The History of the Scottish Quaich
by Sarah Hoss
Have you ever heard of a Quaich? It has a long history in Scotland. It is pronounced quake and comes from the Gaelic word “cuach.” During the Celtic period in ancient times, stories were told of how Druids would fill the Quaich with blood from the heart of their human sacrifices. Surrounded by mystery and myth, it has a colorful history.
A Quaich is a unique Scottish drinking vessel used in offering a drink of welcome or farewell. It is not like any other European drinking vessel. Travelers were known to carry a Quaich with them and the preferred offering was a dram of whisky.
Early quaichs were stave-built, like barrels--meaning several bands of wood, typically held together by bands of willow or silver. To make a Quaich more unique, some would alternate light and dark woods. But they were not only made of wood--staves could be fashioned from stone, brass, pewter, horn, and silver. Silver Quaichs were often engraved with lines and bands in imitation of the staves on wooden Quaichs.
The center of the bowl would hold a silver coin or an engraved disc that would have the clan’s motto, coat of arms, or initials in it. The discs served as a sealant at the bottom where the staves met. A romantic gesture had a Quaich bottom made of two pieces of glass with a lock of the bride’s hair in between and the husband would drink to his lady love. In 1589, it is rumored that King James VI of Scotland, gave Anne of Norway a Quaich or “loving cup” as a wedding gift. It is also said the some Quaichs held glass bottoms to be able to keep an eye on their host.
In modern times, the Quaich has been used at baptisms, at births to toast the health of the bairn, and at weddings. The wedding party drinks from a Quaich to show love and support.
Whatever its use, the Quaich has been a symbol of love and friendship. Through more than three hundred years, this tiny cup has brought together clan chiefs, crofters, strangers, and merchants under the banner of unity. The Quaich holds a special place in the hearts of anyone who cherishes Scotland and its history.
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