In step with Irish tradition: brogues are a part of our history

Family Fortunes: Every Saturday night Grandad polished his shoes for early Sunday morning Mass

Grandad’s shoe box is seldom used now but remains  a precious possession Photograph: istock

Grandad’s shoe box is seldom used now but remains a precious possession Photograph: istock

 

It was a beautiful spring morning as I made my way along the country road. I stepped onto the grass verge to make way for an oncoming car and there sitting on a tuft of grass was a man’s shoe.

Thoughts of shoes and old memories of Grandad filled my mind all day. He always referred to his shoes as “brogues”.

“Shoes are part of our history,” he told me. Brogue comes from the Irish word “ bróg”meaning leg covering. They originated in the 16th century in the peat bogs in Ireland when man discovered that perforations in the shoe allowed the bog water to drain out.

Later brogues became better known as walking shoes. Modern brogues are a dress shoe in hand-made leather with perforations and serrated edges and very expensive.

My granddad wore shoes on Sundays and special occasions. The rest of the time he wore his laced-up boots. Every Saturday night without fail, Grandad Tom polished his shoes for early Sunday morning Mass. I can still see the tins of Nugget Polish with their lipped lids and butterfly opener.

One was for black boots with “boot polish and leather preservative” printed in black on a light background. The black shoe polish claimed to “restore the colour to a brilliant shine” and displayed the Nugget logo on the lid.

Then there was dark tan for Gran’s shoes and this lid was printed in brown, orange and white. An old newspaper was laid on the little table in the scullery and it was there I learned about polishing and shining shoes and the art of preserving the leather.

“In olden days shoes were a symbol of wealth and only slaves and the very poor remained bare-footed. Well-heeled comes from the fact that shoes with high heels became a symbol of wealth and social standing and it is said that Queen Mary 1st of England wore heels 7-8 inches high to make her look taller. In those days even men wore heels to display their wealth and importance in society”.

Imagine that! He always added.

Leather shoes today are in competition with synthetic material with a built-in shine that requires no polish.

Although seldom used now, Grandad’s shoe box has pride of place in my house and holds many happy memories.

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