The Blaskets

Although now uninhabited, the Blasket Islands were once home to a thriving community, cut off from the rest of Ireland by the two miles of sea forming the Blasket Sound.

All supplies had to be carried by boat, and in the days when the only means of transport was a canvas covered curragh or naomhóg, the islanders were sometimes marooned for weeks at a time, especially in the stormy winter months.

Numbers dwindled over the years as emigration took its toll, but the final decision to evacuate the island came when the turf supply (the only source of fuel on the island) became scarce, and the last remaining islanders left the Great Blasket in 1953.

Aided by Government grants, the last inhabitants of the island were re-settled on the mainland, mostly in the parish of Dunquin. From their new home, the islanders could still look across the stormy Blasket Sound towards the little islands that held so many memories for them.

The Islanders

As a Gaelic-speaking community, away from the influence of the rest of the country, the islands had gained a reputation for refinement of language that attracted scholars to their shores in the summer months.

In the early years of the 20th century, some of these visitors, such as Carl Marstrander, George Thompson, Brian O’Kelly and Robin Flower, persuaded a few of the islanders to write their autobiographies as a record of island life.  

The first to do so was Tomás Ó Criomhtháin in 1929, followed in 1936 by Péig Sayers. Péig dictated her book to her son Mícheál, to whom she dictated  her story because, although she had spoken Irish all her life, she had only been taught to read and write in the English language.

Ó Criomhtháin’s book, The Islandman (An tOileánach), and Péig’s autobiography, (Péig, A Scéal Féin), became classics of Irish literature. Muirís Ó Súilleabháin, who later left the island to join the Gardaí, was persuaded by George Thompson to write his life story, entitled Twenty Years A-Growing (Fiche Bliain ag Fás). This became a best-seller, translated into several different languages.

Other islanders followed suit: Tomás’s son Seán Ó Criomhtháin wrote A Day in Our Life (Lá dar Saol); his wife Eibhlís wrote a volume of letters entitled Letters from the Great Blasket, while Péig’s son  Mícheál Ó Guithín, was the author of A Pity Youth Does Not Last.  These, together with books and papers by the visiting scholars, give a fascinating insight into the experiences, joys and sorrows of  an island community whose way of life has now disappeared for ever.

Tomás's Grave

Tomás Ó Criomhtháin died in 1937 at the age of 83 and is buried in the churchyard at Dunquin.

Inscribed on his headstone are the words “Ná bheidh ar léithéidí arís ann”, a quotation from The Islandman, translated literally as “There will not be those like us again”.

The Great Blasket Today

Although there is evidence of prehistoric dwellings in the exposed western parts of the island, the historical village was built on the side of the island facing the mainland. The little houses huddle against the hillside for shelter, with their gable walls facing the sea.

Apart from a couple maintained for use by summer visitors, all the houses have now fallen into ruins.

These photographs were taken in the summer of 2003, but each winter storm causes more damage and one day there may be nothing left but piles of stones and the traces of pathways.

Island Fields

The island fields, once carefully cultivated and fertilised with seaweed from the shore, are now grazed by a few sheep.

The Childrens' Graveyard

Overlooking the White Strand, this is the last resting place of island children who died in infancy.

Tomás's House

Tomás describes in The Islandman how he built this house with his own hands, a few years after his marriage.

The Guithín House

This is the house of Flint Guithín, husband of Péig Sayers.

When Péig and Flint first married, they had to share this tiny house with the whole Guithín family.

Péig's New House

This is the new house at the top of the village, where Péig lived in later years.

Muirís Ó Súilleabháin's House

This is the house where Muirís Ó Súilleabháin (author of Twenty Years A-Growing) lived with his grandfather, before leaving to join the Gárda Síochána (police).

He later married and was posted to Connemara, where he died tragically in a drowning accident.

The King's House

All that remains of the King’s house is a single bedroom.

The School

The building on the right is the schoolhouse, with the teacher’s house next door, a little further up the hillside.

The Harbour

The new harbour was built in 1910 and was once a busy scene where fishermen landed with their catch and boats left for the mainland to buy essential supplies. 

Now a party of tourists climb down to meet the high-speed cruiser that will take them back to Dingle after a day spent on the island.