The Great Blasket (Irish: An Blascaod Mór) is the principal island of the Blaskets, County Kerry, Ireland. It was home to a small fishing community of Irish speakers until the island was abandoned in 1954 when living there became unsustainable.

Great Blasket
Native name:
An Blascaod Mór
Great Blasket Island
Great Blasket is located in island of Ireland
Great Blasket
Great Blasket
LocationAtlantic Ocean
Coordinates52°05′33″N 10°32′33″W / 52.09250°N 10.54250°W / 52.09250; -10.54250
ArchipelagoBlasket Islands
Major islandsGreat Blasket Island, Beginish, Inishnabro, Inishvickillane, Inishtooskert, Tearaght Island
Area1,124 acres (455 ha)[1]
Highest elevation346 m (1135 ft)
Highest pointAn Cró Mór
Population0 (2016)
Pop. density0/km2 (0/sq mi)
Additional information
inhabited until 1954

Geography edit

Grey seal colony on Great Blasket

The island lies approximately two kilometres from the mainland at Dunmore Head, and extends six kilometres to the southwest, rising to 346 m (1,135 ft) at its highest point (An Cró Mór). The nearest mainland town is Dunquin; a ferry to the island operates from a nearby pier during summer months.

Garraun Point at 52°06′16″N 10°30′27″W / 52.1045°N 10.5074°W / 52.1045; -10.5074 has been incorrectly cited as being the most westerly point of the Irish mainland,[2] but this is Dunmore Head. At longitude 10° 39.7', Tearaght Island is the westernmost of the Blaskets, and thus the most westerly point of the republic of Ireland.

History edit

The Great Blasket has been inhabited on and off for centuries. The earliest known reference to people living on the island was at the start of the 1700s.[3] A Ferriter castle once stood at Rinn an Chaisleáin. In the 1840s it was estimated that a population of about 150 people were living on the island. It was the most westerly settlement in Ireland, with islanders mostly living in primitive cottages perched on the relatively sheltered north-east shore. They subsisted mainly on fish, supplementing their diet with potato, oats, hunting rabbits and the eggs of birds who nested on the island; due to lack of wood they had to use heather, peat and turf as fuel.

Around 1909 and 1910, the Congested Districts Board built five properties to improve the housing stock on the island.[4] A two story guesthouse was built later.[5]

Island life was very tough and the draw of emigration was strong, ultimately becoming the death knell for the Island. During WWII shortages of sugar, soap, tea, paraffin, tobacco and flour/bread intensified this draw further.

Old village on Great Blasket

The weather was a present and constant hazard. In April 1947, the island was cut off from the mainland for weeks due to bad weather. The Islanders sent a telegram to the Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, urgently requesting supplies which duly arrived two days later by boat.

The island was inhabited until 1954 when the Irish government decided that it could no longer guarantee the safety of the remaining but rapidly declining population. In truth,[weasel words] the Islanders had been petitioning for relocation following the death of Seánín Ó Cearnaigh. Seán had become ill and as a result of poor weather, no doctor or priest could reach the island. Continued inclement weather prevented his body being taken to the consecrated graveyard across the Blasket Sound in Dunquin for a number of days. It was this tragic event that led the Islanders to realize there was no continued prospect of a viable community remaining on the island.

In 2009 the Office of Public Works bought most of the property on the island, including the deserted village, and the state is now the majority landowner. Guided tours of the island were launched in 2010 and plans are underway for the preservation and conservation of the old village. The home of Muiris Ó Súilleabháin is now in ruins but Peig Sayers' second home on the island has been restored. The home of Tomás Ó Criomhthain was also restored by the OPW in 2018 and is now free to visit by the public.[6]

An abandoned home on the island

In 2014 a company, The Great Blasket Island Experience, began renovation of the Congested Districts Board properties on the island as rental accommodation during the summer season. The company recruits two caretakers annually to manage the accommodation and café facilities where they live without electricity, hot water and other modern conveniences, similar to conditions the islanders endured.[7] This old world living experience has attracted significant media attention about the role[8] with tens of thousands of applications for the position in recent years.[9]

Demographics edit

The table below reports data on Great Blasket's population taken from Discover the Islands of Ireland (Alex Ritsema, Collins Press, 1999) and the Census of Ireland.

Historical population
2011 0−100.0%
2016 00.00%
Source: Central Statistics Office. "CNA17: Population by Off Shore Island, Sex and Year". Retrieved 12 October 2016.

Literature edit

The slipway to the island
Great Blasket from Dunmore Head

Considering the tiny population, the island has produced a remarkable number of gifted writers who brought vividly to life their harsh existence and who kept alive old Irish folk tales of the land. Best known are Machnamh Seanamhná (An Old Woman's Reflections, Peig Sayers, 1939), Fiche Bliain Ag Fás (Twenty Years A-Growing, Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, 1933), and An tOileánach (The Islandman, Tomás Ó Criomhthain, 1929). These are considered to be invaluable records of their harsh existence on the island and a treasure trove of old Irish folk tales of the land.

Ownership dispute edit

The hostel and café on the island were at the centre of a dispute between the Irish State, which wishes to make the island a national park, and an individual, who claims to own the greater part of the island.[10] The differences between the State and Blascaoid Mor Teoranta (BMT) were settled by an agreement made in August 2007; subject to the granting of planning permission, the deal meant that more than 95% of the island land, including the old village, would be sold to the State and become a de facto national park.

References edit

  1. ^ - Great Blasket
  2. ^ "Ireland - Geographical facts and figures". Travel through the Ireland story... Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  3. ^ "The Blasket Islands: History and Heritage". Retrieved 4 April 2022.
  4. ^ Moore, Kieron (6 January 1985). "The Blaskets". RTÉ Archives. Retrieved 27 July 2023.
  5. ^ "The Village|The Great Blasket Centre and Island". The Great Blasket Centre and Island. Retrieved 27 July 2023.
  6. ^ "Tomás Ó Criomthain's house on Blasket Islands opens following restoration". Government of Ireland. 6 June 2018. Retrieved 27 July 2023.
  7. ^ "Disconnect from modern life in this island cottage with only candles for light". 30 May 2019.
  8. ^ "Living the Blasket life". independent. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  9. ^ Slater, Sarah (20 January 2020). "Over 23,000 people apply for job on the Great Blasket Island". Retrieved 27 June 2021.
  10. ^ "Damages case by Blasket owners fails". independent. Retrieved 10 June 2022.

External links edit