The Blasket Islands
The Blasket Islands are a group of islands off the coast of West Kerry. These islands comprise of The Great Blasket Island (An Blascaod Mór), Beginish (Beiginis), Inishnabro (Inis na Bró), Inishvickillane (Inis Mhic Uileáin), Inishtooskert (Inis Tuaisceart), and Tearaght Island (An Tiaracht).
The Great Blasket Island, at the most westerly point in Europe is separated from the mainland by the Blasket Sound, and is the largest of the islands. Inishtooskert, Inishnabro, Inishvickillane and Tearaght Island are located to the West and South West of the Great Blasket, and, as with the main island, rise steeply from the sea.
The islands, in particular the Great Blasket, are renowned for their wild ruggedness and beauty. The Great Blasket was inhabited by the islanders until 1953, by which time issues such as a decline in their population and their only source of fuel (turf) becoming scarce necessitated their departure. Aided by Government grants, the last inhabitants of the island were settled on the mainland, mostly in the parish of Dunquin. From their new home, the islanders could still look across the hauntingly beautiful Blasket Sound towards the Great Island that held so many memories for them.
The people of the island did however leave behind an impressive legacy- critically and historically acclaimed literature. Encouraged by visiting scholars, including Carl Marstrander, George Thompson, Brian O'Kelly and Robin Flower, some of the islanders dictated or wrote their stories down, and from these came great works.See pages on Island residents :Tomás Ó Criomhthain who was the first of the islanders to do so, Muiris Ó Súilleabháín& The story-teller (seanachaí) Peig Sayers.
If you do wish to visit the Island for a couple of hours, boats run from Dunquin harbour in fine weather, these boats are operated by knowledgeable and experienced boatmen. Experienced boatmen also operate from Dingle and Ventry harbour to the islands. An Eco tour incorporating a visit to the Great Blasket Island as well as a trip around the rest of the Islands, is a must!
The King’s house is a popular destination for visitors to the island. It is the house in which Synge, Marstrander and Flower stayed. The title of King was common in the social structure of some of the islands off the west coast of Ireland. The king’s role was that of local community leader but from the turn of the century the main role was that of Island postman. Pádraig Ó Catháin was king on the Great Blasket and postman from about 1907. His son Seán an Rí was postman from 1928 to 1934. All that remains of the King's house is a single bedroom.
On your visit to the Great Blasket you can enjoy a spectacular walk around the island, explore the abandoned village or simply relax on the beautiful sandy beach known as An Trá Bhán (The White Strand). Some of the Spanish Armada of 1588 anchored off the White Strand. The ship Santa Maria de la Rosa pulled anchor, and was wrecked in the Blasket Sound. According to the account of one Spanish captain, water was sourced on the Great Blasket before setting off for Spain. A memorial by the renowned sculptor Cliodna Cussen stands on the cliffs in Dunquin, overlooking the site.
There are a myriad of fine walking trails for all levels of hiker. For those who desire nothing more challenging then a leisurely stroll there are well defined green roads that lead up the North side and return on the South side of the Island. These paths offer phenomenal views of the surrounding islands.
For the more eager walker, the length of the Great Blasket Island makes for a wonderful experience. Sturdy walking boots, a mobile phone and rain gear are however, an absolute necessity. This hike consists of seven miles (round trip) of green roads, mountain side, and bog. On this walk you will come to the ring fort (The Dún) a small ring fort believed to be from the Iron Age. Further west you will reach the peak of “An Cró Mór” (translating as “Sheep Pen”, anglicised as Croaghmore), which at 961ft is the highest point of the island, affording the most spectacular views in all directions.
The Tower, like many of its type, was built by the British Government as a lookout for Napoleon Bonaparte and his navy and the perceived threat that he would invade Ireland as a means to attack the British Crown. It was the highest building on the island, and was destroyed by lightning in the 1930’s. The tower is thought to have been operational until 1815 or so, as the Napoleonic threat receded around that date. It is unknown how many soldiers and signalmen were stationed in the tower at any one time due to the comings and goings to this exposed site.
Na Clocháin Gheala, are mounds of stone, known as ‘The Bright Beehives’, whose original size and design is impossible to distinguish. They are scattered on a plain behind the Cró, the highest point on the island which stretches for half a mile. Because the clocháin are at the opposite end of the island to the pier and the village, few people get to see them.
The site commands outstanding views of the surrounding seas and islands. Tomás Ó Criomhthain, in his book “Dinnsheannchas na mBlascaod” states there are many works around these beehives. The origin of these beehives is uncertain. Some people say holy men, others say the Vikings.
The Children’s Graveyard overlooks the White Strand. This is the last resting place of un-baptised island children who died in infancy. This area is the reputed site of a stronghold of the local chieftain, Piaras Feiritéar, who had control over the Blasket islands. He is said to have taken refuge on the Great Blasket during times of peril.
Although there is evidence of prehistoric dwellings in the exposed western parts of the island, the historical village was built on the side of the island facing the mainland. The little houses huddle against the hillside for shelter, with their gable walls facing the sea.
The new harbour was built by the Congested Districts Board between 1909 and 1911, before the building of the five ‘new’ houses, one of which Peig moved into in 1911. Very little work has been done on the harbour since. This harbour was once a busy scene where fishermen landed with their catch and boats left for the mainland to buy essential supplies. All supplies had to be transferred from the mainland to the Island by boat, and in the days when the only means of transport was a canvas covered curragh or naomhóg, the islanders were sometimes marooned for weeks at a time, especially in the stormy winter months.
“An Dáil”, was located beside the main village well. It served as a meeting place for the Islanders. This house was a popular venue for music, singing, dancing and story-telling at night.
The Post Office opened in 1941. The Island Post Office was the vital contact with the outside world in the declining years of the Island. A radio telephone link was in operation in the Post Office from 1941 to 1953. This meant that the islanders could contact the Post Office on the mainland parish of Dunquin in times of emergencies and send telegrams.
The Protestant School was built in 1839 as a result of the conversion of some Island families to Protestantism but was derelict by 1880. This building in time became a weaver’s shed in which Eoghan Bán Ó Conchúir worked. According to the 1911 census there were no Protestants left on the Island.
The National School was built in the year 1864 in the centre of the village. Up to 60 children attended the two teacher Blasket School at its peak. The declining population (as a result of emigration), meant that only six pupils remained at the school when it finally closed in 1941. The school-house also served as a church, where Mass was said by visiting priests in the summer months and where the Rosary was recited by the islanders in the evenings.
The Blasket Island Centre (Ionad an Blascaoid), celebrates the stories of the Blasket islanders, the unique literary achievements of the island writers and their native language, culture and tradition. The Blasket Centre facilities include a video presentation, exhibition, research room, car/coach parking, restaurant, conference facilities, and bookshop. For more information, please click on this link to the Blasket Centre.