Have you ever been to Kerry? How about the Dingle Peninsula? Here is a picture taken on the Great Blasket Island off the coast of the Dingle Peninsula – the most westerly parish in Ireland and Europe.
This has got to be one the most beautiful parts of the world to visit – and one of the harshest to live in. Following the mass evictions from good land all the way from the 17th century to the 19th century – many Irish catholics were driven to live in places like this, clinging to a subsistence living and relying on the strong weave of community support.
The population of the Great Blasket Island grew to as many as 160 people towards the end of the 19th century. In the 1911 census – the following names were recorded over the 30 households: Sullivan, Kearney, Savage, Keane, Guiheen, Dunleavy, Crohan, Shea, Daly and Connor – except they would have said their names in Irish as this was a native Irish speaking area.
The Great Blasket was abandoned for the last time in the 1950s – life was just too harsh for the people who were left. Over the years before that – many Islanders had left for other parts of Ireland, Britain and the USA.
Of course – when you emigrate – word comes back home and family ties are strong. People go to places where they already have people. Many people from the Great Blasket Island ended up going to the Springfield area of Massachusetts. There you will find names like O’Guiheen, Sullivan and Kearney (or Carney) – first and second generation Blasket Islanders.
So, if you are living in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia or New Zealand – you may have a few more cousins closer to you than you think! It wasn’t always individuals who emigrated – but whole communities – and that weave of community support was often essential for those first few tenuous years in a new land.