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.
medieval Bollock Dagger
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
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.
modern Scottish Dirk
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.
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.
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.
©Copyright - James of Glencarr