Sgian Dubhs +
Sgian Dubh is Gaelic for black knife and the name comes either
from the traditional black bogwood that was used for the handle or
for the original 'black purpose' of the knife as a weapon. In
lawless times it was sheathed in the owner's oxter (armpit) and
could be withdrawn in a flash if circumstances warranted. As law
and order gradually prevailed in the Highlands, the hidden use of
the knife diminished and it was brought into the open and tucked
into the stocking top.
There is a multiplicity of sgian dubh designs on the market,
ranging from day wear ones with stag horn handles to chrome
fixtures and ones with solid silver butt-ends encrusted with
jewels. The scabbards too can be very ornate as can be seen from
our banner picture.
The Law and Sgian Dubhs
The legal position in these modern times is not hard and fast.
It's true that, in the United Kingdom, as part of traditional
ethnic dress, the sgian dubh is exempt from the knife law which, if
transgressed - could result in the maximum penalty (for an adult)
of four years in prison and a fine of £5000.
The police are trained to apply common sense in the case of
sgian dubhs: if someone is in Highland dress which includes a sgian
dubh with a blade and is going quietly about his business, then no
crime is being committed. If however that owner, still in Highland
dress, should wave his sgian dubh about or act in a threatening
manner, then that sgian dubh immediately becomes an offensive
weapon. Trying to board an aircraft in Highland dress with a sgian
dubh is forbidden and it would be just as unwise to enter a night
club similarly equipped.
The police forces in Scotland will no doubt be much more aware of
the sensible interpretation of the law than their colleagues south
of the border who may not be conversant with the sgian dubh
or the common-sense approach. So . . . do
exercise care and common-sense in other UK countries.
A word of warning on size - if your sgian dubh
blade is longer than 3 ½ inches then it becomes an offensive weapon
which is why a dirk should be left in the closet and never worn in
public - the excuse that it's part of traditional Highland dress,
although true, just won't cut ice.