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7 surprising facts about wool in Ireland

2 min read

7 surprising facts about wool in Ireland

2 min read


7 surprising facts about wool in Ireland

Tucked away in a few remaining corners of Ireland lies a centuries-old tradition as rich and enduring as our landscapes: the art of Irish wool.

Ireland’s wool industry has woven a tapestry of history, culture, and craftsmanship that has seen us through many an era, and if you’ve ever pulled on a cozy Aran sweater on a frosty autumn day or cuddled up with a cuppa beneath a woolly blanket still warm from the hot press, you’ll know what we mean.

As we look forward to seeing all of your creative contributions to our Wall of Wool at this year’s National Ploughing Championships, join as us we explore a few facts from the fascinating world of Irish wool, uncovering the enduring legacy it has left on both the fashion industry and the very heart of Irish heritage.

Wool is a super fibre

Did you know that Irish wool is naturally anti-bacterial, hypo-allergenic, and temperature regulating, as well as being 100% sustainable, renewable, and even compostable?

There used to be a woollen mill in every county in Ireland

Even during the Famine, wool working skills which had been passed down from generation to generation were seen in cutomised styles, weaving patterns, and creative designs that gave owners of blankets, shawls, jumpers, socks, and scarves a sense of pride and place. These days, only a handful of mills remain.

Today, Ireland’s sheep farmers sell more meat than wool

Changes to economies and global demand and the rise of fast fashion have all had parts to play in the slowing of the Irish wool industry. Now, it’s often cited that it’s more expensive for farmers to shear sheep than it is to sell the wool, leading to a decline not just of the industry but in the traditional heritage craft and creativity that was for so long central to Irish identity.



It can be used to insulate homes

Wool provides an environmentally friendly alternative to standard insulation, which most often consists of fibreglass, cellulose or cork wood. In fact, demand for wool in construction could outstrip demand for wool in the garment industry, sparking a revival of sorts in wool production in Ireland.

Aran jumpers were renowned for a reason

The famous Aran jumper (Geansaí Árann) of the Aran Islands off Galway were originally made with wool that had not been scoured of its natural lanolin, a type of oil produced by the sheep that made the jumpers themselves water-resistant. This wool’s fame subsequently led to the official recognition of the native Irish sheep that produced it, dubbed “The Galway”.

A theatrical production may have given rise to a rather macabre myth about Aran jumpers

​​John Millington Synge’s 1904 play Riders to the Sea included a depiction of a dead islander who was identified only by his knitted socks. It’s thought that this led to the often repeated myth that the designs on Aran jumpers were intended to help identify bodies of fishermen who had drowned in Irish waters. There is, however, no reference to Aran jumpers in the play.


Celebrities have been seen in Irish wool

Ever since The Clancy Brothers introduced television audiences to the Aran jumper whilst performing on the Ed Sullivan Show, celebrities from Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen to Gwyneth Paltrow, Rob Patterson and more have all been photographed in the iconic sweater.

The national Wall Of Wool Challenge

With wool playing such an important role in Irish culture, creativity and identity over the years, we, along with our partners Wool in School, have set up a very special challenge for the public this year at the National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, County Laois, and we need your help!

Join us inside the Government of Ireland’s Culture, Creativity, Innovation, and Sport tent at Block 3, Row 23, where you can take part in a quick knit challenge designed to connect you to this deep-rooted creative tradition and have your skills showcased as part of our mega Wall of Wool.

Whether you’re a beginner or a dab hand with a crochet hook, your input matters. See you there!

Thanks to Wool in School, Galway Wool, Ciaran’s Yarns, Donegal Yarns and Ériu Ireland.

Read more about the #WallOfWool Challenge at the Ploughing here.

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