Report to urge world heritage status for Great Blasket Island

 

A report to be submitted in the new year to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, the Gaeltacht and the Islands, Ms de Valera, is expected to strongly recommend the Great Blasket Island off the coast of Kerry be included in the list of World Heritage Sites as a site of "outstanding universal value".

This would put the literary island on a par with the Giants Causeway in Antrim, part of the Boyne Valley, Co Meath and Skellig Michael, also off Kerry, which are already among the 721 World Heritage Sites. The recommendations are the result of a forum set up by Kerry county manager, Mr Martin Nolan, in May last year at the invitation of Ms de Valera.

For the first time, all parties concerned with the island, two miles off Slea Head, have been drawn together under the forum.

A team from the forum also travelled to Springfield, Massachusetts, to consult with direct descendants of the islanders.

No longer inhabited by native families, the island is unique in Europe because of the extent of writings by its one-time resident Irish-speaking population, including Tomβs ╙ Criomhthain, Peig Sayers and Muiris ╙ Suilleabhβin as well as visiting scholars such as Robin Flower in the early part of the last century.

Everyone who is part of the visitor experience, including boatmen, hostel employees, cafΘ workers, will have to be fluent in Irish, the report to Ms de Valera is expected to recommend.

The main recommendation will be to draw up a framework to conserve the island as a cultural and educational facility, allowing only limited development such as camping, toilet and dining facilities, as well as a new pier. Tourism will be of secondary importance.

A planning application by the company which owns 4/5ths of the island, An Blascaod M≤r Teoranta, for campsite and dining development has been put on hold until the work of the forum is finalised. There has been much wrangling between the State, locals on the mainland and An Blascaod M≤r Teoranta over the future of the Great Blasket.

The State tried to acquire the island from its owners but in 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that The Great Blasket Act of 1989, under which the island was to be acquired and made a national park, was unconstitutional.

A vacuum has developed since with no State input and the major owners the only ones providing facilities for the public.

At least some of the houses, including that of Peig Sayers, may be restored under the new recommendations.

A cap on the number of daily visitors are among other recommendations likely to be put to the Minister early in 2002.