A somber, gracefully written evocation of a place that has been called the most beautiful spot on earth.
Debut author Moreton is, he is quick to say, neither Irish nor American, but instead an English journalist who stumbled on a good story while on an Irish holiday. That story was the long, sorrowful history of the Blasket Islands, the most distant of which, Tieracht, is “a jagged pyramid of rocks . . . which was said to provide the last sight of Ireland for ships heading to America.” The Blaskets sheltered a small population of fishermen and herders who retained medieval customs well into the 20th century and who, speaking a pure strain of Irish, “had a divine gift for the spoken word and an ability to recall the events of ancient times as though they had happened yesterday.” This linguistic and narrative prowess did not keep the people from starvation and want, however. When a young islander collapsed and died on Christmas Eve 1946, far away from any priest or doctor, the residents of Great Blasket (which lacked even a working radio) demanded that the Irish government provide aid to improve their lot. Although, Moreton writes, Irish President Eamon de Valera and several parliamentarians took up their cause, in the end they offered little more than words. A couple of years later, the people of Great Blasket and the surrounding islets decided to abandon the place, as if it had betrayed them one time too many. Some of those islanders moved to the mainland; many others moved to America, where they and their descendants nurse dreams of returning to the Blaskets, which are still little visited today.
An outstanding book of travel and history.