The Blasket Islands are a small archipelago of seven islands off the western tip of Dingle Peninsula on the west coast of Ireland in County Kerry. They range in size from the single acre covering Beginish (Beiginis) to the thousand-plus acres of the Great Blasket (An Blascaod Mór). The seven islands are:
- The Great Blasket (An Blascaod Mór)
- Beginish (Beiginis)
- Inishnabro (Inis na Bró)
- Inishvickillane (Inis Mhic Uileáin)
- Inishtooskert (Inis Tuaisceart)
- Tearaght Island (An Tiaracht)
The Great Blasket
The largest island, the Great Blasket, is 3km long by 1km wide and was the last remaining island to be inhabited. In the early 1950s, the Irish government relocated the tiny remaining population to the mainland. Their eviction left behind hundreds of years of history.
The Blasket islanders were great storytellers and have made very important contributions to Irish literature. These were Irish -speaking people and the area was protected by the government in order to preserve the tradition.
Several well-known writers from the island are featured in the Blasket Centre at Dunquin, including Maurice O'Sullivan (Muiris O'Suilleabhain), Peig Sayers, and Thomas O'Cohen (Tomas O Criomhthain) . Once a part of the mainland, the Great Blasket was always an intrinsic part of the parish of Dun Chaoin, and locally is called "The Island" or the "Western Island". It was the only inhabited island.
The first people who lived there grew crops (potatoes, oats/rye), herded animals (sheep still can be seen grazing on the cliffs), and hunted (seabirds, swallows, and stonechats still roost). One hundred fifty people lived there in 1840. After the Great Famine (1878-79) and blight destroyed the potato crop, the number decreased to 100.
The total population peaked in 1916 at 175. As young people left the island, the government deemed it no longer practical for the people to remain there. It was difficult to eke out a living from fishing, and the sandy soil was poor for growing crops. Life on the island was a constant struggle, which was described in detail in the works of O'Sullivan, Sayers, and O'Cohen in their celebrated stories of the island. Read more about the Great Blasket Island.
Inishtooskert (Inis Tuaisceart), meaning "northern island", is indeed the most northerly isle in the archipelago. It has various nicknmaes, including An Fear Marbh, meaning "the dead man", "the sleeping giant", and "the bishop" -- all are due to its striking profile when viewed from the shore. The island has a sharp, imposing appearance, with steep, angular cliffs jutting from the sea. It is not very accessible to visitors, since there is no harbour or pier, and the monastic ruins on the island are quite modest. Inishtooskert is home to a protected colony of European storm-petrels which, numbering over 50,000, is one of the planet's largest.
Inishvickillane, (Inis Mhic Uileáin meaning Mac Uileáin's Island) is the southernmost of the islands, and is famed for its stunning rock scenery. Known locally as "The Inis", the island was inhabited on and off until the beginning of the 20th century. The 1901 census records a single house occupied on the island; by 1911, it was vacant. As with the other islands, Inishvickillane has some small, early-medieval ruins, including a small stone oratory. An Ogham stone was recorded as being found in the oratory in 1856, but it has since disappeared.
Connections with Ireland's Prime Minister
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Inishvickillane for present-day citizens is its connection with a former Toaiseach (Prime Minister of Ireland). In the 1970s, the island was purchased by former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, who built a house there and used it as a holiday home. The purchase of the island was later used by Mr. Haughey's political opponents to criticize his personal excesses. It was seen as one example of a lavish lifestyle -- one that was hardly supported by a Prime Minister's salary.
Inishnabro (Inis na Bró), meaning "island of the grind stone" is rapidly gaining a reputation for its unique rock formations. Known as the Cathedral Rocks, they resemble a sculpted Gothic basilica, yet they are a natural formation.
Meaning of the Word 'Blasket'
Part of the history of the Blasket Islands is that they were once referred to as Ferriter's Islands. No one knows for certain the origin of 'Blasket', but it has been credited as a Viking word meaning danger. The islands were previously known as the Ferriter islands, due to their close association with the Ferriter family.
Connections with the Ferriter Family
The Ferriter family leased the islands from the Earls of Desmond at the end of the 13th century, and then from Sir Richard Boyle at the end of the 16th century. Captain Piaras Feirtear was the last of the Ferriters to control the Blaskets in 1653. The Ferriters had a castle in the lower village at Rinn an Chaideain, but there are no ruins since the stones were carried away to construct a Protestant soup-school in 1840. The school was closed in 1852 following the devastation of the Great Famine.
Getting to the Blaskets
To experience the peace and tranquility of the Great Blasket Island, visitors must take a 15-minute ferry ride from Dunquin (Duin Chaoin) Pier. The 3km crossing is available from April to September, weather permitting. The islands are not accessible in winter. Visitors usually stay for three or four hours and enjoy the serenity by walking, sketching, or photographing the historic habitat. There is no traffic on the Great Blasket -- nor are there pubs, hotels ... or even electricity!