On An Irish Island for St. Patrick’s Day

If you can’t get to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day, Robert Kanigel will escort you back to the old country in his tribute to the Great Blasket Island – On An Irish Island.

In the early twentieth century, the Gaelic language was slowly replaced by English across Ireland; only a few remote places held on to the traditions and the lilting Irish. The Blasket Island, only three miles long and a half mile wide, with 150 inhabitants, not including sheep, donkeys, and chickens, had no electricity or telephones. But the Gaelic language that had died away on the mainland was alive there, and became the seed for germinating books and plays, and regenerating interest in the language. Young British writers and scholars, looking for ideas and solitude, traveled West to Blasket and found the pot of gold.

Kanigel describes the beauty of the cliffs, the sea, and a simple way of life. John Millington Synge was inspired to write his famous Irish play Playboy of the Western World, while staying on the island for a short time as the guest of the island king.

“Synge was given a small room just off the stone house’s main room. . . . In the evenings the house filled up with sometimes twenty or thirty people, talking, drinking, and dancing.”

St. Patrick’s Day seemed like a good day to start reading this celebration of the old Ireland that lives on in the literature of those who were influenced by the Blasket islanders.