Where To Shop In Ireland For The Best Sweaters And Wool Products

A professional buyer’s tips on two shops in Ireland, one famous and one less known, that offer the best buys for smart shoppers

By Monica O’Brien

If you want to find great wool goods in Ireland, I recommend two great sources. One is a world-famous producers visited by tourist buses galore, while the other is a lesser-known shop with a unique approach to sweaters.

On the many shopping tours I’ve lead in Ireland, I’ve found my two favorite places to buy Irish wool products are Blarney Woolen Mills, which has several retail locations, and Aran Sweaters, in Killarney.

Blarney Woolen Mills , which has several retail outlets around Ireland, has a big reputation. Happily, it’s well deserved. On the annual shopping tours I lead in Ireland, I always make a bee line to their large store in Blarney after arriving at Shannon. It has the biggest selection of any of their five stores. Then, before getting on the plane back home, I often visit their smaller shop in Bunratty, to get some last-minute gifts for aunts, uncles and other assorted relatives.

Even in Ireland’s current high-priced environment, Blarney Mills offers some great deals on both new and old Irish designs. I’m often puzzled by why some items are on sale, as they seem like the best pieces to me. Many Irish people come in to buy fine business suits, some of which have fairly trendy designs. But Americans, who generally favor more traditional pieces, also find plenty to suit their taste. And even if you’re not in the market for clothing, you can find all sorts of nice runners for your table and other fine linens.

Another real pleasure for the weary traveler at Blarney Mills is Christie’s Restaurant (at the Blarney location), where you can get very good scones in the morning, or a pint of Guinness in the afternoon. If it’s not raining, I like to sit in the courtyard and refuel with a tasty snack.

Aran Sweater Market , on College Square in Killarney, is a lesser-known gem. But it’s the ultimate source if you want to shop for a fine Aran sweater and learn the fascinating history of these garments.

The market has a full wall covered with the various “Family Weave” sweaters from the Aran Islands. Years ago, each island family developed their own distinct weave. When a fisherman was drowned, his sweater would often be the only thing washed up on shore. The weave would tell a family that their loved one had been lost. Aran Sweater Market has done an extensive research project on the diverse family weaves, and has them all displayed in the familiar off white “ecrue” color. If you visit the Aran Islands, you’ll find a small museum on Inishmore, which also has a good exhibit on the history of family sweater weaves. Aran Sweater Market also has a wide variety of more recent designs. My own favorite is a contemporary weave called “Eye of Ireland.”

How to Be a Smart Sweater Buyer

Both shops offer three basic types of sweaters – machine-made, handloom and handmade. You can get a nice machine-made sweater for about 60 Euro. Machine-made garments are consistent – which means the size and arm length is the same on every one. Hand loom sweaters are still fairly consistent, but generally have a looser weave. The expensive handmade sweaters vary greatly, depending on the person who’s made them. If he or she has a tighter hand, the weave will be tight. If you’re buying for a tall person, handmade is the best, because the arms on them tend to be longer.

Blarney Woolen Mills has shops in Blarney, Bunratty, Dublin, Killarney and Tipperary. For further info, visit www.blarney.com or call 011 353 21 451 6111.

Aran Sweater Market has one store, on College Square in Killarney. There is no website, but they can be reached at 011 353 643 9756.

Monica O’Brien runs O’Brien’s Irish Cottage, a fine Irish gift shop in Sterling Heights, Michigan (www.obriensirishcottage.com) with her husband Patrick. She leads 30 – 35 person shopping tours to Ireland every year.