The mullet is perhaps one of the more controversial of hairstyles. In a low point of modern culture this hairstyle reached unprecedented popularity in the 80’s. However if you’ve braved the taunts and abuse feel proud in the fact that you are in a long line of people facing similar repression over the mullet.

Britney Spears sporting a cúlán

In the medieval period the Gaelic Irish sported a hairstyle known as a cúlán (pronounced cool – awn). This was described in the 1297 parliament as having their “heads half shaved and grow their hair long at the back”. This parliament in Dublin banned Anglo Normans cutting their hair in this fashion describing it as “degenerate”. The Anglo Normans had no time for such hair cuts believing that long hair was a sign of femininity. As a result men in Anglo Norman society wore their hair short. Indeed at the time of the Norman invasion of England in 1066 they had clean shaven faces with a v shaped shaved into their hair from the crown of their heads to the their necks.

And the here’s the historical context………

The Normans were not fashion guru’s who thought the Gaelic Irish were out of fashion. The 1297 parliament was convened “to establish peace more firmly” and issued a range of edicts to try and establish some control over a land that increasingly lawless. They banned Anglo Normans dressing in native Irish dress or cutting their hair in this fashion in an effort to visibly distinguish and seperate the two groups. Incidentally they also introduced numerous other laws about limiting the power of the nobility to make war. Only three years early one of the most violent periods of the decade took place when John Fitzthomas kidnapped and imprisoned the Earl of Ulster Richard de Burgh. After this, as the Annals of Loch Ce describes, “all Erinn was thrown into a state of disturbance”. None of the measures worked and all mullet lovers out there will be delighted to know that the Norman nobility continued to become more “Irish than the Irish themselves” over the following century.

The 14th century is the subject of an upcoming book I am writing on the societal crisis Ireland faced in the 14th century when famine war and plague brought Ireland to the brink. You can read more about this here.  The book will be released in 2013. To receive updates sign up on facebook or twitter or leave your email in the top right hand corner.

4 comments on “The medieval Irish mullet.

  1. citizenpartridge on

    Probably wouldn’t agree with many of the pronouncements of that parliament, but “degenerate” is right!

    Was there a non aestitic reason why the Irish wore their hair that way? Or was it purely the style at the time?

  2. Paul Smith on

    Something can be called controversial only if it is criticised at the time it is in common use. Mullets were not criticised when they were fashionable. Mullet bashing did not become a viral phenomenon until long after the fashion had died out. The mullet was therefore not controversial in the past and is not now. The only people who have anything to say about mullets now are people who either don’t like them or have nothing better to do than say they don’t like them. If there’s no one wearing them there’s no one supporting the fashion. It is therefore a one sided issue – which by definition does not qualify as controversy. Hair styling (since the 1960s) is such an idiosyncratic practice that it actually shows a lack of sophistication to comment adversely on anything that anyone does or has done to their hair. I can see that you were not really mullet bashing in the above post, but why give mullet bashers an excuse to keep trotting out a mindless viral opinion. And No, I do not have a mullet, nor have I ever had one. But I am sick to death of hearing how “awful” they were. It’s a little too much like class bashing for my liking.

  3. Diego Garcia on

    I dont think a MULLET is at all what is described here….when I read the description I think of the hair style of various Hindu priests . a mullet technically has no “shaved” area it is cut short and long in the back…im also thinking of the chinese hair style called Queue often seen in kung fu movies.

    “heads half shaved and grow their hair long at the back”. not a mullet.

  4. Maggie Mackinnon on

    Probably gave them an advantage in battle – you can’t grab long hair in the front, and the hair in the back protects the neck.


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