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Museum of Country Life : Temporary Exhibitions Last Updated: 2, Apr 2018 - 10:02

Romantic Stitches and Realist Sketches
By Bernie Byron
16, Feb 2008 - 09:43

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Romantic Stitches and Realist Sketches

An exhibition of knitwear and drawings at the National Museum of Ireland

An exciting new exhibition of knitwear and drawings will open at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life, Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo in April.

The Museum exhibition will show a range of early 20th Century Aran knitwear and a series of drawings by Seán Keating RHA which was used to illustrate an early marketing brochure developed by businessman, Pádraig Ó Síocháin in the 1960s & 1970s to promote Aran knitwear worldwide. The exhibition focuses on the unique marketing story of the Aran knitwear as well as highlighting some of the traditions associated with the stitches.

They were made in their thousands and exported and sold all over the world as a symbol of Ireland and a product of traditional folk art. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem adopted them as their stage outfit and spread their fame wherever they went. The Aran jumper, the Aran sweater, the Aran gansey or geansaí were the names by which it was known from Kilronan to Dublin and from New York to Tokyo. The beginning of the story of Aran knitwear remains as elusive today as it ever was and while many have tried to unravel its secret we can still only speculate on how it all developed and became so famous.

The main players were the knitters themselves who lived not just on the Aran Islands, but in many other places especially along the west coast. They were almost exclusively the women of the house and they plied their trade for the few shillings which the knitting of each jumper gave them. They worked for the small merchants who sold the garments locally and also for the bigger businesses which helped develop the industry to one which achieved worldwide appeal.

Two of the main players from the business end of things were the late Muriel Gahan, a multi talented lady, who ran the Country Shop on St. Stephen's Green, Dublin from the early 1930s to the late 1970s. She encouraged the knitters by recognising their talent and skill. She persuaded them to continue to add new stitches and produce a unique product which had both aesthetic appeal, and also comfort and style. A second important player was the lawyer turned businessman, Pádraig Ó Síocháin. Through his company, Galway Bay Products, he gave the knitters a ready outlet for their product in the 1960s and 1970s and built up a customer base in Europe and the United States.

Today's fashion designers are still finding influence in the Aran stitches from the internationally known Jean Paul Gaultier to our own Lainey Keogh and Joanne Hynes.

Admission to the exhibition is free. Opening times: Tues-Sat: 10am – 5pm; Sun: 2-5pm. Closed Mondays (incl. Bank Holidays).




This award-winning Museum is home to the National Folklife collection which represents traditional life in Ireland throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Fascinating artefacts deal with domestic life, agriculture, fishing and hunting, clothing and textiles, furniture and fittings, trades and crafts, transport, sports and leisure and religion. Set in the spectacular grounds of Turlough Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo the Museum treats visitors to a taste of how our ancestors lived their daily lives, in both difficult and joyful times. Admission to the Museum is free. Guided tours available.


The Museum runs programmes for adults, families and schools to raise awareness of the Museum collection and the associated traditional crafts, customs and traditions. The programmes consist of talks, demonstrations and performances as well as hands-on art and craft workshops. Admission to events is free but booking is required as places are limited.


Located eight km east of Castlebar (on the N5), the Museum’s facilities include free parking, shop and café, audio-visual room and activity and resource rooms. All Museum buildings are wheelchair accessible.


Open year round, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am – 5pm; Sunday, 2pm – 5pm. Closed Mondays (incl. Bank Holidays).

Museum Shop and Café extended opening each Sunday from 12pm.

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