broadsword. There are also reports of the dirk being used as a throwing weapon but that would be a skill that had been learned with much practice and could be very risky. Once thrown, a warrior is disarmed and vulnerable if the intended target is missed and nobody desires to be defenceless in the face of the enemy.

In modern times the traditional dirk forms no part of Highland dress, the only reminder of it being the miniscule Sgian Dubh that is worn tucked into the top of the sock. It is about as useful in terms of self-defence as a wet sponge, and is simply a vestigial ceremonial decoration.

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