If you enjoy a bit of peace and tranquillity and would rather not travel too far from home then the Aran Island could be a great place for you to visit. Situated in the Galway Bay off the west coast of Ireland, the Arans are a group of three islands with a population of just 1200. Although small, the community is famous across the world as the home of the Aran Jumper, those distinctive fisherman’s knits which became really popular in the 20th century.
The three islands – Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer have a rugged karst limestone landscape and a mild climate that supports a wide range of flora and nesting birds. They are beautiful places to visit and can be reached by air or passenger ferry from the Irish mainland. Many tourists flock to the region to visit the historic iron age forts, including Dun Aengus, to marvel at the serenity of the countryside and to see the home of the Aran jumper. The Islands are also considered to be an outpost of Irish culture and are not to be confused with the Scottish island of Arran. There is plenty of Guinness on tap for those who enjoy a tipple!
The Aran Jumper
The distinctive and now famous jumpers were first knitted using untreated wool. This made the jumpers very water resistant but somewhat rigid due to the lanolin content of the yarn. Although the jumpers are known as fisherman’s garments it is unlikely that this was their original purpose as they were too stiff and heavy for working at sea. It is more likely that the sweaters were made by women for their families and to sell as local crafts to generate extra income for the household.
The practice could have started as late as the 20th century and today the cream jumpers are made from treated but undyed sheep’s wool with complex stitching and patterns which often have cultural and religious symbolic significance. The jumpers feature up to six cabled pattern running vertically with many examples now being knitted by machine. It is possible to purchase hand knitted pieces which do come with a certificate of authenticity and have a complexity of design that can only be created by hand. The export of the jumpers is a crucial element of the islands’ economy.
Interestingly the Aran jumper has never really gone out of fashion and is known across the world. It is a heritage style that has been much copied by leading brands and retailers and despite its historic nature it seems to lend itself to modern tastes and lifestyles. If you do visit Aran you just have to come back with one of those jumpers but do enjoy the serenity of the landscape and the historic architecture too!
Article by Sally Stacey