County Kerry Stories and Tips

The Great Blasket Island

Boat and Raft from Blasket Pier Photo, County Kerry, Ireland

The Blaskets are islands off the coast of Ireland that were home to some of the most hearty and creative people in Ireland, and that's saying a lot. The Great Blasket was abandoned in 1953 as the youth left the island, mostly for America, and the remaining population could not sustain itself because of the conditions required to survive on the island.
First, read any and all books you can lay your hands on by the writers from the island. I'd recommend "Island Man", "Peig" and "20 Years A Growing" to start.
Second, visit The Blasket Centre in Dún
Chaoin (Dunquin) before going. You'll appreciate it more, and be able to identify the houses and landmarks. If you can't purchase the books before, they are available at the Centre with many others. Reading them will add immensely to the experience!
You must travel to the island by boat. This can be from Dingle or Dunquin. Dunquin is the shortest distance. These are not the tar and canvas boats used by the islanders, but almost as rough. You'll take a 12-man fishing boat out to the island (about three miles) from Dunquin. Then you'll board a small rubber raft that holds 8 people to the pier. It hasn't changed since 1953, and you'll see why the raft is necessary. No boat could get close without breaking up on the rocks. The ride is rough, even on a good day and many days the tours are canceled because of the weather. While we were there the tour was only open three days out of the week. If you don't like bouncy boat rides, are prone to seasickness or rough water, stay away!
Once on the island you are free to explore the houses, cliffs, and coves. There is an abundance of birds and wildlife, mostly rabbits, sheep, seagulls and other sea birds. Puffins and seals are there some of the year but we didn't see any.
The Great Blasket is about 1/2 mile by 4 miles. You can hike/walk the length and back in a day. If you have the time and fortitude, I'd recommend it as it gives a better perspective of the island. Wear good hiking boots if you intend to do this. The paths are rough and rocky.
You can stay overnight, but the conditions are primitive and there is no guarantee of getting off the island the next day. The books tell of a month of more where no one came on or off the island because of the weather and heavy seas.
The day we went it was sunny with high clouds and a stiff wind, probably about 30-40 miles per hour on the highest points. Enough to be glad for the waterproof windbreaker (thanks Columbia Sportswear!). It would be pretty miserable if it were raining, although I doubt that you'd be able to get out there anyway.
We only ventured as far as the first high point above the houses and then to the North and back along the shoreline. This killed most of the four hours we were planning to spend. The climb up was very taxing. The walk along the shoreline was easier, but very dangerous because of the drop off to the water.
Because the boat only hold 12 at a time, you are given a return time on your ticket. Some people ignore this and try to get on the boat regardless of what their ticket says. We followed the rules and were at the pier in adequate time to see the boat approach. A number of German tourists came down and started crowding to the front. Many of the people waiting were American (to polite to protest) and older. Two of the Germans got in front of us and boarded the raft along with four others. The raft only holds 8 with 2 being the crew. More Germans were behind us and were trying to push past us as the raft returned. Being younger, brash and not wanting to wait, we didn't let them pass. They began yelling "no queue culture" and began to trying to push us out of the way. We were able to get to the raft and four Germans followed us leaving the rightful boarders to wait another hour or more for the next boat.
We contemplated throwing the queue crashers overboard halfway across, but figured it might cause us to be regaled as heros by the crew and passengers and delay our anticipated pint. We settled for dirty looks and snarls at the Germans and pushed them out of the way to exit the boat. A long hike up the path sharpened our thirst and the first Guinness went down a treat!

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