The Highland Dirk

Scottish dirks are the traditional and ceremonial weapon of the Highland warrior, and are typically worn by officers, pipers and drummers of their regiments. They find their roots in the 16th century ballock or rondel dagger, and occupy a unique niche in Highland culture and history.


Many Highland Scots were too poor to afford a full length sword, but virtually every male carried a dirk – a symbol of his honour, with oaths being sworn on the steel blade which was believed to be holy. Indeed, if in Japan the katana was seen as the soul of the Samurai, in Scotland the dirk was that of the Highlander!


England, the ‘Auld Enemy’, were very much aware of this during the 18th century, and used the custom against the Highlanders after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Indeed, when Highland dress was prohibited in 1747, those men who could not read or sign an oath were required to swear verbally, ‘in the Gaelic tongue and upon the holy iron of their dirks’, not to be in possession of any gun, sword or pistol, or to use tartan, ‘…and if I do so may I be cursed in my undertakings, family and property, may I be killed in battle as a coward and lie without burial in a strange land, far from the graves of my forefathers and kindred; may all this come across me if I break my oath.'


The contemporary development of the dirk into a ceremonial weapon occurred during the 19th century, when the shape of the grip was modified from the historically cylindrical form to a shape intended to represent the thistle. More luxurious fittings, often in silver or gold, became popular shortly after 1800, as well as the use of ensuite knives and forks.

We at McTear’s are delighted to be offering a phenomenal single vendor collection of Scottish dirks. This will include a total of twelve examples, with dates spanning nearly 200 years and estimates ranging from £500-6,000.



This sensational offering will include military examples, such as one bearing the insignia for the Highland Light Infantry, as well as one dating from the early to mid-18th century, a piece which immediately conjures up images of those Highlanders who fought against the Hanoverian government in the name of Jacobitisim. With something for everyone, this sale really isn’t to be missed.


Click here to view the full auction catalogue. >>

James Bruce


For a complimentary, no-obligation valuation on works of art, or to consign to the next auction, please contact our specialists on 0141 810 2880 or

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