Monday 30 September 2019

A weaving and spinning family on Árainn in 1946

Spinners and weavers on the Aran Islands.

Old newspaper article from 1946 by Malachy Hynes

When Malachy Hynes visited the islands in 1946, he was greatly impressed with the weaving and spinning skills of the Gillan family.

Here is the article he wrote and we have added photos from different sources of the brothers Seán, Seoirse and Josie Gillan, working at their looms.


Probably nowhere in Ireland do homespuns more personify the character of the spinners, as in Aran. They’re hardy, those Aran homespuns- they have to be. Ask weaver Seoirse Gillan of Oatquarter, Inishmore or his brother Seosamh over in Kilronan.
Weaver Seoirse Gillan, working at his loom

Yes, stony Aran's homespuns are tough. But so is the life there, yet you will find spots of rich colour alleviating the background everywhere, just as you will in the warp and weft of Aran life itself.

The apparel proclaims the Man of Aran. His clothing is chiefly functional; an able farmer, he has to keep warm somehow.

One day, over in Inishmaan I weighed a complete Man of Aran rig- no one is so sissified there as to wear such a thing as an overcoat- and the scales said, eleven pounds two ounces, the underpants alone weighed well over two pounds.

With the exception, of 1919, when he was employed by the Gaelic League in Dublin, Seoirse wove out all his destiny in Aran as did all the weaving Ó Giolláins since the ancestral exodus from Leitrim. His other brother Seán, also of Oatquarter, used to be a weaver too, though he no longer practices the art, his wife Mairead, is a spinning wheel expert, and all her nine children, have a hand at the trade.

Máire cards the wool and the rest help uncle Seoirse, even little Peadar, whose four year old smile would help out the most complicated situation. And complicated is any weaver's situation;

Every part of his human mechanism- hands, eyes, feet especially- are simultaneously involved in the most intricate procedure once that shuttle flies. 

For a weaver is a composite of a mathematician, a tap dancer and a handball champion and he must have a pair of eyes like a black market detective to keep track of what he is trying to do with all those criss-crossing threads on his loom.

Aran weaver, Seán Gillan

All the Ó Giolláins were hard at it on the day that myself and my extra eye called to shoot the homespun works, for an Aran marriage was about to be celebrated.
Josie Gillan of Cill Rónáin in a photo taken by the great Fr Browne.

From the sheep's back to the human's back, via the carding comb to the spinning wheel, to the bobbin wheel, to the warping frame, and finally, to the loom itself, is a long story---too long for this.

But it is a story that has two happy endings. One for the weaver in Aran, Connemara, Kerry or Donegal. The other for the weaver in Old London, England or New London, Connecticut; Paris,France, or Paris, Texas;

Anywhere and everywhere on the globe, where a bigger and better market for Irish homespuns is already looming.
                                                       (Malachy Hynes 1946)

Many readers will be familiar with the Aran writer, Bríd Gillan Dirrane who was a sister to the three weavers mentioned. 
Her 1998 autobiography, "Woman of Aran" brought her to fame when she was over a hundred years old. Bríd died at the great age of 109 on the last day of 2003.
Their sister, Bríd Gillan Dirrane, who lived to the age of 109

One of the Gillan brothers working at his loom.