Hi Everyone. I hope I find you all well. It was a night of celebration on Tuesday evening at the Golden Globes for Irish movie The Banshees of Inisherin. Martin Mc Donagh’s darkly comic tale led the field with 8 nominations and won three awards; Best actor in a comedy or musical for Colin Farrell, best screenplay and best film-musical or comedy. Congratulations all round!
The film is set on the fictional island of Inisherin and is visually stunning, showcasing all the majesty and rugged grandeur of the iconic west of Ireland landscape. The actual locations for the movie were Achill Island in County Mayo and largest of the Aran Islands, Inis Mór, the home of one of Ireland’s most famous and much loved exports, the Aran Sweater.
A Short History of the Aran Sweater
So this is the place and what a place! The Aran Islands are 3 islands in Galway Bay at Ireland’s most westerly point. The largest of the trio is Inishmore, followed by Inishmann and Inisheer. Traditionally, the islanders farmed the land and fished the wild Atlantic waters. Conditions were harsh and the Aran sweater was born out of necessity. A protective layer against the cold and rains of the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean.
So I know what you’re thinking; a wool sweater to protect against the rain? How does that work? Well, the first Aran sweaters were made using unwashed báinín ( bain meaning white in Irish) – a yarn made from sheep’s wool. The yarn was untreated and retained its natural lanolin making it waterproof.
Each sweater features between four and six stitch patterns in vertical columns. One of these stitch patterns usually takes center stage in the main body of the sweater.
So the first Aran sweaters appeared in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This was due to an initiative by the Congested Districts Board. The Republic of Ireland was still under British rule at the time. The Congested Districts Board was established in 1891 by the First Earl of Balfour, the then Chief Secretary of Ireland.
The organization was set up to combat poverty and improve living conditions in the west of Ireland. Fishing communities were particularly poverty-stricken so the board brought people from the rest of the British Isles to Ireland to teach better fishing techniques. While doing this, they also imparted their craft of knitted fisherman sweaters.
Aran Sweater Stitches
So many myths and legends abound when it comes to the much loved Aran knitting stitches-this is Ireland after all! There is even a claim that Aran stitch patterns appear in the Book of Kells! The more likely explanation is that Aran knitters were inspired by ancient Celtic artwork.
When it comes to the history of Aran knitting, the story goes that the original Aran knitters developed their own stitch patterns which were closely guarded from clan to clan. Patterns were passed down the generations from memory.
Aran Sweater Stitches – Meanings & Symbols
The symbol of the hard-working bee. Industry and efficiency were important values for the Islanders. Also believed to bring good fortune to the wearer.
Symbolic of the patchwork farming fields of the Aran Islands. Wishing health and success.
A representation of the fisherman’s ropes. A prayer for safety and good luck while fishing.
A symbol of the fisherman’s basket representing the hope of a plentiful catch.
The first Aran sweater patterns were published by Patons of England in the 1940s. Popularity was growing and when Grace Kelly appeared in Vogue wearing an Aran sweater in 1950, worldwide fame was inevitable. Many famous people have donned our favorite sweater over the years including Marilyn Monroe, Steve Mc Queen, Elvis, Chris Evans and Taylor Swift.
A Lasting Legacy
In 2017, an Aran sweater from the 1940s went on display as part of the “Is Fashion Modern” exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art along with 111 other pieces that have influenced fashion over the past 100 years.
These pieces include the Little Black Dress and Levi Jeans. Further proof of the status of the Aran sweater as a fashion classic and must-have wardrobe staple. Not bad for a piece of clothing that began life as a humble fisherman’s sweater on a remote trio of islands off Ireland’s Atlantic coast!
Get Yours Today!
So why not treat yourself to our classic Traditional Aran Sweater today! The untreated wool is a thing of the past-ours comes in super soft, easy to wear merino wool in a choice of no less than 15 gorgeous colors!
Take care of yourselves and each other.
Slán go fóill!
It also helped identify the bodies of fishermen washed ashore after a mishap as each family had their own design combinations.
So they say Bettina!
Thanks for reading,
I love my Aran sweaters! Interesting Irish history ???☘️?
Thanks Eileen. That’s so lovely to hear!
Glad you enjoyed the blog and the sweaters!
Hi LULU . I love your swatters ,the look so good and are so soft and warm Your Country is just beautiful . I love the country side, so peaceful and gentle. My Grand ,Grand ,Grand Mother came from the county of MAYO. To south Texas , that was part of Mexico ,at the time. Her Father went to fight for Mexico ,with other Irish Catholics Like Johan Riley , We have a little Irish in us. Some of us Americans of Mexican heritage ,will always love the Irish Catholics Viva Ireland . Your Friend Amador .
Amador, with regards, your ancestor may have been part of the San Patricios. They fought in Mexico as Irish-Mexican and US war(s). You see we have always had Mexico and the people of Mexico in our hearts… yes for religious reasons but always because of your dignity for families. That, unfortunately, is missing today. But I am always reminded by Mexican/Honduran/Guatamalan and South American strength of family in the US. Kind Regards, Robert O’Gorman
So glad you’re loving the sweaters! And your ancestors come from such a beautiful part of Ireland!
Thanks so much for reading and shopping at The Irish Store!
My friend and I had planned our trip to Ireland july 31-august 20. We had to cancel due to covid. I have 3 sweaters from your store and i love them. I told him we need to visit your shop when we get there which will hopefully be soon! Thanks for the history behind your beautiful sweaters!
You are so welcome and I am thrilled you’re a fan of our sweaters!
I’m sorry you had to cancel your trip and I hope you get to come and see us very soon!
Stay safe and well,
I HAVE THE PLEASURE OF VISITING THE ARAN ISLANDS A FEW YEARS AGO AND STILL HAVE SOME OF YOUR LOVELY KNITTED ITEMS, NEVER FORGET SUCH A LIVELY PLACE. HOPE I CAN RETURN IN THE FUTURE, BEST REGARDS, ARACELI
I was told by my Grandmother that her brother Patsy Corrigan who was a fishermen in Achill Island was lost to the mean waters off the Bay. When his body was found he was identified by the stitch work on his sweater.
Wow what a story to have heard from your grandmother!
Thanks so much for reading,
Fabulous story, thank you for sharing!
So glad you enjoyed it,
Thanks for reading,
I bought my first Irish sweaters in Donegal in 1978… my wife still wears it! I have a closet full from your store and a couple others and have spoiled my nephews and their girls friends for past several Christmases with Irish sweaters. My one nephew bought one for their new dog to where around to the Irish pubs in New York City!
Thanks so much for choosing The Irish Store for your Aran sweaters! I hope you and your family enjoy them for many years to come.
I received my sweater yesterday, it looks great and fits well. I wore it today and feels so warm and comfortable.
Delighted to hear you’re happy with your purchase.
Wishing you health to wear it,
My 40+ years old cardigan still smells of the sheep when I give it a bath, and I regret not a bit of it, much as I do enjoy the feel of merino in the last couple of things I’ve purchased.
Sounds like you have a true original that was definitely made to last!
Thanks so much for reading,