Simply put, Aran jumpers
are iconic. It isn’t just the unique design that makes them so popular, it’s their warmth, comfort and sense of home that has resonated with people for more than 100 years.
These cosy jumpers have humble beginnings and originate, as the name would suggest, on the Aran Islands
, just off the coast of County Galway
. They were initially worn by fishermen on the island and became a staple of the families that resided there. As a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival, J M Synge said: “The simplicity and unity of the dress increases in another way the local air of beauty.”
It was this literary revival that first sparked more widespread interest in the jumpers. In the early 20th century, many came to Inis Meáin in search of authentic Irish folk traditions, and the upswing in visitors lead to an appreciation of the islanders’ unique style.
Traditionally, the jumpers were made from a yarn derived from sheep’s wool called báinín. They were originally made unwashed and contained the sheep’s natural lanolin, making the jumpers water-resistant. The original Aran jumpers were rough, oily to the touch, off-white in appearance and retained the odour of the sheep. The modern jumpers are fully scoured, washed and refined, making them softer and whiter, though they don’t have the same waterproofing qualities of the original.
The Aran jumper’s popularity surged when folk music group, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, wore them as their trademark attire. When they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show in a special performance for US President John F Kennedy, the demand for the jumpers rose even more. They are now one of the most successful craft industries in the world.
You can tell a quality Aran jumper by three things – colour, feel and finish. The colour should be creamy off-white. The feel should be a bit rough, but not scratchy with tightly twisted yarn. A good button is the sign of a good finish – they should be made of natural horn, wood or leather.
Do any of our Community members own an Aran jumper?