Destination: Blasket Islands, Ireland
When my husband and I traveled along the coast road of beautiful Dingle Peninsula in Ireland, past the beach where Ryan’s Daughter was filmed, we saw this sign, “Next Pub Boston.” On up the road, we saw the pub, with canned soup and toothpaste among the sundries behind the counter for anyone who did not want to drive all the way back to Dingle. The town is called Duncan, or Dunquin in the native language that holds sway here on the Dingle peninsula.
Near the pub we spotted a very modern building with plate glass windows facing out to sea.The piles of rocks called the Blasket Islands out there in the wild waves used to be home to a hard-working community of folks, but the last inhabitants left in the 1950’s. The modern building houses a museum that provides a look at the islanders’ way of life, fishing and cutting peat from the few areas on the rock that supported any kind of soil.
In the early 20th century, learned Englishmen and Germans took an interest in the ancient Irish language, and traveled to this coast and the islands off shore to record the speech before it disappeared.Playwright John Synge studied the language in the Aran Islands about the same time and based his plays on the people there.
In the Blasket Islands, however, they told their own stories. Once the scholars arrived, the people learned to write down their own language, or they told their old stories to others who could write them down, and soon an island of writers emerged. The museum looks out on the fog-shrouded islands, and on a chilly day, we empathized with the Blasket Islanders and their tough lives, as we wandered among the exhibits. Perhaps their isolation and time for contemplation led to the outbreak of literature here. Or perhaps the people were quite aware of their unique life and wanted to preserve it in words.
In a corner of the museum, we browsed among the many books and finally picked The Islandman and Peig: The Autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island to add to our travel library. The two books proved to be a fine introduction to the unique memoir style of the Blaskets and to the harsh life on the islands.
Have you traveled the Blasket Islands? Were you braver than my husband and me, who did not venture out on the small boat and clamber up the slippery path to see ruins on the island?
Notes: This post first appeared on My Discover Ireland (which was called Info Ireland in 2009). The books mentioned are linked to Amazon. I am an Amazon affiliate, and when you use those links to shop for anything at Amazon, although it costs you no more, I make a few cents. Thank you.