The Blasket Islands (Na Blascaodaí in Irish - etymology uncertain: it may come from the Norse word "brasker", meaning "a dangerous place") are a group of islands off the west coast of Ireland, forming part of County Kerry. They were inhabited until 1953 by a completely Irish-speaking population. The inhabitants were evacuated to the mainland on 17 November 1953. Many of the descendants currently live in Springfield, Massachusetts and some former residents still live on the Dingle Peninsula, within sight of their former home.
The islanders were the subject of much anthropological and linguistic study around the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries particularly from writers and linguists such as Robin Flower, George Derwent Thomson and Kenneth H. Jackson. Thanks to their encouragement and that of others, a number of books were written by islanders that record much of the islands' traditions and way of life. These include 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 Blasket Islands have been called Next Parish America, a term popular in the United States and recalled in the book The Blasket Islands - Next Parish America by Joan and Ray Stagles.
The six principal islands of the Blaskets are:
Great Blasket Island (An Blascaod Mór)
Inishnabro (Inis na Bró)
Inishvickillane (Inis Mhic Uileáin)
Inishtooskert (Inis Tuaisceart)
Tearaght Island (An Tiaracht)
Great Blasket (An Blascaod Mór in Irish) is the principal island of the Blaskets, County Kerry.
The island lies approximately 2 km from the mainland at Dunmore Head, and extends 6 km to the southwest, rising to 292 metres 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. Despite its close proximity to the mainland, visitors to the Dingle coast can often not see the island through the notorious sea mist.
The island was inhabited until 1953, when the Irish government decided that it could no longer guarantee the safety of the remaining population. It was the home of three noted Irish writers: Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig Sayers and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin. Their works were all written in Irish, and have all been translated into English, as well as other languages. The homes of Tomás Ó Criomhthain and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin are now in ruins but the house in which Sayers once lived has been restored, and used to form part of the hostel which previously functioned on the island.
Until 1953, the inhabitants of Great Blasket Island formed the most westerly settlement in Ireland. The small fishing community (even at its peak the population was hardly more than 150) mostly lived in primitive cottages perched on the relatively sheltered north-east shore. In April 1947, having been cut off from the mainland for weeks due to bad weather, the islanders made an emergency call to the Taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, urgently requesting supplies which duly arrived two days later by boat.
Considering the tiny population, the island 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, 1937).
The hostel and cafe that once operated on the island have been closed. This is a result of the ongoing 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.
Status of the island in 2008:
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, it is intended that more than 95% of the island land, including the old village, will be sold to the State and will become a de facto National park. The Office of Public Works will confirm the existence of the 2007 agreement with BMT.
Beginish (from Irish: Beiginis, meaning "little island") is one of the Blasket Islands of County Kerry. It is a low-lying island (14 metres) in Blasket Sound, between Great Blasket Island and the mainland. It has a large colony of Arctic Terns. The island is also the main birthing site for Grey Seals.
There is at least one other island in County Kerry called Beginish: it lies at the mouth of the river Fertha about 1 km from Valentia Island. It was previously inhabited but the two houses are now only used in summer.
Inishnabro (Irish: Inis na Bró, meaning "island of the quern/bottom grind stone") is one of the Blasket Islands of County Kerry. It is separated from Inishvickillane by a narrow sound (ca. 200 metres), and rises to 175 metres.
In 1973, the U.S. commercial space pioneer Gary Hudson proposed using Inis na Bró as the launching site for a new rocket system. The proposal only became public in 2003, when Irish Government files from the period were released under the 30-year rule.
Inishvickillane, also spelled Inishvickillaun or Inishvickillaune, (Inis Mhic Uileáin in Irish, Mac Uileáin's Island) is one of the Blasket Islands, County Kerry. Referred to by Blasket islanders as "The Inis", Inishvickillane was intermittently inhabited during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, by one or more families. There are extensive ruins of ancient stone buildings on the island, and a house was built in the 1970s by the late former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, who owned the island and used it as a holiday home.
Inishvickillane holds important seabird colonies, being especially notable for Northern Fulmar, European Storm-petrel and Atlantic Puffin. A herd of Red Deer was introduced to the island by Haughey.
Inishtooskert (Inis Tuaisceart in Irish) is the northernmost of the Blasket Islands, County Kerry. The name means "northern island". The island is also known as An Fear Marbh (the dead man) or the sleeping giant due to its appearance when seen from the east (as in the photograph). Inishtooskert holds important seabird colonies, as well as extensive ruins of ancient stone buildings.
Of particular note is the colony of European Storm-petrels. With over 27,000 pairs in 2000 (Seabird 2000 survey), this is the largest colony in Ireland or Britain, and possibly the largest in the world.
Tearaght Island or Inishtearaght (Irish: an Tiaracht) is an uninhabited steep rocky island west of the Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry. At longitude 10° 39.7' Tearaght is the westernmost of the Blasket Islands, and thus the westernmost island in the Republic of Ireland and the British Isles. However, there are some exposed rocks further west: Tea-raght Rocks, Tearaght Rocks West (10° 41.0'), and Foze Rocks (10° 41.3').
An Tiaracht is about a kilometre from east to west, and 500 metres from north to south. The island is divided into two sections, a larger eastern part (200 metres high) and a western part that rises to 116 metres. A narrow neck of rock, with a natural tunnel through it, joins the two parts.
Like the other Blasket Islands, an Tiaracht holds large numbers of seabirds, with internationally important populations of Manx shearwater and European storm-petrel. Leach's storm-petrels have also been found there (but not proved to be breeding) in recent years. The number of auks, especially puffins, has apparently fluctuated greatly, though early records are not always reliable.
A lighthouse was established on the island in 1870, and automated in 1988. The lighthouse, maintained by the Commissioners of Irish Lights, is 84 metres above high water.