Evacuation of Blasket re-told

A new book on the social history of the Great Blasket Island contains photographs taken by The Cork Examiner of the evacuation of the island almost 60 years ago.

The 600-page book by former journalist and broadcaster Micheal de Mordha, a native of Dunquin, also features several previously unpublished photographs and material about the island.

Titled Scéal agus Dán Oileáin (The Story and Fate of an Island), it deals especially with islanders’ pleas to be transferred to the mainland and the eventual “abandonment” of the island.

The islanders were enduring hardship and growing isolation, and their requests for help were expressed in correspondence with the then taoiseach Éamon de Valera and other politicians.

Mr de Valera was blamed by some for accelerating the abandonment of the island.

During a visit to the Great Blasket as part of an island tour in July 1947, he was implored by the inhabitants to get them off the island.

The population, drained by emigration and an exodus of young people, had fallen to 40 at the time.

“The feeling was de Valera’s government had procrastinated for too long on giving a lifeline to the islanders,” said Mr de Mordha.

“When a government decision was finally made to assist the islanders, the only option was the transfer of the remaining 21 inhabitants over to the mainland.”

Houses were provided for some of the islanders in nearby Dunquin. Nov 17, 1953, was the date set aside by the Land Commission for the “abandonment” and the event was covered by Cork Examiner photographer Louis MacMonagle and reporter Walter McGrath, both now deceased.

The book will be launched this Friday in the Blasket Centre, Dunquin, by Máire Llewellyn Ní Shúilleabháin Uí Chíobháin, the daughter of Blasket writer Muiris Ó Súilleabháin.

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