For generations, tourists have arrived in droves and made amazing memories on three little islands off the west coast of Ireland. Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer lie just off Galway Bay, offshore from the Galway Clare border. Inisheer, the smallest of them, is only five miles from Doolin in Co. Clare. They are loved by tourists from Ireland and around the world for their unique beauty and ancient sites as well as their charming traditional cottages. You can hear Irish spoken and walk past fields bordered by ancient stone walls on your way to a trad music session at a pub. As much as people love summer on the Aran islands, it is winter that explains their most famous Irish gifts – Aran sweaters.
The unique landscape that helped shaped Aran Sweaters
Winters are rough, with fierce Atlantic winds howling across the islands dumping rain. Those winds and rough seas make trips to the mainland difficult. People on the islands have a certain strength that comes from generations of embracing life on an exposed bit of rock in the sea. Despite being battered by the elements, the Aran Islands have always drawn creative and contemplative types, resilient souls determined to weave joy and beauty into life even in the hardest times. Poet and revolutionary Padraic Pearse loved visiting. This combination of practicality and love of beauty gave birth to one of the most enduring Irish gifts, the Aran sweater.
How the Islands Wove the Aran Sweater
The earliest inhabitants of the Aran Islands were farmers. The islands have been populated for so long that people first migrated there when the mainland of Ireland was covered in forests and hard to farm. Eventually, the forests were cleared, and the islanders turned to fishing. Out in their boats, they were even more exposed to the elements – and more at their mercy.
As both farmers and fishers, they needed clothing that would stand up to the challenge of insulating them from wind and rain while also allowing them to move freely so they could work. Wool was ideal among the options available at the time. Rich in lanolin, it was naturally water repellent. And they could raise sheep right on the islands, so they weren’t dependent on supplies from the mainland.
Every stitch is filled with meaning and symbolism
The distinctive knitting patterns have fascinated people for generations. Different stitches are said to have specific meanings and the overall pattern and style could help identify bodies when tragedy struck at sea because a family would be known for a particular design. Discover more behind the meaning of these patterns here. The intricate designs are not only beautiful; they’re also very practical. The texture helps to trap warmth near the body.
Fewer of us live our lives working in the elements today, but when winter hits, we still want to be warm and look good at the same time. With these gorgeous Irish gifts, you won’t have to be told to get away from the thermostat and go put on a sweater when temperatures drop. The Aran sweater’s soft Merino wool and timeless style will have you looking forward to colder days. Nothing feels quite as cozy as sipping tea in front of a roaring fire wearing traditional Aran knitwear.