Galway shawl avaSuch a traditional garment as the shawl is among the oldest pieces of clothing in the world. Basically, it’s a rectangular cloth wrapped around the shoulders for warmth. But it’s amazing how unique and authentic a shawl can be. The design, interwoven patterns, fringe, decorative border, and other adornments can tell a lot about the origin of a particular shawl and the country’s traditional culture. For example, the Galway shawl is sometimes called a velvet or fur shawl, although there is no velvet or fur in it.

The Galway shawl is a heavy-weight shawl that was traditionally worn by Irish women during the colder seasons. It gained popularity in the late 19th century and was still worn by a few older, more traditional Irish women until the 1950s. While lightweight shawls were worn all year round inside the house and outdoors, the Galway shawl was specifically used as winter wear and worn over a lightweight shawl.

In Ireland, women traditionally wore various types of lightweight shawls that were hand-knit, crocheted, or woven, and could be of solid color, plaid, print, or paisley. The Galway shawl, however, was woven on a hand jacquard loom in Paisley, Scotland, using a cotton warp and a weft of botany wool. These reversible shawls had a solid color center with a decorative, multicolored, wide border, and were fringed. Despite being referred to as a velvet or fur shawl due to its heavy milled finishing, the Galway shawl did not contain any velvet or fur.


Irish traditional Galway shawl
Irish woman wearing a Galway shawl. This is a cropped version of an image called “Catch of the Day”, Claddagh, Galway, Ireland, around 1905. Photo from


The shawls were produced by several factories, some of which fringed the shawls at the factory in Paisley, while others shipped them unfringed to the Galway Woollen Mills where the fringe was added. The shawls were expensive items and were considered “Sunday best” in Ireland. They were usually inherited or acquired for the bride-to-be upon marriage.

However, as years passed, the Galway shawl fell out of fashion and became associated with poverty and backwardness. The so-called “shawlies”, older women who continued to wear them, were seen as a symbol of this.

In recent years, the Galway shawl has experienced a renewed appreciation for its beauty. Maureen O'Hara's character in the film “The Quiet Man” wore a Galway shawl, which helped to revive interest in this traditional garment.


Irish traditional Galway shawl
Old photo of a woman wearing a Galway shawl in Galway, Ireland. Photo from

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