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Ireland's Island Heritage

Ann Hills discusses controversial spending plans for Irish heritage

Ireland's membership to the European Community has produced cash with which to interpret heritage. Some of the resultant spending plans have sparked controversy. The Blasket islands are off the far tip of the Dingle peninsula in the southwest. Across a narrow strait is Inishvickillane, summer island retreat of former Taoiseach, Mr Charles Haughey. Only about four miles long, Great Blasket is like a stranded whale, with its smooth grassy contours and ancient stones battered by Atlantic gales.

Great Blasket, the largest of the group, is officially uninhabited but among the evocative ruins some houses remain in tact. These are now summer homes, in the former village above the beach. Here, in one of the habitable houses, a weaver from Wales has set up shop selling colourful shawls. Visitors find refreshment in the cafe, and simple accommodation if they choose to stay at the guest house, sharing the island with sheep-shearers who are based in a nearby cottage for the duration of their stay. Famed for its literary past, a succession of authors, such as Peig Sayers, have used the island for the romantic setting which has inspired some seventy books.

The tranquillity of the Blaskets, however, is now under threat, some feel. From next year, descendants of the islanders, retracing their roots, will have all the facilities of a new interpretation centre to help them. Situated on the mainland, on the coastal plain, it will tell the social and literary history of the Blaskets, providing a covered panoramic view across the water.

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