There are three Aran islands in the mouth of Galway Bay and Inishmaan sits southeast of Inishmore and northwest of Inisheer. Dubliner Mr Tarlach de Blácam was in his twenties when, in 1973, he and his wife, Ms Áine Ní Chonghaile, moved to Inishmaan. They loved life on the island, despite its rigours, but were initially unclear about how they would make a living. Clarity came in the form of the knitwear brand they founded together – Inis Meáin, a variation on the island’s name – which is now in demand from Mayfair to Munich, and from Texas to Tokyo.
The island’s women had been hand-knitting at home for centuries, and made classic Aran sweaters for tourist shops on Ireland’s west coast. Mr de Blácam wasn’t particularly excited about the sweaters, which he describes as “bog standard”, but he was interested in the possibilites a viable knitwear business could offer young islanders, many of whom were leaving to pursue opportunities on the Irish mainland. It was quickly clear to him that he needed to drive up the quality, which is why, he remembers, “we brought in knitwear designers and technicians to help us with the latest machinery”.