Truckload of Aran knitwear leaves Ireland for Belarus

Fruits of of Inis Oírr’s year-long charity ‘knitathon’ are bound for Minsk orphanage

A group of 39 children from Chernobyl have arrived at Dublin Airport with Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children International group to spend the Christmas holidays in Ireland, thirty years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Video: Bryan O'Brien


Aran knitwear has graced the catwalks of Milan, Paris and New York but a very special truckload is making its way this week to an orphanage just outside Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

For almost a year, residents of the smallest of the Aran Islands, from aged 90 right down to the four-year-old girls and boys of Inis Oírr’s naíonra, or kindergarten, have taken out their bioráin cniotála (knitting needles) to knit scarves, gloves, sweaters, hats and socks for the charity initiative.

Last week the final stitch was made and the needles were put down. Some 400 items were laid out like a large multicoloured tapestry for people to admire at Scoil Náisiúnta Chaomháin .

They were delivered to the Monastery, Ennistymon last Sunday where Brother Liam O’Meara, a stalwart of the “Burren for Belarus” project which helps young victims of the Chernobyl disaster, had arranged to transport them across Europe to the orphanage.

The aim is to have the children wearing a little piece of Inis Oírr on Christmas Day. The clothing serves a real need in a city where temperatures can drop to minus 20 degrees.

Clicking needles

The “Inis Oírr for Belarus” project was the idea of the island’s public health nurse, Bairbre Uí­ Chualáin. “My sister in law, Elizabeth Feeney, is involved in charity work for Brother Liam. I had seen and admired the work,” she says.

“My own work puts me in touch with most of the people on Inis Oírr so I suggested to them on each call: why not knit garments for the orphans?”

There was a 90 per cent take-up, according to Bairbre. Instead of relaxing in front of the sitting room TV after tea, balls of wool were thrown on the floor and the clatter of clicking needles began filling the island’s homesteads.

Among those taking part were knitters of serious pedigree: the women of Comhar na nAosach (the association of seniors). All the schools on the island joined the effort too as did the pre-school. The children got to know how to do the plain stitch while their tutors or parents looked after the purl and the crossover.