The Blasket Islands are a group of islands off the west coast of County Kerry a few kilometers from Dingle. No visit to Dingle would be complete without taking a day trip to the Blasket Islands. There is nobody living on the islands nowadays but they were inhabited until 1953 when the remaining inhabitants were evacuated. Many relocated on the mainland but many others emigrated to America where Blasket Islanders had gone for many years before. Their descendants can still be found in parts of the USA, notably Springfield Massachusetts.
The islanders spoke Irish as their main language – indeed very few could speak any English and they became the subject of various linguistic and cultural studies during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These studies encouraged some of the islanders to record some of the rich oral tradition of storytelling that existed and some of these works have become classics in the Irish language and well known and respected internationally in translation to numerous languages. The most famous of these writers are Tomas O Criomhthain who wrote An tOileanach (The Islandman), Peig Sayers who wrote “Peig” and Muiris O Suilleabhain (Maurice O’Sullivan) who wrote Fiche Blian ag Fas (Twenty Years A-Growing). These works portray the harsh reality of island life but also the humour and courage which the people used to overcome tragedy.
The Blasket Islands are sometimes called Next Parish America because they are the most westerly point of Ireland with nothing but the Atlantic Ocean between them and America.
The main islands of the Blaskets are:
The Great Blasket Island which is the largest and contained most of the population, Beginish, Inishnabro, Inishvickillane and Inishtuaisceart.
In more recent times, Inishvickillane was owned by Irish Prime Minister Charles J. Haughey who used it as a holiday home.
The population of the Great Blasket was only 176 at its peak and it is amazing that so small a population could produce such a volume of literary work, tradition and folklore. Undoubtedly the life of constant hardship, isolation, danger and the daily struggle against the elements gave rise to a rich pool of song and stories which were told and retold daily and handed down from generation to generation.
Sadly, life on the island which was sustained by fishing, growing of potatoes and a few crops and keeping a few sheep became too difficult and the islands are now a monument to a tough hardy people who no longer exist as a community.
Today visitors to the islands can experience for themselves the beauty of the place, see the ruins of the houses where these people lived and feel the echoes of the past.
The Great Blasket Island is a hillwalker’s paradise with many interesting sights including An Tra Ban (White Strand), Seal Cove where you can find a large colony of Grey Seals and you can enjoy excellent views over the other islands of the archipelago. At the southern end of the Great Blasket you can see Common and Bottlenose Dolphins, Porpoises and Minke Whales, and occasionally Basking Sharks feeding around the rocks.
Birdwatchers can see Gannets and Choughs and you might even catch a glimpse of a White-tailed Eagle which has been re-introduced to Kerry recently.
There are a number of ferry boats available from various locations including Dingle and Dunquin. Visitors wishing to go to the Blasket Islands can find Hotel and Bed and Breakfast Accommodation at Stay in Kerry website.