What is a Quaich? It’s a question we hear quite a bit here at Culloden with Quaich’s on show in both our exhibition and gift shop and luckily the story behind this unique item is a good one to tell.
Before we go any further though we need to tackle the tricky subject of pronunciation. Most people tend to pronounce Quaich as ‘quake’ with a hard ‘k’ sound and, to be fair, this is pretty close but us Scots are fussy. So, it you want to be perfect, you have to be able to master the Scottish ‘ch’ sound which is made from the back of the throat and does not have the more clipped sound of the ‘k’. It’s the same sound that is found in the likes of loch and dreich.
So, with pronunciation sorted now we need to discover what exactly a Quaich is? In its simplest terms a Quaich is a traditional Scottish drinking cup. It’s formed from a central bowl like depression with two lugs (or handles) on either side. Traditionally they were made from wood but have transformed over the years and now are often seen made of pewter or silver. Initially Quaichs were used to offer a drink of welcome or farewell to guests as they entered or left the home. The most common fillings were whisky and brandy but there were sometimes larger Quaichs which were used for ale. Indeed there is some research to suggest the largest Quaichs could up to one and a half pints of ale.
Part of the Quaichs beauty is in the ceremony behind its use as it passed from one person to another. This is also why it is sometimes called the ‘cup of friendship’ or the ‘loving cup’. Of course there are some slightly less romantic outlooks as well. The two handles means that as the cup is passed from one person to another both hands are required to hold the Quaich. This can be both a sign of friendship and bonding as well as a tool for ensuring that no one is holding any weapons in their hands when you meet them.
There have also been a couple of different designs in Quaichs for different reasons. For the untrustworthy Quaichs could be made with a glass bottom so that the drinker could still see everyone whilst they drank. For the romantics Quaichs could be made with a double glass bottom which could hold a lock of a loved ones hair so that the owner could drink to their love.
Quaichs have been around for centuries, in 1589 King James VI of Scotland gave a Quaich to Anne of Denmark as a wedding gift and this tradition is still followed today. Quaichs even enter the Jacobite story. In 1745 a Quaich travelled south from Edinburgh to Derby with Prince Charles Edwards Stuarts Jacobite army and it is thought this was one of the first times the Quaich made its way so far below the Scottish border.
Today Quaichs are used mainly for special occasions such as weddings and christenings and often have engravings to make them special personal gifts. They are also quite commonly used at Burns night during a Burns supper and other traditional Scottish events.
We hope you enjoyed our short insight into Quaichs. As always please like, comment, share, tweet and let us know if you have a Quaich of your own.
All the best, k & D