To the islanders of Inis Meáin, Tarlach de Blacam is not just a regular local on their small roster of 200 inhabitants. He is the kind of visionary who breathes life into the things he touches. His insight comes from a deep veneration for the way things were, for the true and the timeless, as well for the way things could be –- restored and refined.
As a student at Trinity College in Dublin, Tarlach was sent to the island of Inis Meáin on several study trips to learn Irish Gaelic. In 1972, he graduated in Celtic Languages from Trinity and went on to work in an academic institute called The Place Names Commission. After working there for a year, Tarlach decided that academia was not for him. In 1973, he married Áine Ní Chonghaile, an Inis Meáin native, while she was working as a teacher in Dublin. Together they decided to move to the Aran Islands to start a new life.
Initially planning to write, Tarlach soon became involved in numerous development projects to try and stem the tide of emigration and to build a living, self-sufficient community on the island. These projects included the installation of electricity and water and the provision of new harbor and airstrip facilities. In 1976, he founded Inis Meáin Knitting Co., formally launching in 1978. Establishing permanent employment for residents of Inis Meáin was essential for the sustainability of the island. Tarlach wanted to foster a community that would grow organically from its roots. Starting in a small factory with only six domestic knitting machines, Inis Meáin Knitting Co. employed mostly young islanders who had learned knitting skills from their parents. They were young people who were not prepared to work from home for the tourist industry. They were people who would have emigrated if the company was not there.
From the beginning, Tarlach was aware of the huge wealth of Aran tradition in knitting. The older knitters (mothers of employees) drew from the past to provide inspiration. Tarlach found new stitches, patterns and shapes that were all part of the Aran repertoire. After the first five to ten years, Tarlach found that to survive, they had to do a tremendous amount of research to develop new products for the international markets. They focused on high-quality, design-oriented knitwear in the finest materials available, investing in machinery and fancy yarns. Out of this has grown a company that is constantly producing new, individual pieces which are replaced or updated with more unique garments. The company specializes in doing very small runs of new styles, constantly evading the pull of mass production and offering an enormous variety of styles in a single season. They are incessantly (several times per day) setting up and taking down patterns on their machinery. And there is a huge amount of skilled hand sewing and finishing going on.
Tarlach de Blacam has grown a very modern company, using modern methods and employing a highly educated and trained workforce. They design, develop, craft, market and sell an extremely sophisticated product that can now be found in the best stores around the world. From Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman in New York to Drake’s and Grey Flannel in London, Isetan in Tokyo, and Hollington in Paris, the Inis Meáin Knitting Co. brand speaks of remarkable quality and luxury.