S H E E P   G I F T S  and more
The Aran Islands stand like
immortal gatekeepers at the
mouth of Galway Bay. The
Islands are three wind-swept
and wave-beaten landmasses
that rise from the sea in a
stirring display of towering
cliffs, craggy limestone pillars
and crumbling stone walls. The
names are Gaelic or the Irish
language for 'the big island'
Inishmore, 'the middle island'
Inishmaan, 'the south island'
Inisheer respectivly.
Those who lived on the Aran Islands made their living from farming and
fishing. Outdoor work in this unforgiving, severe environment created
a need for warm protective and practical clothing. The original wool
sweaters were knitted using un-scoured wool that retained its natural
greases making the garments more waterproof. These were ideal for
the farmers and fishermen who wore them to protect them from the
harsh Atlantic environment.

Today, in the tradition of most of the 165 generations that preceded
them, the 1300 inhabitants of the islands continue to speak Irish
(Gaelic) as their first language, and their lives remain intimately
intertwined with the earth and the sea. Remarkably, it is a simple
article of clothing – the Irish sheep's wool Aran sweater – that has
brought the eyes of the world to Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer,
and to the people who call these islands home.

Irish sheep's wool Aran sweaters exploded onto the fashion scene,
particularly the American fashion scene, after the election of John F.
Kennedy in 1960.  "Irish sheep's wool sweaters became an image
connected to the Kennedys," said Nancy MacDonald, owner of
Traditions Celtic Imports in Middletown and Warwick. "Everybody saw
the pictures of the Kennedy boys playing football in their Irish knitted
sheep's wool sweaters. It had such an impact, you can still see it in
what Ralph Lauren does today – that good- looking chiseled way of
living. For the Irish, it became a symbol of our arrival." By 1965, Irish
sheep's wool sweaters had become a staple in the wardrobes of many

The true Aran sweater is made of bainin (pronounced baw-neen)  
which is untreated white sheep's wool. It features symbolic embossed
patterns and designs. Myth and lore aside, the Irish sheep's wool Aran
sweater remains popular both in Ireland and in America. "What's
unique about Aran sweaters is that they never go out of style."

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