The Highland Sgian Dubh

The words above in Gaelic mean ‘dubh’ (black) and ‘sgian’ (dagger). The dagger was so described because the handle was often made of bog oak. A very hard wood, jet-black in appearance, it was useful for the purpose. It is ornamented, which is a reflection of the Highlanders’ lack of confidence in paper money. Highlanders would ornament much of their apparel with valuable silver and cairngorn stones. They carried on their person most of their worldly wealth, not entrusting it to banks. The black dagger (sgian dubh) was invariably carried in a place of concealment, very often under his armpit. This gives support to the view that ‘black’ does not refer to the colour of the handle but implies ‘covert’ or ‘concealed’.

When the Highlander visited a house on his travels, having deposited all his other weapons at the front door, he did not divest himself of his concealed stabbing dagger, since in those days it was unsafe to be ever totally unarmed, not because he feared his host, but rather because he feared intrusions from the outside. Accordingly, although retaining the dagger, out of courtesy to his host, he removed it from its place of concealment and put it somewhere where his host could see it, invariably in his stocking on the right-hand side if he was right handed and on the left-hand side if he was left handed.