The Aran Islanders are tough strong people. The Aran Islands may surely be one of the most beautiful places on earth but they are also a hard place to live. The people of Aran made a living from cultivating the poor land and especially the sea. Fishing was and remains crucial to the life of the Aran Islanders. Without the sea and fishing the Islander could not have survived long. The land of Aran is simply too poor.
The Aran Sweater is very much a fisherman sweater. The majority of men on the Island were fishermen and all depended upon fishing for their very existence. The women of Aran created the unique Aran Sweater the famous Irish sweater, for their men folk, for when they went to sea, fishing.
Now fishermen had a hard life out on the rough Atlantic waters, especially in their traditional Irish boat, the the currach. Once out at sea the fishermen were exposed to cold and high waves that would have tested the endurance of any man, even the hardy Islanders. Unknown numbers of men drowned out fishing and lost to the sea. Many men later washed up onshore, only to be recognised by the special family patterns of their Aran Sweaters. It is believed that the special patterns on Aran Sweaters were designed in part to enable the recognition of those men who had drowned.
The men of the Aran Islands had no choice but to go out onto the treacherous seas – their poverty was such that all they and their families had to eat was what they caught in their nets. If they did not fish they did not eat. Their fisherman sweater, lovingly knitted by their women folk helped them to endure the Atlantic and the elements and allowed them to continue fishing.
It was to give these men warmth and comfort while they were out at sea that the led to the unique design and manufacture of the fisherman Sweater. The cable knit sweater, gave warmth to the fishermen when there was an Atlantic blowing as they tended to their nets. Remarkably, when the fisherman sweater became wet it was commonly held that it gave out heat and warmed the cold men even when soaked by rain and waves. This may be due to the special wool – bawnee- that is used in the knitting of an Aran Sweater or Cardigan.
This is why Aran sweater are renowned to this day and why these Irish sweaters and cardigans are famous throughout the world. Because they were needed to help fishermen survive in the treacherous Atlantic, the women of Aran created this astonishing fisherman sweater.
It is because of their unique origin, as a fisherman sweater that makes Aran knitwear so special. Today we are fortunate in Ireland to have such a piece of knitwear as part of our heritage. Those who wear an Aran Sweater or Cardigan are probably wearing the world’s most unique piece of knitwear- all thanks to the wives of fishermen, who tried to give warmth and comfort to their men folk as they struggled to feed their families on the Atlantic Ocean.