Guides and Insights
Tradition of the Quaich
quiach /kwex/ pronounced: kw-ay-ch
derived from Gaelic cuach 'cup'
It is hard to guess from its appearance exactly what a quaich is. Indeed, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was a small decorative bowl with little other purpose, beyond being aesthetically pleasing. In fact, the quaich has a much more interesting beginning than that of a posh ornament.
What is a quaich?
The quaich is actually a traditional Scottish drinking vessel, and its name derives from Gaelic cuach simply meaning 'cup'. However, the quaich was not used for just any drink. The quaich was reserved for a good old dram of whisky or brandy!
Quaichs today are mostly made in pewter, or sometimes solid silver or silver plate. But many other materials are possible, including wood or even oxhorn. They are typically decorated with traditional designs such as Celtic knotwork, or perhaps emblazoned with a clan crest or other motif. It's largely a matter of taste, or a question of what you are celebrating. Many can also be engraved for special occasions.
How did it come to be?
The history of the quaich is steeped in myth and speculation. Some claim that before the invention of the quaich, Highlanders would drink a dram from scallop shells and that this was the inspiration for the quaich's unique shape. Others claim that their origin stretches back as far as the Celtic Druids who had ceremonial uses for them. We will never know for sure but perhaps it is the mystery of the quaich's origins that makes it so alluring.
Traditional quaichs were much simpler than the intricately engraved silver quaichs sold today. Carved from a single block of wood, they were used across the Scottish Highlands and Islands to offer a welcoming drink to a visitor. Whether it was presented by a clan chief or a crofter, the quaich was a humble creation that represented friendship. In fact. it was not until much later in their lifetime in the seventeenth century that goldsmiths began to craft them from precious materials. At this time it was also common practise to adapt the shape to become more dainty and elegant in order to suit the taste of the upper classes of the Scottish Lowlands.
How is it relevant now?
The quaich's unique handles, or lugs (a Scottish term for 'ears', have become a symbol of trust between fellow drinkers. After all, if a clansman were to pass the quaich to another man, it would require both he and the receiver to use both hands. As a result, both drinkers would be incapable of holding any weapons and the two would rely on trusting one another not to take advantage of this weakness.
Nowadays the quaich is occasionally referred to as the "Cup of Friendship" as a token of the trust it symbolizes and quaichs are used in many ceremonial settings. For suggestions on how you could incorporate this unique piece of Scottish history into your big day, see below.
Borne out of the symbolic use of the quaich as a token of welcome to the drinker, the quaich has been handed to the bride by the groom's parents then to the groom by the bride's parents, with all taking a sip of its contents, as a symbol of welcoming new members to the family.
Building on the nature of sharing with one another, quaichs have been passed around the wedding party (or in some cases all of the guests) with each person taking a sip of its contents as a symbol of sharing in the happy couple's love and happiness.
Quaichs also make excellent wedding or anniversary gifts as they can be engraved with clan crests, messages of goodwill or as a record of the date.
Quaichs have been used as part of christening ceremonies taking the place of a baptismal font.
Ever heard of "wetting the baby's head"? This is a Scottish idiom which refers to celebrating the birth of a baby by having a dram and quaichs are the perfect vessels for doing so.
Quaichs also make excellent christening gifts as they can be engraved with clan crests, messages of goodwill or as a record of the date. The quaich can remain a keepsake to use for the child's own wedding one day.
Quaichs make for excellent alternatives to trophies. The Centenary Quaich is an example of this, annually contested for by the Scottish and the Irish national rugby teams during the Six Nations Rugby Tournament.
Similarly, it would make a perfect alternative to a shield for events such as Highland Dancing competitions incorporating the Scottish heritage of the event.
Inspired? Why not have a look at the variety of quaichs we have to offer here at Scotweb: https://www.scotweb.co.uk/gifts-and-home/quaichs-f...