National Geographic : 1969 Sep
Killarney's well-touristed glories marked the end of our swing across southern Ireland; ahead now lay the perfect contrast. "Go right out to the tip of the Dingle Peninsula," a friend in Dublin had advised. "It's where city people like me go to hear Irish spoken properly, and to watch men who still know how to grow a field of hay." There was something else there too-the Great Blasket. Until a few years ago this gale lashed rock supported Ireland's westernmost settlement, the one about which people said, the next parish is America. I wanted to see if anything was left of the rugged hamlet where a handful of Gaelic-speaking fisherfolk had clung to their cruel life-"ploughing the sea," Blasket-born Tomas O Crohan called it long after men almost everywhere else in northern Europe had turned to kindlier ways of earning a living. "One day there will be none left in the Blasket," 0 Crohan wrote in The Islandman, his book about the agony and nobility of life on a storm-scoured rock in the Atlantic. And, said he, "the like of us will never be again." Island Life Lives Only in Memory Ken and I sought out John Larry Cavanagh to ask if he could take us across the four-mile stretch of water. "He's on the field," said Mrs. Cavanagh from the door of her whitewashed stone house in Dunquin. "Up there. Ye'll find a small b'y, a big b'y, and himself." Strong, sinewy John Larry (page 355) and his two boys were manicuring a freshly mowed field spiked with towering haycocks. "Ye'll have to wait," he said. "We're expecting the bull in the bowler hat. The coat-and-tie bull," he added of the government agent who goes about improving Ireland's livestock through the magic of artificial insemination. That afternoon Mr. Cavanagh rounded up Tomas and Maurice Daly (Blasket men both, they pronounced it "Dawley"), and the three of them lifted a black 26-foot-long curragh down a concrete ramp and eased it into the sea. It was my first sight of one of these frail boats, built like an old-fashioned canoe of cloth stretched over a wooden framework. In speech and song, Irish lasses tell their nation's story at 500-year-old Knappogue Castle in County Clare. The pageant fol lows a medieval banquet featuring beef and goblets of mead. To provide the entertain ment, the Shannon Free Airport Develop ment Company leases part of the castle from its owner, Texan Mark Andrews. 380 As the curragh rolled in the surf, a stone bruised its bottom. A jet of water began to well up through the single thickness of tarred can vas. Tomas Daly calmly stuffed a bit of bur lap sacking between the hole and a wooden rib to slow the leak and beckoned us aboard. For nearly an hour Ken and I sat low in the boat, watching as the island ahead of us alter nately lifted above the heaving sea and then dropped from sight. Each time the men bent to the weight of their long, narrow-bladed oars, I could feel the canvas bottom of the boat give with the suck and pull of the sea.