Aran Sweater History

The Aran sweater is an old Irish tradition. Aran knitwear and Aran accessories used to be a need and now are a desire to have!

5 Facts about the Aran sweater

  1. First seen at Holy Communion and Mass
  2. Romantic Significance
  3. The Aran Sweater is featured in the Book of Kells
  4. The Hidden meanings of the Aran Sweater
  5. Irish Tradition is the New Style

1. First seen at Holy Communion and Mass

The first Aran sweaters were seen on young island boys in the late 1920s and early 1930s. They were worn for their First Holy Communion or to Mass on Sundays.

It was a tradition to give an Aran sweater as a gift for First Holy Communions. Many people geographically located further away from the Aran Islands are not aware of this custom.

It was also thought that the Fishermen of the Islands started wearing the Sweaters as a religious garment, in the hopes it would protect them from the dangers of the perilous
Atlantic seas. Learn more about fisherman sweaters.


2. Romantic Significance

As a romantic tradition, the Aran sweater was once known as a “bridal shirt”. When a young fisherman started courting, his other half knitted him a sweater using all the traditional stitches.

The significance the Aran sweater had was a truly romantic one.

His acceptance of the sweater and her hard work in making the sweater symbolizes their love for one another. It was there promise ring to each other.

She used all her skills to produce a sweater which would be a credit to her, practicality as a future wife and mother. In other words it was worn by “her man”. The fisherman would wear this sweater on their wedding day. Traditional Irish sweaters and Irish knitwear had great romantic significance.

3. The Aran Sweater is featured in the Book of Kells

During the 8th century, Christianity was widespread on the Island. Patterns of the Aran sweater, stretched all the way back to Celtic Ireland.

Christian manuscripts such as the famous Book of Kells, make references to elaborately designed garments similar to the figure sporting an Aran sweater.

Experts disagree about whether the Book of Kells sweater is real “Aran”. But there is no doubt that the same patterns we see in the Aran today, are also carved into the megaliths dotted around Europe.

Living in the midst of this ancient past, it’s likely that the Aran knitters were inspired by the beautiful patterns on the monuments around them.

You can find the Book of Kells in Trinity College Dublin!

4. The hidden meaning of the Aran Sweater

There is more to the stitch than you might realize. Each stitch pattern is a traditional symbol, representing the spirituality of the islanders who crafted these beautiful garments.

The most commonly seen Aran stitch is the cable, of which there are many variations.

These are said to symbolize fishermen’s ropes.

  • Cable: A tribute to the fisherman’s daily life. A prayer for safety and good luck while fishing.
  • The Blackberry stitch: Represents nature. Some call it the trinity stitch and give it religious significance.
  • The Holy Trinity Stitch: A design originating from Celtic Art.
  • The Moss stitch: Said to symbolize abundance and growth. It is often used as a ‘filler’ in diamonds.
  • Diamond: A blessing for success and wealth.
  • The Honeycomb: Is said to be a lucky stitch, signifying plenty and in the case of fishermen a good catch. It also is the symbol of the hard working bee. Industry and efficiency were
    important values to the islanders.
  • Lattice or Basket: Stitches to represent the fisherman’s basket – again an omen of a good catch.
  • Jacob’s Ladder: Which represents how the Islands worked together.
  • The Tree of Life: Signifying the Clans and families of the Islands.
  • Plaited or Braided: Stitches said to represent the interweaving strands of life.

5. Irish tradition is the new style

The Aran sweater is still iconic to date! It’s continually being reinvented to this day in the fashion industry. It was usually worn for special, sacramental occasions.

The islanders put great effort and pride into their designs.

Many tourists, can’t wait to get their hands on these beautiful and truly remarkable piece of tradition from Ireland. They are fascinated by the unique stitching pattern designed to identify the person. Also, Irish wool jumpers are great quality and not surprisingly have become popular across the world.

It was featured in fashion spreads in the US edition of Vogue during the 1950s. The publicity generated created a demand, that led to the sweater being exported from the west of Ireland to the
United States for the first time.

This connection with the USA made the crafting of Aran sweaters an important Irish industry ever since.

It was also worn by Steve McQueen, Grace Kelly and The Clancy Brothers on the Ed Sullivan Show in the early 1960s.

The Clancy Brothers brought a huge awareness to the Aran sweaters. This sudden fame drove an increase in demand for Aran sweaters.

The Clancy Brothers (Tom Clancy (1924-1990), Liam Clancy (1935-2009) and Paddy Clancy (1922-1998)) with Tommy Mackem (1932-2007) perform on a television show, circa 1965. (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images)
The Clancy Brothers (Tom Clancy (1924-1990), Liam Clancy (1935-2009) and Paddy Clancy (1922-1998)) with Tommy Mackem (1932-2007) perform on a television show, circa 1965. (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images)



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