The boatman made the quip as we left, “Tell them this year summer came on Monday!” That’s because the weather is never forecast to be as fine as it was on our trip out to Great Blasket Island last Monday. The sun shone all day long. The boat ride from Dunquin to Great Blasket was smooth and the 35 passengers smiled and chatted all the way.Great Blasket Island has a story to tell. An independent community lived there from early in the 19th century until Nov. 17, 1953. They were completely Irish speaking, cut off from the mainland as they were. The distance is short, but the water can be rough, and boats were the traditional naomhog, or currach, rowboats framed of wood and covered with tarred cloth.
As the Irish language fell into disuse in the 19th century, linguists and writers discovered the community on Great Blasket and visited to study the language or expand their proficiency. Visitors such as the poet Robin Flower encouraged the islanders to write about their lives and several did just that. The strong tradition of storytelling among people who have to entertain themselves on long winter evenings seems to have eased the transition to writing stories in a book. Best known are: An tOileánach (The Islandman) by Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig by Peig Sayers and Fiche Blian ag Fás (Twenty Years A-Growing) by Muiris Ó Súilleabháin. The remains of each author’s house is marked on the visitors map.
Most houses lie in ruins today, though one was being renovated during our visit. That’s puzzling because there’s only seasonal ferry service, no central water source, no electricity, no store, all part of the reason the island was evacuated years ago. We looked at the ruined community and hiked up the spine of the island. At the peak of the island, I could see the faint outline of the Skellig Islands on the horizon to the south.
We waited for our trip home just above the tiny boat landing on Blasket. Arriving at Dunquin we struggled up the steep incline from the beach. (This is an internet photo–see the upturned naomhog boats by the landing).