Shantrews is defined in the Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) as both “the name of a Highland solo dance with reel steps, and of the tune which accompanies it”. It’s derived from the Gaelic “sean triubhas”, meaning old trousers.
Solo Highland dancing is often associated with male dancers, but there is evidence of women performing Highland dances too. Elizabeth Grant’s Memoirs of a Highland Lady (1799) records:
“Lady Jane was really clever in the Gillie Callum and the Shean Trews”.
There is more recent evidence in H Thurston’s 1954 Scotland’s Dances:
“The earliest references we have to two of our modern Highland dances (the Highland fling and the Seann Triubhas) show them being danced by women”.
There is an earlier appearance of the word in the Register of Ayr Presbytery manuscript of January 1767 which very much piqued our curiosity:
“The Defender asked the Deponent if he would dance the Shantrouse to him”…
Robert Tannahill (1774-1810) drew a lively picture of a shantrews in his poem The Kebbuckston Wedding:
“Sawney MacNab, wi’ his tartan trews; Has becht to come down in the midst of the caper; And gi’e us three wallops of merry shantrews; With the true Highland Ring of Macrimmon the piper…”
A reference from the University of Edinburgh’s Journal of 1971:
“... there are our dances and our cuisine, as in reel strathspey, gillie callum, fling, hollichan, shantrews, or in haggis brose, brochan…"
illustrates the difficulties of Scots spelling when it is compared to P R Drummond’s 1879 Bygone Days:
“Their “Shantruse,” their “Hulachan,” and “Highland Fling”.
This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel. Visit DSL Online at https://dsl.ac.uk.