Off of the Dingle Peninsula, on the West coast of Ireland, lie the mostly abandoned and very mysterious Blasket Islands. If you have seen the movie, "Song of the Sea", these islands will feel like where that story took place. (If you haven't seen it PUT IT ON YOUR LIST; it is one of my absolute favorites.) In the picture above Great Blasket Island is on the left and the sleeping giant on the right. The giant is lying on his back, the profile of his belly and face pointing towards the sky. The locals say he fell asleep there after having too much Guinness. I had been to Dingle Peninsula three times before I finally decided to take a boat ride out to the Blasket Islands. It turned out to be my favorite place I have seen in Ireland over the years.
The Blasket Islands were inhabited until the mid-20th century by fisherman, and there was a small town on Great Blasket Island. In 1953, the Irish government relocated the people because the island life was too harsh. What is left are the shells of abandoned homes, the ghost of Irish traditions, rolling hillsides that whisper Irish folklore, and a lot of very vocal sheep.
There are a few different ways to get to the Blasket Islands, including a couple of ferries that go over daily during the summer shore of Dingle Peninsula. Or you can hire a boat in Dingle Town to take you. I traveled with a large enough group that the boat ride from Dingle worked best. Never one for enjoying boat rides because of sea sickness, I did love seeing the Dingle Peninsula scenery from boat instead of land. From a boat the cliffs and hills climbing into the mist are that much more mysterious.
As we docked, many very curious seal faces (or possibly selkie faces) poked out of the waves to greet us. The pier on the island makes for a tricky exit off the boat. Make sure to wear shoes with excellent grip.
Immediately after leaving the boat we walked through the ghost village of Great Blasket Island and up to the only inhabited building. There is a hostel and a snack bar, which is a good stop for a cup of tea. I encourage bringing a picnic lunch with you; anywhere you decide to sit on the island will offer an amazing panoramic view. From the hostel it is an easy walk to the beautiful sandy beach on the east side of the island.
My traveling companions and I hiked along the sheep paths to the western edges of the island. Magic still lives among these islands, but at the same time there is a ghostly sadness to the emptiness here. Except of course for the constant vocal whining of the sheep and the keen gaze of the seals (or selkies) that watched us from the ocean as we hiked.
From the island's banks you can see the other Blasket Islands. There is one shaped like a perfect triangle with a lighthouse on it, which is now automatic, but was once watched over by one family. Right next to this island is the drunk-on-Guinness sleeping giant. These islands crawled right out of or maybe into the movie "Song of the Sea".
When it came time to leave the Blasket Islands, I felt the deep calm that comes from moving at a slow pace gradually dissolve, and I was overcome by sadness for the magic of times gone by on the Blasket islands.
Did this inspire your marvelous wanderings? Let me know
* Selkie: mythological creature found in Irish, Scottish, Faroese, and Icelandic folklore. Selkies can live as seals in the sea or shed their skin to become human. In many Selkie stories, the Selkie comes to shore, falls in love with a human and creates a family, but gets called back to sea eventually.