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

Wed, Aug 3, 2005, 01:00

At the Greenlane Gallery in Dingle, owned by Callery's daughter Susan, I listen to the arguments, speak to Peter Callery - who is out of the country - on the phone, and try to make sense of the intricate legal niceties.

But the gallery walls are dominated by overwhelmingly powerful images of landscapes and people by the painter Liam O'Neill.

We end up discussing the blues of the Blasket seas, the faces of the islanders. The Great Blasket is not, at the end of the day, a tourist attraction. It's a national treasure.

And the Office of Public Works, as Micheál de Mórdha, director of the beautiful and hugely informative Great Blasket Heritage Centre run by the OPW in Dunquin points out, is not in the tourism business. "The ruins of the houses where Peig Sayers, Tomás Ó Criomhtháin and Muiris Ó Suilleabháin lived are in a state of advanced deterioration," he says."If they're left for many more years, the village will just dissolve."

In his book An t-Oileanach, Tomás Ó Criomhthain wrote about: "the kind of magic that only a person raised by the water's edge can understand, who spends his days looking out across it at the base of the sky".

O Criomhtháin's granddaughter, Niamh Uí Laoithe, who was born on the Great Blasket and is one of the few remaining ex-islanders left in Co Kerry, is also concerned about the ravages time, weather, and careless campers are wreaking on the island.

"At one time," she says in her gentle, melodic English, "I took some friends to see where my grandfather's house was, only to find a tent inside in the ruins and somebody's washing thrown up over the wall. Which I was very upset about. I know it's not fair to stop some of the people, but there really isn't room for more ferries and more people. You have to draw the line somewhere.

"What we would love would be for the island to be made into a world heritage area. As an ex-Blasket islander, I want my people to be remembered." For as her grandfather wrote, their like will never be seen again.