One of the more remarkable outposts of Ireland is the Great Blasket Island—a small community along the west coast notable for how long it was able to hold the modern world at bay. It was one of the last locations to speak only Gaelic, inspiring a renaissance of Irish culture.
Robert Kanigel’s On an Irish Island: The Lost World of the Great Blasket leads readers onto the island through the eyes of the scholars, linguists and writers who were inspired by the community and its people.
The small community of fishermen lived a tough, hardworking life that attracted a number of scholars—both Irish and British—who were in search of the purest form of the Gaelic language. While The Great Blasket was the last location in Ireland to embrace the English language, it was also one of the first to suffer from the country’s desperate economic conditions through much of the 20th century.
Kanigel’s research into the island is impressive as he uncovers not only the customs and traditions of a unique community but also the lives of the characters he follows onto the island. Men such as playwright John Millington Synge visited the island for creative inspiration, and Kanigel gives them illuminating biographical portraits.
The only missing element of Kanigel’s portrait of The Great Blasket is its more recent history. The island is all but deserted now after years of poor fishing forced the community to disband—and with it to disband a remarkable history. Kanigel’s book is an intense study on how that small community made a large impact.