The Great Irish Tartan Mystery!
Floating around the tartan world for many decades have been
references to a volume called Clans Originaux.
'Published' in Paris in 1880 by J. Claude Fres. &
The references have always been very tantalising to researchers,
all the more so because only one copy of this 'publication' seemed
to have survived - owned by Pendleton Woolen Mills
of Portland, Oregon.
Clans Originaux was particularly intriguing
because it was frequently quoted as the source of a clutch of Irish
family tartans. The late Bill Johnston of
TECA- the Tartan Educational & Cultural
Association, our sister organisation in the US - had reportedly
transcribed some of these tartans in 1977 on a visit to Pendleton
Woolen Mill. Since the Originaux source was so often quoted, it was
assumed that he had found the tartans there, but no research notes
have ever come to light.
Over the years, many enquiries about these 'Irish tartans'
seem to have been made to Pendleton who understandably, didn't have
the time or resources to answer such queries. So the focus of
attention remained on the mysterious Clans
Originaux. In an attempt to locate another copy of the
publication, we at the Scottish Tartans Authority
initiated a search of the British Library, the Bibliotheque in
Paris, the national library in Dublin and the Library of Congress
in the USA. Amazingly each drew a blank!
Despite Pendleton's reported reluctance to become involved in
correspondence on the matter we contacted the Pendleton President
C.M.Bishop III who very kindly responded by passing the
query on to one of his staff. From then on and as time allowed
MH (we keep the name quiet so that they don't get
pestered!) passed graphics to us which began to slowly unravel the
First and foremost, the Contents pages displayed a singular lack
of any of the Irish tartans whose provenance had for so many years
been vested in Clans Originaux. We then turned our
attention to a companion volume called Scotch
Tartans also published by J Claude in 1880 - no Irish
tartans there either. One blinding flash of clarity appeared during
this process in the course of a discussion with colleague Blair
Urquhart of The House of Tartan: Clans
Originaux was not a publication in the conventional sense
of the word but was merely a book of tartan samples - what we call
a swatch book. This explained the nil return from four national
libraries . . . how could we have been so stupid????
Finally, MH very kindly put together two photographic
CDs of the contents of both volumes which proved the point
conclusively. See those very woven samples in our Graphics