Letter: Fishy story about the Aran sweater

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The Independent Online
Sir: I have no wish to damage the Irish nostalgia industry, but I would like to draw your attention to new evidence that casts doubt on the historical accuracy of Alan Murdoch's assertion ('Family skill survives hi-tech knitting age', 7 September) that individualised Aran sweater designs have enabled West of Ireland families 'down the centuries' to identify a fisherman's body after it has been at sea for a long time. In fact, the 'tradition' of Aran knitting goes back no further than the beginning of this century, and like it or not, it appears that it is a 'tradition' that was imported from the United States, ironically now one of the main export destinations of the Aran.

Extensive research by Manchester-based textile designer and lecturer Rohanna Darlington uncovered this unexpected provenance of the Aran, and perhaps it is understandable that the Irish have not chosen to broadcast her less than romantic findings.

Ms Darlington discovered that in 1906 two Aran islanders, Margaret Dirrane and Maggie O'Toole, visited some islands near Boston, Massachusetts, where they met a woman who taught them the stitches characteristic of the Aran. The nationality of the woman isn't known, but Ms Darlington makes a guess that, in an area absorbing large numbers of European immigrants, she could have been from central Europe, or even Scandinavia, since the knitting patterns in those areas are similar to those of the Aran.

In 1908, the two women returned to the Aran islands where they shared their newly acquired knitting techniques with their neighbours. It was only then that certain 'traditions' of individualised family patterns began to evolve.

Yours faithfully,

LIZ McCALLUM

Didsbury, Manchester

8 September

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