Braveheart or Brave Man?

Pommehern clings to Celtic roots

Contributing Writer

"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.

Thom Pommehern

Photo Don Ward

Thom Pommehern
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 Auditorium.

Knife 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 today.
"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 safety pin.
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.

Games of strength

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 month.
"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 yourself."
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.

Back to April 1999 Articles.



Copyright 1999-2015, Kentuckiana Publishing, Inc.

Pick-Up Locations Subscribe Staff Advertise Contact Submit A Story Our Advertisers Columnists Archive Area Links Area Events Search our Site Home Monthly Articles Calendar of Events Kentucky Speedway Madison Chautauqua Madison Ribberfest Madison Regatta