From the archive: Island's new era met with discord

Wed, Aug 3, 2005, 01:00

The dinghy transfers are a necessity - and create a huge amount of hard work and worry for the ferrypersons, hence the steep ticket price - but they add an ingredient of adventure to the stunningly beautiful journey across the Blasket Sound, and help create a good-humoured "we're-all-in-it-together" atmosphere among the passengers.

As we wait to repeat the relay at the foot of the Great Blasket's apparently impenetrable cliffs, we're joined by a dolphin.We grin like idiots every time the creature leaps out of the water.

But if this merry, well-regulated and well-insured journey gives a casual tourist momentary pause, it is also, on a tiny scale, a reminder of what must it have been like to be an islander trapped by ferocious seas - for a pregnant woman, say, or for the men whose desperate dash to the mainland in a storm in order to get a coffin for young Seáinín Team Ó Cearna at Christmas 1946 forms the opening chapter of Cole Moreton's eloquent, angry book about the leaving of the Blaskets in 1953, Hungry for Home.

When we disembark the views from the island are, if possible, even more spectacular than those from the boat. But the sight of the ruined village, cottage after cottage roofless and crumbling, no signs anywhere, no explanations of any kind, is deeply disturbing.

So are the "bouncers". They are, it must be said, polite - actually they look more embarrassed than aggressive - but men in suits are not what anyone wants to see on the Great Blasket. They're employed by the Dingle solicitor Peter Callery, who owns 17 of the 25 land-holdings on the island and who has, under the management plan drawn up by both landowners and State, been given permission to build and run a café on the island when the Great Blasket comes under State control.

Callery insists that the other ferry which currently operates out of Dingle, run by Tom Hand, is "basing its business on trespass"; hence the security presence. Hand told The Irish Times he objects to Callery "being given the monopoly on landing rights as well as a monopoly on commercial activity on the island - for ever".

Callery retorts that it's his property, and his legal right to prevent Hand's fee-paying passengers - though not, he stresses, anyone else - from walking across his land.

The row is bitter, and may descend into a court battle which would delay the State takeover still further. But at the end of the day, it's a dispute about business interests; about property, control, profit. Should it be allowed to dominate the debate about what will happen to the Great Blasket?