or Brave Man?
clings to Celtic roots
NITA S. WEST
"It takes a real man to wear a kllt.''
So says Thom Pommehern, owner of Glen in the Valley, a successful home-based
business located on Jefferson Road in Canaan, Ind., where he makes kilts
and the accessories traditionally worn with them.
models one of his kilts
and a prized sword.
The name of Pommehern's business is derived from his mother's
maiden name, Corrie. In Gaelic, Corrie means a small valley, or glen,
within a larger valley. In the small valley within the larger valley
where he lives and works, Pommehern has been making and selling kilts
for more than two years to customers in six states.
If southern Indiana seems an unlikely place to see a man wearing kilts,
much less in the business of making and selling them, Pommehern has
had qood reason and encouragement. The name, Pommehern, denoted Germanic
origin on his father's side, but his mother urged him to research the
Celtic side and find the family's Scottish roots.
His mother's encouragement, along with a trip to Scotland in 1968, played
an important part in the concept of Glen in the Valley. Pommehern does
admit, however, the final push came from the big screen. After seeing
the movie Braveheart and discovering an ancestral uncle had been knighted
by William Wallace, his interest in his heritage grew.
While attending the Muzzle Loaders Shoot in Friendship, Ind., he purchased
his first kilt and began wearing it at home. He enjoyed the garment
so much, he ripped it apart and made himself a second, using the first
as a pattern.
Soon he began to wear them in public. Despite an occasional snicker
or puzzled stare, the most common responses were questions about where
he got it and where a kilt could be purchased. Pommehern decided if
there was that much interest, perhaps there was a market. So he began
to take orders and start a small business that has grown.
But why would men buy and wear kilts?
Pommehern says the most common reasons are costuming for Renaissance
fairs, re-enactments and other festivals. And kilts are becoming a real
fashion statement for young men at rock concerts since more and more
entertainers in the rock and roll industry are appearing on stage in
them. Besides, he says, "the ladies love them."
In addition to clients who purchase for personal wear, Pommehern provides
the kilts worn by the WCWO wrestling team, The Bravehearts, and will
be making the kilts for the Mill Race Players' production of Brigadoon,
to be presented in Columbus, Ind., on July 15-18 at the Columbus North
or box pleat?
There have been various styles of kilts worn over the
years, but Pommehern prefers the traditional Renaissance box pleat design
used by both Scots and Irish. The box pleat is easier to construct and
requires less fabric than the knife pleated kilt, more commonly seen
"The knife pleat kilt is an English monkey suit that Scots were
allowed to wear after the period of Proscription," Pommehern said.
The knife pleat kilt became more of a military uniform as accessories
normally worn with the kilt were modified and modernized.
Another English invention was the family tartan. Until the English set
up the system of identification by the colors and patterns woven onto
the fabric, Scots wore whatever tartan they made themselves, traded
for, or stole when raiding another village. Some distinction was possible
from the colors used in the dyeing of the fabrics.
Each accessory worn with the kilt is functional. The sporan bag hangs
from the belt and serves as pockets much the same as possible
bags worn by American frontiersman. It is usually made of leather with
two or more compartments and fastened with a penannular, a sort of Medieval
The plaid (pronounced played) is worn over the left shoulder. It is
a long length of fabric, matching the tartan of the kilt, that can be
wrapped several ways and takes the place of a jacket. It, too, is fastened
with a penannular.
The penannular (Celtic for not quite full circle) found on both the
sporan bag and the plaid is often worn near the right side hem of the
kilt as a weight pin. This prevents the kilt from flying open in the
wind. It was during the reign of Queen Victoria that these small penannulars
were first worn at her request for reasons of modesty and are sometimes
called Victoria pins.
Whether wearing a penannular or not, when someone asks, "What's
worn under a kilt?" Pommehern responds with a smile, "Nothing
is worn. Everything is in fine working order."
The penannular and the plaid are included with each one of Pommehern's
kilts. For those who visit him, he custom fits the garment. For mail
orders, he includes a set of instructions on how to adapt the kilt for
a perfect fit. He ordinarily uses a wool polyester blend of fabric for
durability and cost effectiveness, but he will use 100 percent wool
at the customer's request. His choice of tartans are remlniscent of
the patterns Scots wore during the Renaissance period, but he will match
a family tartan as closely as possible to a customer's request.
Making kilts has led Pommehern to become involved in the
annual Highland Games, which now take place on the Pommehern farm. This
fall will mark the fourth year for the event. It grows larger and offers
new events each year.
The games are based on traditional Celtic competitions and include the
caber toss, the hammer throw and the stone throw. All events are a show
of strength and stamina that were so important to the ancient Celts.
A nontraditional contest was added last year and is sure to be repeated.
Sumo-on-a-stick involves two competitors using Sumo wrestling rules
with a slight variation. Each man must hold on to the end of an eight-foot
pole and try to push his opponent out of a 16-foot ring.
Pommehern says he hopes to stage a re-enactment this year, with an argument
possibly beginning over the ownership of a sandwich. While Pommehern's
wife, Kathy, and children, Adrian, Aaron and Graham, are not a part
of the actual creation of the Glen in the Valley products, they are
certainly a part of the business, offering their input, time and support.
Pommehern endorses the use of his product by often wearing a kilt at
home, as well as while shopping in town and to social functions.
When asked to describe the appropriate attire to be worn with a kilt,
he says, "Whatever you would normally wear a T-shirt if
your working or lounging at home, a dress shirt and a wool jacket or
blazer if you are golng out and want more formal appearance."
He wore kilts to a Renaissance Fair in Ohio last year and decided to
buy a coarsely woven, full-sleeved shirt that would have ben worn with
kilts during the Renaissance period. When the sales lady quoted a price
lower than the one posted, he questioned it.
The lady, thinking Pommehern worked at the fair, responded, "It's
your employee discount. You do work here, don't you?"
Pommehern replied, " Yes, ma'am. For at least the next 20 minutes!"
The experience re-assured Pommehern that his research and workmanship
were indeed correct.
During a 1968 trip to Scotland, Pommehern recalled seeing kilts priced
at $400 and up. But Pommehern wanted his kilts to remain affordable.
He says they are "priced to wear everyday, and that's the way I
prefer to wear them."
To help educate area residents about their Celtic ancestry, Pommehern
and Steve Thomas of the Thomas Family Winery plan to form a new organization
in Madison the Northern Ohio River Valley Celtic Society. The
group plans to hold its first meeting at 7 p.m. on April 12 at the winery,
208 E. Second St., and continue meeting on the second Monday of each
"We want to have speakers and form groups to go out and speak to
school groups and organizations about Celtic nations and traditions,"
Pommehern said. "We feel like if you know your heritage, you know
Whether you are of Celtic descent or not, a visit to Glen in the Valley
and a talk with Pommehern about his kilt-making business or his heritage
is surely worth the trip.
And you may come home with a kilt.
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