Books from the Blasket Islands in Ireland

The Dingle Peninsula
The Dingle Peninsula

The Islandman by Tomas O’Crohan
Peig: The Autobiography of Peig Sayres of Great Blasket Island

Destination: Blasket Islands, Ireland

Photo by Vera Marie Badertscher, all rights reserved

[In 2009, the web site Travel in Ireland, published this guest post about the Blasket Islands, and the literature that poured out of that small, harsh island. You can still see the post at the website My Discover 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, “Last Pub Until 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 Dun Chaoin 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 Blasket Centre. The piles of rocks called the Blaskets 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, as they fished, gathered goods from shipwrecks and cut peat from the few areas on the rock that supported any kind of soil.

We enjoyed the photographs that gave us a sense of the lives of these hard-working islanders, and the view from the windows around the museum constantly reminded us of the setting in which their unique literature evolved.

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, for one, studied the language in the Aran Islands about the same time and based his plays on the people there.

In the Blaskets, however, the people 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. In a corner of the museum, we browsed among the many books and finally picked The Islandman and Peig: The Autobiography of Peig Sayres of the Great Blasket Island to add to our travel library. They proved to be a fine introduction to the unique memoir style of the Blaskets and to the harsh life on the islands. Oxford University Press has published seven of these memoirs.

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.