Monday, May 24, 2010

The Blasket Islands!

Ok, our last stop in Kerry, and possibly my favorite stop on the entire trip was our voyage to the Blasket Islands. In order to read and really understand the Blaskets, you should read The IslandMan by Tomas O'Crohan (pronounced in Irish "O-Creehan). The back story is that the Blasket Islands make up seven remote islands off of the coast of Dingle, where we have been before. They were one of the last places where the traditional Irish language was spoken, but also one of the last places that relied on fishing and basic self-sufficient methods to get by. However, in 1953, there were very few people left on the Great Blasket (where most people lived), and the islanders were essentially forced to leave the island for the mainland because they did not have access to medical care or any form of education for any new children. Since then, the island has not been home to anyone but sheep, but the village itself is still there and extremely amazing. Going to the Great Blasket felt like visiting a ghost village because the remains were there, but it was so empty that it felt like we were invading on someone else's memory. That of course is not going to stop me from writing about it, ha ha :-)

The picture here is our first view of the island. If you look carefully, you can see the remains of the houses.

Our guide was not from the Blaskets originally, but grew up nearby as a boy, and frequently went to the island before everyone left to hear their stories and find the secrets of the island. He seems old, but walked much faster than we did. He seemed the epitome of what I would have expected an islander to be like- he used the old tongue of Irish and spoke carefully and in a way that felt like it was from another century or world from us. This is a picture of us about two feet away from a cliff he didn't want me to fall off of.

We stopped in the homes of many of the islanders that were in the book, and then their municipal buildings, like the school. I hope my professor never reads this blog, because they all looked about the same to me! The difference is that they were all built by hand, including the house of O'Crohan himself, who wrote the book about the Blaskets. Some of the houses dated back before the famine. In fact, the potato famine did not affect the islanders much at all because they were fortunate enough to have a shipwreck occur that held them through. I guess one advantage of being completely shut off from the world and poor already is that famines didn't seem like that big of an impact :-)

Danny, our guide, read to us in Irish and in English, as he was fluent in both. It was magical to hear the words that authors wrote about the Blaskets in their native language as we sat in their houses.

This is a picture of a small ravine we walked into next to the ocean, where there was a small well the islanders typically used for fresh water.

More ruins of the old village. Hard to believe it was self-sustaining from this picture!

We walked around 2/3rds of the island, and the view was amazing. It was so rugged and free that it was hard to believe that people actually lived on it for hundreds of years before having to evacuate.

This is Dorothy and I right next to their "harbor" about to leave on a tiny boat that held about 8 people. It was such an amazing day!!!

PS. I swear on my honor that the picture above this caption is of two seals peaking their heads above the water to say hi to us :-) This may seem silly, but there were hundreds of seals on the beach when we first got on the island. I have NEVER seen so many in my life!!! Of course, they swam away before anyone could get close enough for a substantial picture...

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