Thirty miles off the west coast of Ireland lies the minuscule island of Inis Meáin. The “Middle Island” as it is called, lies at the heart of the Aran Islands, and is but three miles across with only about two hundred inhabitants. And yet, as the island’s eponymous knitwear label proves, it doesn’t take much (or many) to craft world class sweaters. It just takes the right people with the skills and the taste level.
The knitwear tradition of Inis Meáin dates back centuries, to a time when the island’s small yet mighty fishing community had no other option but to be entirely self-sufficient. The sweaters that these fishermen wore, with their cabled patterns, tight knits, and dense weaves were crafted in response to the blustery conditions out on the Atlantic Ocean. The fact that sweaters could be viewed as “stylish” probably never crossed the minds of the fishermen (nor their wives who were the ones that were likely doing the actual knitting) they were simply concerned with being warm on the sea.
The aesthetic merits of these Aran sweater were certainly not lost on Tarlach de Blacam, the founder of Inis Meáin Knitting Co. though. Blacam had arrived on the island in the early seventies, just as the Aran’s were beginning to experience a wave of technological and economical developments. He had originally intended to work as a writer on the island, but with the recent installation of running water and electricity, Blacam saw the opportunity to convert the cottage knitwear industry into a full fledged business.
In 1976, Blacam founded Inis Meáin, hiring the offspring of the island’s legendary weavers to come work in his freshly minted factory. The brand’s reputation grew off the island, which helped to bolster the economy on the island, and to this day, the Inis Meáin Knitting Co. has been integral to keeping the Aran knitting tradition alive.
Inis Meáin knits are widely regarded as being some of the finest in the world, and their list of stores ranges from household names like Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman down to independent shops such as Carson Street Clothiers and Freemans Sporting Club. As fisherman style knits have become increasingly popular over the past few years, Inis Meáin’s authentic yet progressive designs have leveraged the brand alongside some of the largest labels in the world. Not bad for an island that’s barely even a speck on the map. -JG