National Post (National Edition)
ARAN ISLANDS, IRELAND
Six miles off Ireland's west coast, the rugged Aran Islands are known for the cream-colored hard-wearing, heavy wool, cable-patterned style of knitwear named for them. Also known as an Irish fisherman's sweater, the style developed from the British gansey (or Guernsey) sweaters worn by fishermen who arrived on the islands in the late 19th century, and it became widely appreciated when Ireland's great literary revival of the early 20th century inspired many to visit Aran in search of folk traditions.
But when he founded the Inis Meáin Knitting Company with his wife, Áine Ní Chonghaile, in 1976, Tarlach de Blácam opted not to include the word “Aran” in its name. Having seen how the Aran sweater was “copied so often around the world by cheap tourist shops,” the de Blácam and Chonghaile instead patented “Inis Meáin” — after the middle of the three islands where the company operates — to distinguish its products from mass-produced machine-made versions.
Inis Meáin Knitting Company draws inspiration from the sweaters that island women have long knitted in their stormlashed cottages, while reinterpreting traditional stitches; adding premium yarns such as cashmere and silk; and continually updating its collection with new styles. Its sophisticated garments are stocked in high-end stores worldwide. “We've attempted to show the world that there was a lot more to the Aran Islanders' knitting repertoire than one highly decorated sweater,” wrote de Blácam in an email. The Aran sweater “was actually `Sunday best.' “He added: “It was never for everyday wear in the fields or out at sea.” The company's changing collection includes pieces influenced by the “whole other range of Aran sweaters that were essentially workwear,” as well as their contemporary take on the most-immediately recognizable Aran. You can find the sweaters at inismeain.ie.