It is thought name is derived from the Gaelic word 'cuach' which is itself a derivation of the Latin 'caucus' meaning drinking cup. Although the origin is Gaelic, this type of cup was known and used both in the Highlands and in the Lowlands of Scotland certainly since the seventeenth century and probably before. It has been suggested that its ancestor was the scallop shell in which drams of whisky were taken in the Highlands and Islands. However, the origins of this theory seem to be based on references taken from the "Poems of Ossian", which is now widely regarded as an immensely influential but ultimately a literary hoax.
Another late 19th century theory was that they were derived from 17th century shallow two handled european bleeding dishes. However, I tend to agree with the american collector Richard L McClenahan who suggested in his two volume monograph "Some Scottish Quiachs" that the quaich is more likely to have evolved from the ubiquitous medieval drinking vessel, the mazer. These often highly ornate and prized drinking vessels share many attributes with early quaichs and it not to difficult to imagine the pragmatic scots adding lugs to improve the function and ease of use. Unlike bleeding dishes and scallops shells, mazers and quaichs are deep enough to provide an adequate dram.
Although the origins of the quaich are shrouded in the fog of history, a rich seam of traditions has continued to evolve. Many of the most impressive surviving quaichs were commissioned to mark special occasions, such as births or weddings.
Some scottish churches have superb early silver quaichs which seem to have been used in the baptismal ceremony, others have been used as communion cups.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries there developed a strong tradition of quaichs within the British Armed Forces which continues to this day. Either as part of regimental mess silver or as retirement gifts. The quaich can be seen as an token of the strong sense of comradeship formed during military service.
The link to weddings is often attributed to James VI of Scotland who in 1589 is reputed to have presented Anne of Denmark with a quaich as a loving cup before their wedding.
In more recent times the quaich has been used in a ceremony at the top table to mark the joining of two families in love and friendship and to welcome the bride and groom into their newly extended family. It is also frequently used in modern "hand fasting" ceremonies.
It seems that Christians, Humanists and Pagans all recognise the unique symbolism of this historic Scottish drinking vessel.
After several hundred years of use the quaich has evolved from a simple domestic utensil to become a unique icon of scottish culture, hospitality and kinship.
The Quaich, Scotland's cup of Friendship
How do you pronounce it?