Michael F. McGuffin
Coveted by fishermen and copied by fashion designers, the Aran Island
sweater has become an Irish icon. Originated on three storm-wracked lumps of
limestone off Irelandís western coast, the exuberantly patterned Aran
sweater demonstrates how beauty often emerges from hardship.
Aran sweaters are available in nearly every knickknack shack and tourist
trap from Dublin to Galway, so buyer beware. Authentic Arans are knit by hand
using undyed wool resulting in a tight, weatherproof garment available in only
three colors: white, oatmeal and dark brown. A handknit sweater is a time
consuming original work, so buy from an established shop, and expect to pay
north of a hundred dollars. More affordable versions are loomed on machines,
but donít be fooled, hand loomed does not mean handknit.
An Irish yarn tells how drowned Aran fishermen have been identified by the
heraldic patterns knit into their sweaters. Though romantic, the story is
untrue; it probably originated in an Irish play where a woman recognizes her
dead brother by his handknit socks.
Ireland is in the midst of an unprecedented economic boom, and the cottage
industry of hand knitting sweaters for a buck or two an hour is, to say the
least, threatened. So if youíre planning a trip to the Emerald Isle leave
room in your suitcase for a vanishing symbol of ye olde Ireland: a handknit