The class took a ferry out to the island with Tomas, who works at the Blasket Island Centre. The ferry was a small boat that brought all of us to a point just beyond the pier. From there, we got into small rubber dinghies to get to the actual island. After a walk up some steep rocks, we reached the main part of the island, and were all amazed.
As with many of the things we have seen this trip, the Great Blasket Island was visually stunning. We had the fortune of having a sunny day, and the bright blue sky brought out all the colors in the landscape. The remnants of houses were scattered across the hills in various states of disrepair, and sheep roamed freely about. My first thought was that this was a lot like a ghost town from Wild West stories, but with a whole lot more green, and a lot less sinister. Despite being abandoned, the island is still very beautiful, even more so after having studied its history so thoroughly.
We got to see the buildings that were once school on the island, as well as the homes of influential islanders including Thomas O'Crohan, who wrote "The Islandman," starting the island's literary tradition, and Peig Sayers, another famous Blasket author.
This observation prompted me to do some more research on the sheep in Ireland. Sheep is the fourth largest animal export from Ireland, and are raised for their wool, milk, and meat. These contribute to a big part of Ireland's economic structure, with animal products (overall) being one of their main exports. In 2010, a census found that there were 2.2 million breeding ewes in Ireland, with most residing in the counties of Donegal, Galways, Mayo, Wicklow, and Kerry (where Dingle is located). These countries all have very mountainous terrain with abundant grazing areas. For the islanders, the sheep would have been mostly used for the wool, with fish as the main source of food. There are several tales of the Islanders and their sheep, including one told to us at the Blasket Island Centre, about a small island where only sheep were kept. This small island was good for keeping sheep as they could not get off and no other animals could get on. One day, someone realized that, despite there being nowhere for the sheep to go, the shepherd had taken the time to build a wall all around the island. When asked why he's done this, the shepherd replied that there was one blind sheep, and he didn't want it to fall off. Once again, this sort of story stood out to me as a good description of the character of the Islanders. It would have been simple to just get rid of the blind sheep, but instead, the man had taken the time to build this wall to keep it safe. These people were very intent on doing things right and doing them well. They were not wasteful of any resources, as nearly everything was scarce on the island. And, well, it's also just a really sweet story.
Today was another great day, with lots to learn in the ways of history, but also in the feeling of a certain place. If I've learned anything throughout this trip, it's that there's nothing like visiting the place you're studying to truly understand it- and the Great Blasket Island is no exception to the rule.
I'm going to finish off this post with another slideshow of some of the lovely views of the island, for your viewing pleasure.
My camera died halfway through, so the last two pictures (of the beach) were taken by Josh!