On the most western point of the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland and Europe, are The Blasket Islands (Na Blascaodaí). This stunning archipelago of islands are renowned for their magnificent beauty and rugged wildness; literary heritage of the Great Blasket, An Blascaod Mór; magical marine life – seals, whales and dolphins; puffins and array of sea birds; the “Cathedral Rocks” of Inis na Bró; the most westerly lighthouse of Ireland – An Tiaracht; and our famous “Sleeping Giant”, An Fear Marbh (Inis Tuaisceart).
Great Blasket is the main island of this archipelago, which is part of County Kerry. While only about three miles off the coast at its closest point, it is often shrouded in fog – an island apparition set in the Celtic Sea.
The Islands are now uninhabited, but there were residents living and working on Great Blasket until the middle of the 20th century. People are recorded to have been living on the Blaskets in 1597 but the population ebbed and flowed. About 150 people lived there in 1840, but after An Gorta Mór that had decreased to 100. The population is said to have reached a peak of 176 in 1916. Sadly, the once vibrant Blasket Island community declined as a result of the persistent emigration of its young people, until eventually the Island was abandoned in 1953 when only 22 inhabitants remained.
The way of life on these remote Atlantic islands has been documented by the islanders who dictated or wrote their stories down, and from these came three great works: the autobiography of the story-teller Peig Sayers, which became a set text in Irish schools; The Islandman by Tomás Ó Criomhthain, whose elegant, dry memoir was a lament for a passing way of life; and Twenty Years A-Growing by Muiris Ó Súilleabháín, who wrote about what it was like to leave the island forever.
The story of the Blasket Islands and its people are presented at the Ionad an Bhlascaoid, the Blasket Centre in Dún Chaoin (Dunquin).
During the summer months it is possible to visit the Great Blasket Island by boat. Journey back in time to see the reality of how the islanders lived and appreciate the unique isolation and beauty of the Great Blasket. As you travel across the Blasket Sound and see the deserted village above you, you will feel the draw of a people who have become known worldwide. The books which they penned have been translated into many languages and have been read by people from every walk of life. Watch the seals during your crossing as you will probably get to meet a seal or two, and be under no illusion they are also gazing at you! It is believed by many that people’s souls live on in the seals.
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