Smith is a name of such ubiquity that you might be surprised to find that they too have their own tartan, surely such a widespread name can’t have its origins in the Clans of Scotland? You’re right, it probably doesn’t as a Smith is just somebody who works with metal and variations of the name can be found throughout Europe. However, with the metallurgic origins of the name, I thought a list of Scotland’s all-time top 7 weapons, many of which would have been forged by a Smith – I’m sure.
7 -The Bagpipes
The bagpipes aren’t Scottish. No, they aren’t I promise you. The instrument developed at least in Ancient Greece if not earlier. Since then, the bagpipe has spread throughout Europe and Asia – Asturias in Spain, for example, has its own traditions of bag piping.
Bagpipes arrived in Scotland by at least the sixteenth century and instantly took its place on the battlefield. Because of its role in leading the fearsome Highlanders into battle the bagpipes truly deserve their place on this list – even if Smiths aren’t needed to make them.
6 – The Dag
The Dag, or flintlock pistol, was a common sidearm for the highland warrior, being more practical than lugging around a massive rifle. Because these pistols could only be fired once before being reloaded, the habit of throwing the dag away after firing became common. This might sound wasteful but in reality it made sense, if you won the battle, you could come back and look for your pistol, if you lost the battle, you’d probably be dead and the pistol would be of no use to you.
Some of the most notable pistols came from Doune, a small town not too far from Stirling. These firearms were cast as a single piece, being composed of steel or brass or a mix of both so presumably they would be fairly formidable weapons even if not loaded, however, the Doune pistol was notable for the beauty of its design as well as its deadliness.
5 – The Sgian Dubh
Nowadays the Sgian Dubh (Black Knife/ Hidden Knife) is purely decorative and worn in the sock. Indeed, most modern Sgian Dubh are plastic hilts with no blade at all but this was not always the case. It is thought that the Sgian Dubh used to be an incredibly sharp double edged dagger worn concealed up a sleeve or in the armpit, for easy access in times of danger, making this an exceptionally dangerous weapon. The Sgian Dubh would be higher up our list but for the fact that, upon entering a house as a guest, it became common to remove the Sgian Dubh from its hiding place and put it in your sock, with the handle exposed for the host to see, thus removing the surprise element of this weapon.
4 – The Targe
The Targe was the shield carried by the Highlanders. This shield was usually made of two layers of wood, covered in leather and decorated/strengthened with nails and plates. The targe could be used as defensive cover or a melee weapon. It was not uncommon for the targe to have a brass plate in the centre with a threaded slot to secure a dagger or spike, creating even more carnage in close quarters combat. For me, this bumps the targe above the single use pistol and Sgian Dubh.
3 – The Dirk
The Highland dirk was a dagger which was held in the hand behind the targe. Measuring about 12” in length, this dagger was deadly in close-quarters combat and although not a part of the required uniform, many highlanders opted to provide on at their own expense. Many Dirks were lavishly decorated with silver and jewels, not to be overly ostentatious but so that the Highlanders could keep their savings close to hand.
2 – The Claymore
Probably the most famous weapon in the highlander’s arsenal is the claymore – this was an enormous sword wielded by two hands. The typical length of a claymore’s blade was just over a metre long and would weigh in at around 3kg. With one of these in his hands, the highland warrior would be a terrible foe indeed. The Claymore would definitely take the top spot on this list if it weren’t for…
1 – Mons Meg
The 4.5m long, 6.5T cannon is by far the mightiest Scottish weapon. The cannon came to symbolise the immense power of the Scottish throne, although it wasn’t actually forged in Scotland – it was a gift to James II from the duke of Burgundy.
Mons Meg was capable of blasting a 175 kg ball of granite a distance of two miles and is reported – though many contest it – to have blasted a ball clean through the wall of Threave Castle, cutting off the hand of the Countess inside before continuing out the other side of the castle.
Mons Meg is housed at Edinburgh castle with some of its 20” cannonballs but don’t worry, the cannon has been out of action since it burst its barrel in 1680. However, Mons Meg has a sister cannon Dulle Griet – Mad Meg – which can be found in Ghent and is undamaged.
Smiths everywhere can rejoice in the militaristic marvels forged by your forebears but, if you want to pay homage to your heritage, don’t pick up a weapon, pick up something woven. #wovensnotweapons.