When tourists visit the spectacular Aran Islands - located just off the coast of Galway - they usually travel to Inishmore, the largest of the three.
Inishmann (Inis Meain in Irish) - the nearby middle island - is much less frequented by the camera toting hordes, and its relative isolation has helped it remain a stronghold of traditional Irish culture.
Predominantly Irish speaking, the island nowadays has a population of about 200. It’s where JM Synge came to spend the five of the most transformative summers of his life, inspiring some of the greatest plays in the Irish canon.
The residents, he wrote, are constantly battling thunderous storms and crashing waves yet their manner and the daily life of the island is notably tranquil.
Nowadays the island is most frequently associated with the luxury Irish knitwear business that also bears the islands name, Inis Meain.
When visionary Inis Meain manager Tarlach de Blacam took over the local co-op knitwear company in the 1980s he quickly introduced new machinery that worked seamlessly with local knitting expertise.
Then he substituted local yarns with high quality imported wool, favoring Italian cashmere and South American baby alpaca. Crucially he also modernized Inis Meain’s business practices and made the international contacts that transformed the homespun co-op into the luxury knitwear brand with a global cult following that it now is.
Go into one of the top menswear stores in New York City or San Francisco (the brand is sold coast to coast) this week and pick up an Inis Meain sweater, hat or scarf and be astonished by its sheer quality. But buy one and it’ll quickly become the most prized - and worn - item in your wardrobe.
Marketed first as Irish heritage wear, there is no question that the legacy and handiwork of the island can be seen and felt in each offering. But under de Blacam’s guidance Inis Meain has also paid close attention to contemporary design, creating knitwear that combines tradition with a metropolitan silhouette.
The are not the boxy old Arans that you can pick up in the swollen mills, in other words. Instead they are painstakingly crafted, luxury knitwear that combines centuries of Irish tradition with contemporary styling. No other company in Ireland combines the two approaches so masterfully - making their brand sought after by a growing and international base of discerning admirers.
It’s high time that the world knew what the top tier fashion houses in Europe, America and Asia have known for years - Inis Meain is the finest heritage knitwear company in the world. Being Irish, they refuse to make a fuss about it, but thankfully their admirers have less scruples.
If you’re looking for the perfect holiday gift that combines quality, beauty and luxury at an affordable price with genuine Irish tradition and heritage then Inis Meain will be your only stop.