Inis Meáin is one of the three Aran Islands seated in the mouth of Galway Bay Ireland. In his book, The Aran Islands, John Millington Synge wrote about this stark and remote island in incredibly graphic terms. You come away from the read feeling waterlogged by the thunderous rains and stormy waves. Despite such violent sea-tempests, however, the area still seemed quietly beautiful, almost even idyllic. Women were described as being in deep-red petticoats, bracken gleamed after the rains, and men rowed together in curraches (a type of Irish boat that looks like a canoe).
It’s this kind of beauty that drew Tarlach de Blácam to Inis Meáin in 1973 to learn Gaelic. He soon fell in love with this place, and then with a native from the area, Áine, who would later become his wife. In his early years there, Blácam learned about knitting as he helped produce basic ethic Aran sweaters in the area. He soon found that the resourceful islanders had, over centuries, elevated cable knitting to an art form with an intricacy and skill unmatched anywhere else in the world. Three years after his arrival, in 1976, he founded his own knitting company and named it after the Aran island.
Today, Inis Meáin the knitting company employs 16 people and produces 350 garments per week. Most of these are sold to small boutiques in Paris, New York, London, Milan, Stockholm, and Tokyo. The collections are inspired by the traditional dress of the islanders. Designs range from being simple crew necks to highly decorated Arans or complex tweed stitches that the locals have developed. Though they draw from the heritage of the area, these aren’t the kind of Aran sweaters you’d find in some souvenir shop, however. They’re infused with a touch of luxury - the sweaters are made from British wool, Italian cashmere, and South American baby alpaca. Throughout each of the pieces, you can also see hand stitched detailing. The quality is exceptional; these sweaters are some of the softest and warmest you’ll ever lay hands on. It’s pieces like these, in fact, that have made me turn away from wearing cheap cotton and low-end merino sweaters all together.