Go as far west as the Wild Atlantic Way will takes you, and you’ll catch a glimpse of a group of fabled islands; deserted, battered by the elements, but endlessly fascinating
Jewels in the sea
These are the deserted Blasket Islands off the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. No trip to this area is really complete without an attempt to get to know them better, and a good introduction is a visit to the Great Blasket Centre on the mainland in the Gaeltacht village of Dunquin (Dún Chaoin). This interpretative centre and museum gives a wonderful insight into the people of the Blaskets who were evacuated in 1953. The community eked out a living from the land and the sea, and left behind a literary heritage that survives to this day.
Really though, the best way to experience the Blaskets is to visit them. Hop on a ferry from tiny Dunquin Harbour, accessed by its steep, winding road and you could be on Great Blasket within 20 minutes (weather permitting). You can also take a boat trip around the islands to get a closer look at the stunning variety of wildlife that thrives here.
Colonies of seabirds nest in the rocky cliffs, while sheep, rabbits and hares keep the grassy roads well trimmed. And if you look out to the water, you can see anything from basking sharks and minke whales to (if you’re very lucky) the occasional passing killer whale.
The Great Blasket is the largest and most visited of the islands. Once there was around 175 people living here, but emigration and the harsh living conditions took their toll. By 1953, the last of the islanders moved to the mainland. Today you can still see the remains of a deserted village – a poignant reminder of the past.
Each of the Blasket Islands boasts some fascinating feature or fact: Inishvickillane has its own herd of red deer and a puffin colony; Tearaght is the proud possessor of Europe’s steepest funicular track and Ireland’s most westerly lighthouse; Inishnabro has its Cathedral Rocks: spectacular rock formations that resemble a Gothic cathedral; Inishtooskert is known as “the Sleeping Giant” due to its somewhat eerie silhouette when viewed from the mainland. Then there’s Beginish (Oileán na n-Óg), and the numerous other tiny islands that make up the archipelago.
Tell us a story
The enduring fascination with the Blaskets can be explained in part by the brilliance of their storytellers. During the long dark winter nights, seanchaí (a skilled teller of tales) like Peig Sayers would hold neighbours spellbound, telling stories that were often handed down through generations.
By the beginning of the 20th century, however, the islanders knew their way of life was coming to an end. Some, like Sayers and Tomás O’Crohan, decided to write down their memories to preserve them. And so a remarkable collection of books came from this remote isolated place, written in the pure form of Irish that was unique to the Blaskets, and telling of the joys and sorrows of island life. They were written, according to O’Crohan, “because the like of us will not be here again”.
Geographical coordinates: Latitude 54° 19' 33.49; longitude 9° 20' 44.45 (note, if you use your car’s GPS to go directly to this point, you may not always remain on the Wild Atlantic Way route.)