“I sat down on the bank above the beach where I had a splendid view all around me. Dead indeed is the heart from which the balmy air of the sea cannot banish sorrow and grief”
Peig Sayers, author and Irish storyteller of the Blasket Islands (1873-1958)
History of the Islands
The Great Blasket Island, one of the largest in the island chain, was inhabited until 1953 when there were just 22 people still calling this harsh environment their home. The population varied on the islands from one hundred and fifty in 1840 to a peak in 1916 of one hundred and seventy-six. It declined over the next several decades due to famine and the fact that the younger islanders were lured away by emigration opportunities. Many of the last residents found their way to the United States in the Hungry Hill area of Springfield, Massachusetts after the final exodus in 1953.
While the islands offers a beautiful surrounding, life was still very hard for these residents. They lived a simple life typically in a small one-roomed home made up of a large kitchen area where many of the social activities like playing music and dancing would occur. Since there was no shop on the island, goods would need to be purchased from the mainland 3 miles across the water and another 5 miles into town.
It is interesting to note that although the population on the Blasket Islands never exceeded 176, there are over 50 literary works attributed to those islanders who once called this place home. It seems the rugged Irish Islands and natural settings inspired many of its inhabitants of the day. One of the most famous writers was Peig Sayers, who through a translation by her son, produced a work describing a scene of island life over the many years she lived on the Great Blasket Island. Three of Ireland’s most famous authors are said to have roots in the Great Blasket. Pretty amazing!
Tomás Ó Criomhthain was another of the islanders to produce famous works of the island life. His most noted work “The Islandman” was published in 1929. Originally in his native tongue, it has since been translated to English as well. A quote from his book “The Islandman” can be found on his headstone: “Ní bheidh ar léithéidí arís ann” – translated it means “Our likes will never be seen again”. I imagine there is not a truer statement.
How to get there
The Blasket Islands are located just off the west coast of Kerry in Ireland. While they are no longer inhabited, they provide a wonderful day trip when visiting the Dingle Peninsula. There are a few ferry companies that provide transport to the island: The Blasket Island Ferry and Dingle Bay Charters are two of the main providers.
During your trip you can hike the many trails around the island, including a 7 mile round trip hike covering almost the entire island. While on the hike you can see the abandoned village, amazing birds and other wildlife, prehistoric remains of some of the islands early inhabitants, or you can just hang out on the sandy beach where the young boys who lived on the island once played Gaelic football.
Before heading out to the islands, make a visit to the Blasket Island Centre. The not-to-be-missed visit provides a great history and insight into what life was like for the Blasket Islanders. Their story is told through beautiful exhibits, interactive displays, and a audio visual presentation called “Blasket Heritage”.
The Great Blasket Island is a great addition to your itinerary while touring around Ireland. While we did not get to actually visit the island because there was bad weather, the Great Blasket Centre provided a beautiful glimpse into life on the islands. It is at the top of our list when we return to Dingle!
As part of our Failte Ireland tour, we were provided a free visit to the Blasket Island Centre and thank them for their hospitality during our time there.