The Aran Islands comprise three pieces of land – Inis Mor (Big Island), Inis Meain (Middle Island) and Inis Oirr (East Island) – situated around 45 minutes from Galway city at the mouth of the bay. The islands are famous for their rocky landscapes, mountainous cliffs, green fields and whitewashed cottages, but this is not all they are known for.
Aran sweaters, knitted from sheep’s wool, are famous across the world; however, they were originally crafted for the islands’ fishermen and farmers thanks to their warm properties. The sweaters naturally retain heat, with their water-resistant properties making them perfect for rural life.
It is the patterns that made the jumper so attractive to the fashion world, with intertwined or braided columns of wool creating attractive textures and taking it from a humble chunky knit to an Aran sweater. Other patterns that can be found on original Aran sweaters include cable stitch, diamond stitch, honeycomb stitch and tree of life stitch, all of which represent different symbols. The intricate patterns on a jumper from the Aran Islands have a deeper meaning and purpose than just keeping you warm.
Aran knitwear was predominantly worn by men; today, women adn children also wear these versatile garments.
More on Aran culture
Being a very isolated part of the world, the inhabitants of the Aran Islands are understandably quite detached and have found their own traditions and customs, some of which have been in existence for centuries. For example, the islanders used to speak only Gaelic; however, in recent years, the communities have started to speak both Irish and English, although they remain part of the Gaeltacht.
The primary occupation on the islands is farming, which mainly involves looking after the livestock and collecting yarn for items such as Aran cardigans or jumpers.
The traditional dress continues to be worn on holidays and special occasions – shirts with woven belts, moccasins and flat caps for the men, and red skirts and black shawls for the women.
Last but not least, special boats called currachs are part of the Aran Islands’ culture, designed to navigate the perilous waters that surround them. The boat is canoe-shaped, with animal skins displayed on it and a sail. Currach racing is still practised during the summer on the ocean to this day!