The Blasket Centre on the mainland in Dún Chaoin, Co.Chiarraí (Dunquin, Co. Kerry), on the tip of the Dingle Peninsula on the southwest coast of Ireland, is an amazing place. It is an interpretative centre and museum honouring the unique community who once lived on the Great Blasket Island and celebrating the native Irish language. This community produced an extraordinary amount of literature, referred to as The Blasket Library, which includes classics such as The Islandman, Twenty Years A Growing, and Peig. The Centre, which is operated by the Office of Public Works and Dúchas, the Heritage Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, was opened in 1993 and overlooks the stunning panorama of the Great Blasket and its family of surrounding, smaller islands.
The Blasket Centre, photo taken summer 2009.
The Blasket Islands (Na Blascaodaí) are a group of islands off the west coast of Ireland in County Kerry. They were inhabited until 1953 by a completely Irish-speaking population. The inhabitants were evacuated to the mainland on November 17, 1953, by the government. 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 and, thanks partly to outside encouragement, 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.
I feel fortunate and honored to have been granted access to the Centre’s archives and artifacts, and to be able to work there with Dáithí de Mórdha and the Centre staff. I am also extremely grateful and happy to continue discussions and listen to stories about Martin’s life on the Blaskets and in America, with Marty Kearney (Martin’s son) and many, many wonderful people in Springfield, and in Dunquin and its environs.