Blasket Islands (Co. Kerry)

Great Blasket Island (Photo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)

An Blascaod Mór / The Great Blasket lies approximately 2 km from the mainland at Dunmore Head. It extends 6km to the southwest, rising to 292m at its highest point at Croaghmore, and has magnificent sea cliffs along its western side, dropping vertically into the Atlantic. Splendid walking tracks run high along both sides of the ridge of the island, like a necklace, giving an excellent circuit.

The population of the island varied over hundreds of years but by 1916 had reached its post-Great Famine peak of 176 men, women and children. The beginning of the end came in April 1947 when severe storms cut Great Blasket Island off from the mainland for several weeks until frantic signals from the inhabitants prompted Eamonn DeValera‘s government to send emergency supplies by boat.  The last 22 islanders were evacuated amidst scenes of grief and heroism to the mainland on 17th November 1953. Their descendants live on the Dingle Peninsula and also form a community in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The hostel & café that once occupied Peig Sayer‘s house have been closed as a result of an ongoing dispute between the Irish government, which wants to make the island a National Park, and an individual who claims to own most of the island, but actually only holds title to the majority of the freeholdings. Much of the land is commonage, over which freeholders have certain rights.

The deserted village is the most visited site on the island.

The homes of Tomás Ó Criomhthain and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin are now in ruins but the house in which Prig Sayers spent her last years has been restored, and used to form part of the hostel.

Rinn an Chaisleáin (Castle Point) was the site of a Ferriter castle, the remains of which were used in 1840 to build a Protestant “soup-school”, closed down in 1852.

Mice on Great Blasket weigh more than their mainland cousins and have larger hind-feet. Local lore puts this down rather gnomically to their arrival with the Vikings 1,100 years ago. Others like to think of the phenomenon as an example of Darwinian adaptability.

Ireland’s second largest haul out of Atlantic grey seal occurs here each autumn on An Trá Bán. Several hundred seal come here to pup between September and December. (The only bigger colony is on Inishkea North in Co. Mayo).

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Beiginis / Beginish is a low-lying /14m) island in Blasket Sound, between An Blascaod Mór and the mainland. It has a large colony of Arctic Terns, and is also the main birthing site for grey seals.

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Inis Mhic Uileáin  / Inishvickillane / Inishvickillaun / Inishvickillaune was intermittently inhabited during the C19th and early C20th, by one or more families. There are extensive ruins of stone buildings on the island, which O’Sullivan mentions frequently in Twenty Years A-Growing as a place inhabited by fairies.

The disgraced former Taoiseach Charles J Haughey owned the island and used it as a holiday home, building a house in the 1970s. He introduced a herd of red deer onto the island.

Inishvickillane holds important seabird colonies, being especially notable for northern fulmar, European storm-petrel and Atlantic puffin.

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Inis na Bró / Inish Na Bro is separated from Inishvickillane by a narrow sound and rises to 175m. The island looks like it is covered with heather, but this is actually solid Sea Pink. It has magnificent cliffs and a fantastic array of buttresses, some only accessible from the sea.

The Cathedral Rocks (Photo – Naas Sub-Aqua Club)

In 1973, the US commercial space pioneer Gary Hudson suggested using Inis na Bró as the launching site for a new rocket system. The proposal, strongly reminiscent of an 007 James Bond movie, only became public in 2003, when Irish Government files from the period were released.

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Inis Tuaisceart (“northern island”) / Inishtooskert is the northernmost of the Blasket Islands. It is also known as An Fear Marbh (“the dead man”) due to its appearance when seen from the east. According to local folklore, this huge man was the one who built the Giant’s Causeway in Co. Antrim.

There are extensive ruins of ancient stone buildings on the island, notably St Brendan’s Oratory, a minor monastic ruin used in more recent times as a domestic dwelling. It is a low-lying, drystone hovel with a smoke hole on top, and a very narrow, low entrance. There is a local story of how the widow of a recently departed corpulent husband got him out through this awkward entrance. She took him out in pieces.

Inis Tuaisceart holds important seabird colonies. Of particular note is the colony of European storm-petrels. With over 27,000 pairs in 2000, this is certainly the largest colony in the British Isles, and possibly the largest in the world.

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An Tiaracht (anglicised as The Tearaght, Inishtearaght or Tearaght Island), an uninhabited steep rocky island 12.5 km west of Dingle Peninsula at longitude 10.70ºW, is the westernmost part of the Blasket Islands, Ireland and Europe.

The island is about 1km from east to west, and 500m from north to south, and is divided into two sections, a larger eastern part (200m high) and a western part (116 m). A narrow neck of rock, with a natural tunnel through it, joins the two parts.

An Tiaracht holds large numbers of seabirds, with internationally important populations of Manx shearwater and European storm-petrel. While Leach’s storm-petrels have also been found there in recent years, They have not proved to be breeding. The number of auks, especially puffins, has apparently fluctuated greatly, though early records are not always reliable.

A lighthouse was established on the island in 1870, and automated in 1988. The lighthouse, maintained by the Commissioners of Irish Lights, is 84m above high water.

Foze Rock / An Feo is the westernmost landfall in Europe.