After a gorgeous day, much learned on the island and deeper connections to the Blasket people built and nurtured, we headed back to the Blasket Centre for a bit and then, after a rest, we all walked into Dingle and did a mini pub-crawl to hear some Irish traditional music. We talked about protocol (very different in the pubs that feature professional traditional musicians from the pubs that feature very good ‘folk’ musicians who often organize a sing-along or incorporate a stand-up act), instrumentation and performance practice, and sean-nós (old-style) singing. Students really enjoyed relaxing after three very intense weeks and a physically rigorous day of being on the island and walking and climbing the steep hills and paths that the islanders once walked and climbed. A good end to a very good day!
As promised, here are a few of the photos that Eilís Ní Dhúill took at our tea with the Bibeanna with them and a few of the Men of Ventry. You can read more about our extraordinary tea and conversations with the Bibeanna and the Men of Ventry, here. Many thanks to dear friend and colleague, Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin for hosting this amazing experience for me and my students!
What a magical day we had on the island. The weather could not have been more perfect – and we had an extraordinary Blasket Centre guide, Tommy Long. Students responded deeply to his amazing knowledge of Blasket island people and way of life, his sincere appreciation for their culture, his humor and his respectful interest in their studies and understanding of this community.
The boat ride (and dinghy experience) was exceptional – spirits were high, the seas were fairly calm, and everyone was excited for this journey. Tommy gave us an incredible tour of the main parts of the village, telling us great stories about the people who lived in each of the houses and weaving bits of Blasket history in, as we went. I was really proud of my students – they were attentive, curious, and respectful.
It was a particularly poignant moment when students stood inside the Sean Tom O’Cearnaigh home and thought about what life might have been like for this family that we have studied and this unique and isolated Irish-speaking community. You can read Martin Kearney’s older brother, Mike Carney’s beautiful and funny memoir, From the Great Blasket to America: The Last Memoir by an Islander and click here to watch Mike Carney’s trip back to the island (RTÉ News Now) in May of last year as part of the 2013 Blasket Gathering events.
We had a lovely serendipitous experience – we had met a wonderful young scholar at the Bibeanna and Ventry men tea at Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin’s house – Eilís Ní Dhúill (that’s her on the far right). She’s a lecturer and a Ph.D. student, and is the Hardiman and Irish Research Council Scholar in the Department of Irish, School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at NUI Galway (National University of Ireland, Galway). I was so pleased to meet her – she’s studying Irish cultural history documentaries and is currently studying the Bibeanna, so it was amazing to have Brenda include her in the tea with the Bibeanna. A few days later, without either of us knowing this would occur, we both showed up (me, with my students) at the Dunquin pier to go out to the island!
Here’s one of her photos from the island (thanks, Eilís)!
I’ll post a few of her Bibeanna photos, at a later time, as well.
Students asked great questions on the island and I could see each of them making deep connections and contextualizing what they had learned and experienced – over the whole of this three-week journey. The beautiful natural setting was a perfect place to wonder, wander and reflect. I had planned this excursion as a capstone experience and it was incredible. My expectations for how the class would go, how students would engage and react, and the impact all of this would have on them, were far surpassed – a fabulous end to a really amazing class and learning journey. Thanks to my wonderful students (read their blog posts about this class, here) and all of our marvelous guides along the way.
I love this stone and cement pier, situated in a precarious and treacherous harbor along an insanely steep cliff. The walk down the Dunquin pier is both a diabolical and a wondrous trek, putting constant stress and pressure on your knees but providing some spectacular scenery on a clear day – of the harbor with its jagged black volcanic rocks jutting upward out of icy waters that run from cerulean and azure to turquoise and deep sapphire – and the wild Blasket Sound that stretches perilously between the harbor and the Great Blasket Island. It is a place that I love, a place that I dream and wonder about. Students are enchanted – they love the steep, windy rock path and they take lots of photos on the way down, excited for the trip over to the island.
In fairly low tide, you can climb directly onto the boat. But in higher tide, you must climb onto a rubber dinghy and ferry out to the boat, then climb into the boat. When you get to the Blasket pier – a truly rough and precipitous pier – you must reverse this process, climbing out of the boat and into the dinghy, then, after a short ride to the pier, climbing out onto the Blasket pier and navigating the steep, huge black boulders that lead you to the top of the cliff. What awaits you there is a series of steep grassy paths leading to various parts of the village. It’s interesting to contemplate what these islanders undertook getting to the mainland (and back again) in order to attend church, get needed supplies, see the doctor, trade a cow or some sheep, sell lobsters, or get a coffin (which then needed to be put back on the naomhóg and rowed back to the island, walked up that treacherous Dunquin pier, loaded with the body of the deceased, walked back down the pier, loaded onto the naomhóg, rowed back across the Sound and into the Blasket slip, and walked up the pier and steep walking paths). It boggles the mind and the body is loath to truly understand the physical toll this must have taken.
Once you’ve arrived back to the Dunquin pier from the island, the climb back up is gruesome – steep and precipitous. You have to stop several times to catch your breath and give your aching calves and screaming quads a break. You admire the beautiful scenery and curse the pier. But, in the end, you love the whole of the experience – and you develop a deep appreciation for everything these amazing islanders did to survive.
Motto: “Ní bheidh ár leithéidí aríst ann”
(“There will never be the like of us again”)
Take a look at this small section from a fascinating 1973 TG4 feature on the island, The Daly brothers and the Dunquin Pier.
This morning, we all traveled in Diarmuid Begley’s people mover to the Dunquin Pier via the Clasach (the small pass between Ventry and Dunquin), in anticipation of our boat ride out to the Great Blasket Island where Martin Kearney was born. Students loved the ride – the narrow, one-track lane, the hedgerows sporting small red fuchsia plants and nearly ready for the mid-June blooming of yellow broom and orange montbretia, and the gorgeous views on all sides.
Here’s my June 5th photo of Inis Tuaisceart, the northernmost of the Blasket Islands – also known as An Fear Marbh (the dead man) or the sleeping giant due to its appearance when seen from the east. This island houses important seabird colonies, as well as extensive ruins of ancient stone buildings.
Inis Mhic Aoibhleáin is one of the Blasket Islands of County Kerry, Ireland. Referred to by Blasket islanders as “The Inis”, Inishvickillane was intermittently inhabited during the 19th and early 20th centuries, by one or more families. There are extensive ruins of ancient stone buildings and a house was built in the 1970s by the late former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, who owned the island and used it as a holiday home. I took this photo on Day 18 of our Maymester trip – going over the Clasach from Ventry to Dunquin – a gorgeous journey.
When I was a Visiting Scholar in the Blasket Centre during the spring of 2011, the Centre was just ready to display Haughey’s archive, and I was fortunate to be able to examine some of those documents and build deeper context between the islands and modern life in Ireland.
From the April 11, 2011 Irish Times article, Haughey’s Inishvickillane archive goes on display in Blasket Island centre –
“A collection of papers and photographs documenting the relationship between the late Charles Haughey and Inishvickillane, the most southerly of the Blasket Islands, has gone on display at the Blasket Island centre in Dún Chaoin, west of Dingle.
Nine miles off the coast of Kerry, the 170-acre island, which was purchased by Mr Haughey in the 1970s and is still owned by his family, was also a world stage, a nature reserve and a centre of public fascination, according to the papers, now fully archived and also available in digital format.”
A gorgeous day and one of my favorite vistas here, the Three Sisters. This is a photo I took on this beautiful, sunny day, of the Three Sisters – a range of cliffs said to be the first part of Europe that Charles Lindbergh saw as he flew the first trans-Atlantic flight in the Spirit of Saint Louise, in 1927. The Three Sisters are situated in Ballyferriter, one of the many coastal communities on the Dingle Peninsula and to the left of my photos, you can also see Sybil Head. Ferriter’s Castle is located here – previously owned by the 17th-century island chief, lyric poet and rebel Captain Piaras Feirtear. He was the Co. Kerry commander that submitted to the Cromwellians and he was hanged in Killarney in 1653. I just did a faculty concert last semester that featured my original songs about the Blaskets and Martin Kearney – I titled one of the songs “Ferriter’s Islands” (the original name for the Blaskets).