Free Worldwide Express Shipping Offer*

The Aran Sweater: Irish Folklore and History

The Aran Sweater: Irish Folklore and History

If you’ve spent time in Ireland, you’ll know that it is a stunning place, rooted in legends and folklore. The Aran Islands are particularly magical, with wild and romantic landscapes that evoke the fairy tales and ancient legends of their communities. Today, the people who live in such close proximity to the Atlantic ocean are proud to continue the traditions and cultural heritage of their ancestors.

Life was not easy on Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, in bygone times when the threat of the elements was not eased by electricity and heating systems, as it is today. The people of the Aran Islands were predominantly fishermen or farmers, and the skills they needed to survive were passed down through the generations. Weaving was an essential skill that was needed to make the clothing that would keep them warm and dry in their labours, so it was highly valued at this time. The Aran sweater was created as a practical and decorative piece of clothing and it has become synonymous with this very special place.

Aran Sweaters with Tales to Tell

Aran Irish Sweaters are perhaps the most famous export from the Aran Islands, and we may be biased, but we think they’re the best. The stitches that make up the unique designs of our Aran wool sweaters are closely connected to the weavers who first created them many years ago and their families. The Aran sweater is now a fashion statement that has been known to grace the cover of Vogue, but it remains an important reminder of Ireland’s heritage and this is evident in every stitch.

The first Aran sweaters were made for and worn by the fishermen and farmers of the Aran Islands, who faced the harsh climate of the Atlantic coast every day. These sweaters were designed to protect them from the elements and keep them warm, and they included stitches that represented their extreme daily lives. Today, we recognise them as pieces of living history, and these stitches are still used today to embellish Aran sweaters and knitwear, maintaining that connection with the past and celebrating the communities that lived in harmony with the land and the sea.

The Stitches That Tell Stories

The weavers who knitted the original Aran sweaters created stitches that were personal to themselves and their loved ones, with the women often knitting specific stitches that were believed to bring good luck to their wearers and keep them safe at sea. The complex stitches created thick layers of wool that helped to keep the wearers warm while they worked, and they also incorporated stories about their lives that are fascinating to us today. You might notice the following stitches in some of our Aran sweater designs:

  1. Moss stitch.Several of the stitches used to decorate traditional Aran sweaters are believed to reflect the landscape of the Aran Islands, and moss stitch is believed to have been inspired by the carrageenan moss that is very common on the Islands. This is a sea moss, also called Irish moss, was used for centuries as a health tonic for sore throats and persistent coughs. It was also an essential food source for the people of the Aran Islands, providing a source or protein and vitamins that helped to sustain them in challenging times.
  2. Cable stitch. Cable stitch is a one of the most important stitches in Aran sweaters, created when the stitches are crossed over one another to look like twisted ropes or cables. This is a complex knitting stitch that involves using cable needles to work on several areas of the knitting project at once. Cable stitch features in many of our classic Aran sweaters and cardigans and it easily recognisable in knitwear designs. Many of our garments combine cable stitch with other stitches to create unique patterns and these can also be seen in our beautifully crafted sweaters and blankets. It is a common stitch in Aran sweaters today, said to represent the ropes of the fishermen who first wore these sweaters and ensure that they returned safely from the sea. The Wool Cashmere Cable V-Neck Sweater brings a contemporary twist to traditional cable stitching patterns, creating a gorgeous cashmere blend v-neck sweater with delicate cable stitching that is easy to wear, even for those with sensitive skin.
  3. Honeycomb stitch.The honeycomb stitch is believed to signify prosperity and it looks fabulous in many of our Aran sweater designs. The stitch creates a honeycomb effect, said to have been designed to pay tribute to the honey bees and their hard work. We love the classic Merino Aran Sweater, which features honeycomb stitch and cable stitch and is a popular choice for customers from all over the world. You can choose from a range of beautiful colours, including traditional white and oatmeal options, and when you put your sweater on for the first time, you see why it’s so well loved!
  4. Tree of Life stitch. The Tree of Life stitch, also known as Trinity stitch, is thought to represent the unity of families and bring luck to the wearers and their children. This stitch involves knitting and purling stitches in a tendril pattern, similar to the Celtic symbols that began to appear in Ireland around 500 BC, when it is believed that the Celts first arrived in Ireland.
  5. Zig zag stitch.Items embellished with zig zag stitch are often given to newlyweds as the zig zags are believed to be a representation of the ups and downs of married life. We have several beautiful blankets and items of clothing that include this stitch, which is also believed to represent the winding cliff paths that the fishermen of the Aran Islands and their families would have used on a daily basis to travel down to the coast and back to their homes.
  6. Blackberry stitch. Blackberries are full of vitamin C and they are an abundant natural food source on the Aran Islands. This detailed stitch is complex and tactile, and it feels as good as it looks. Simply running your fingers across the blackberry stitching pattern can conjure images of searching for wild food on the cliffs and then whipping up a blackberry pie while looking out over the Atlantic Ocean.
  7. Trellis stitch. Farming was an essential means of survival on the Aran Islands, and Trellis stitch is believed to represent this industry with small squares that are inspired by the field patterns of traditional Irish farms. Fields were marked out with stone borders, and this is clearly indicted in the stitching. Trellis stitch features in the delicate Wool Cashmere Aran Trellis Sweater, which brings a contemporary approach to a classic design.

Our Aran sweaters pay homage to the heritage of these garments and we value the designs that include references to the lifestyles and legends of this place.

The Aran Islands: Planning Your Visit

The Aran Islands are incredible places to visit and we want to help you to make the most of your experience here. This breathtaking part of the world combines wild ocean and green landscapes and we recommend making time to explore. You can hire a bike to get around and explore at your own pace, and we know you’ll fall in love with this unusual and magical place.

The Aran Islands are made up of three islands located across the mouth of Galway Bay: Inis Mor, the ‘Great Island’, Inis Mean, the middle island and Inis Oir, the small island. It is thought that the islands were first inhabited in the late Neolithic period, as monuments dating from around 2,500 BC have been discovered, and the earliest settlers probably arrived from mainland Ireland in curraghs, small boats covered with animal skin.

If you are able to plan a visit to the Aran Islands, you should be sure to include the following in your itinerary:

  1. The Wormhole. The Wormhole, or “Poll na bPeist” is an impressive natural blowhole on Inis Mor, near the village of Gort Na gCapall. According to legend, the wormhole is all that remains of a tunnel that was dug by a giant from one side of the island to the other. To find the Wormhole, you can simply walk along the coast for around twenty minutes, following signs from the village. If you visit in the summer months, you will almost certainly be impressed by the ocean views as well as this spectacular natural phenomenon. However, if you make your visit in the winter, you’ll witness the incredible power of nature as the waves are likely to be more dramatic at this time. It is important to be aware of your safety when you visit the Wormhole, and to remember that swimming is not advised in this area.
  2. Dun Aonghus. Dun Aonghus Fort originally dates from the Bronze Age and according to folklore, it was the home of the Fir Bolg tribes, led by Aonghus. Legend has it that he led his people here after being defeated in the First Battle of Moytura. This impressive site as been extensively restored, after the original stone fort was expanded in Medieval times. Some sections of the great wall were six metres wide and five metres high, making it an impressive home as well as a strongly fortified position from which to guard the entrance to Galway Bay.
  3. Straw Island. Straw Island is a very small, uninhabited island with a picturesque lighthouse and a huge population of grey seals to observe. You can enjoy diving and snorkelling trips in this area and there are several trip operators in the village of Kilronan. It’s a pleasure to observe the seals in their own habitat, particularly if you time your trip well, as you will see several seals basking on the rocks when conditions are good.
  4. Clochan na Carraige. Clochan na Carraige is a stone beehive hut that is thought to date from early Christian times, and isanother popular attraction on Inis Mor. It has been previously used as a dwelling and for animal storage, and it is believed to be one of the best examples of the stone beehive hut in Ireland. From the outside, it is an oval shaped building, and on the inside, it is rectangular with doorways to the northwest and southwest. The hut has a cobbled roof that would originally have been covered in soil and grass, and it is easy to imagine what life might really have been like for Island dwellers in the past when you soak up the atmosphere of this place.
  5. Kilmurvey Beach. The beach at Kilmurvey has Blue Flag status and this makes it the ideal destination for families and tourists, as well as local visitors. It boasts clear waters and beautiful white sand, making it a very popular place to visit on the Aran Islands. This sheltered cove is conveniently located close to the shops and cafes of the local village and the beach is lifeguarded during the summer months to give you peace of mind when you visit with your family. This is the perfect place for families and swimmers to discover, and you will also find many opportunities for fishing and walking around the cove.
  6. Inis Mor Seal Colony. The impressive seal colony on Inis Mor is not far from Kilmurvey Beach, and is well signposted so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. You can and enjoy a picnic at the scenic viewpoint and take your time to observe these beautiful creatures in their own environment. It’s a good idea to check the tide times before you visit, as you are likely to see much more if you visit at low tide, when the seals are more likely to be on the rocks.

It’s easy to fall in love with the Aran Islands and we know that you will want to visit again and again.

Visit Aran Sweater Market

At Aran Sweater Market, our range of classic and contemporary Aran knitwear reflects the Irish heritage we are so proud of. We believe that the best way to preserve our culture is to continue to share it with the world, maintaining our traditions and our values for the next generation. Our staff can show you our beautiful range of garments and help you to find the best fit for your lifestyle.

You can discover our full range of Aran sweaters and knitwear in our online store, and we know you’ll love the designs we have created for babies and children, as well as our gift items that can show your loved ones how much you care. Talk to us and find your perfect Aran sweater today!