The Aran Islands consist of three small, windblown islands which sit just off the west coast of Ireland in the mouth of Galway. Inis Mor is the largest of the three islands with a population of just over 800 residents. Inis Meain is the second largest island but has a much smaller population compared to the other two islands, with only roughly 160 residents. The smallest of the islands is Inis Oirr and has a population of only 300 residents.

Although small, these islands together have a significant place in UK history, including being the birthplace of the famed Aran knitwear.

A Brief History Of The Aran Islands

There is very little that is currently known about the early Celtic settlers that inhabited the Aran Islands, or why they would choose to settle in such a remote place. Many speculate that it was in search of fertile land to farm, which the islands had plenty of. Sheep were aplenty on these rugged isles, allowing the inhabitants to create their own special type of wool garments from the unscoured wool which had the natural oils still in, making it highly waterproof.

Large, high sheer rock faces on one side of the islands faced towards the Atlantic, protecting the other side of the island from the elements and allowing for perfect fertile conditions to farm and build secluded forts and housing.

When early Christianity got its foothold in Ireland, it quickly spread to the remote islands and soon after many churches and holy monastic sites became scattered across the islands. The Aran Islands quickly became a sacred training grounds for those who wished to become clerics or study Christianity. Many monks would reside for years on the islands and prepare for their various religious journeys.

Knitting and The Aran Islands

Most people have probably heard of the term ‘Aran sweater’ or ‘Aran knitwear’. The Aran style knitwear did in fact originate in the Aran Islands, many speculate that the intricate designs were to represent religious designs or that the woven Aran stitch work represented that of early Celtic knot work. Many of these designs can be seen in our Aran inspired knitwear range.

Many historians believe that Aran knitting was originally invented as early as the 1890s when fishermen and their wives from various regions of Britain and Ireland moved to the Aran Islands to help share knowledge with the Aran Islanders on how to improve fishing techniques and how to process their fish. With them, they brought a similar style of knitwear jumpers. The women of the Aran Islands quickly adopted their own style of knitting which is now known world-wide as Aran knitwear. A man known as P.A O’Siochain originally commercialised the export of the Aran sweater to America. He taught the women how to internationally size the sweaters and created many jobs for the women of the Aran Islands, thus boosting their mostly poor economy.

The demand for Aran knitwear grew drastically around the world, even inspiring knitwear in many other parts of the world such as France and Britain.

October 11, 2021 — Richard Parker