Saturday, 17 February 2007

The Quaich

The Quaich (from the Gaelic word "cuach") has a rich heritage in Scotland - indeed, they are a uniquely Scottish invention. A traditional Scottish drinking vessel to offer a guest a cup of welcome and also as a farewell drink, usually a dram of whisky. Travellers were known to carry a quaich with them. With this welcoming meaning in mind my wife and I named our coffee shop in Aberfeldy "The Quaich".

Traditionally made of wood, it is a shallow circular-drinking vessel for whisky, with a pair of small lug handles projecting horizontally from opposite sides of the rim. The lugs, though functional, are of a unique carved style giving the quaich much of its special character.

Quaichmaking was a highly regarded profession in 17th century Scotland. Quaichmakers probably made all sorts of wooden eating and drinking vessels, but took the name of their profession from their best work, much as workers in silver and gold called themselves goldsmiths.

The Quaich in 1745 travelled with the Scottish Army in Bonnie Prince Charlie's canteen. Its bottom was made of glass so that the drinker could keep watch on his companions. A more romantic Quaich had a double glass bottom in which was kept a lock of hair, so that the owner could drink to his lady love; and in 1589 King James VI of Scotland gave Anne of Norway a Quaich or "Loving Cup" as a wedding gift.

In more recent times, the Quaich has been used as a favour at many Scottish weddings, being presented to all at the top table. A symbol of the shared love and partnership between their hosts. Also at christenings (in Kilmuir in Scotland, there is a wooden quaich which was formerly used as a baptismal font, thus the quaich has become a traditional baptismal gift), or even births, to drink the health of a bairn and to share the love and celebration of that new life.

It has a special place in the heart of all who know something of its history and is a prized possession of many people who have an association with Scotland. And will always be remembered in its traditional use as a visitor's welcome or farewell cup by proud clan chiefs, worthy merchants or humble crofters, and in this, the quaich has kept its simple but beautiful shape and friendly purpose.

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