It is essential to preserve the “irreplaceable legacy” of Great Blasket Island, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.
Mr Varadkar visited the Co Kerry island with Patrick O’Donovan, the Minister of State for the Office of Public Works (OPW), on Saturday to see ongoing restoration works and attend the annual Ceiliúradh an Bhlascaoid commemoration.
Great Blasket, which lies around 2km from the mainland, is the principal island of the Blaskets, and was inhabited by a small Irish-speaking community of fishers before it was abandoned in 1953.
In 2009 the OPW bought a large amount of property on the island, including the deserted village, and is now the majority landowner.
The Taoiseach said the island is a “priceless cultural asset”.
“The Blasket Islands are one of the most beautiful places in Ireland and are a priceless cultural asset. I really don’t know why I hadn’t made the trip before now,” he said.
“Visiting the Great Blasket is like stepping into a different time and place. It’s living history and heritage. It’s essential that we preserve the island and its villages, as an irreplaceable legacy, and a unique tourism asset.
“The OPW is conducting essential work to conserve and protect the Great Blasket so that visitors, whether from Ireland or overseas, can appreciate the astonishing beauty and heritage of these islands, and the richness of their culture.
“Our focus now is on improving the landing facilities on the island, and the island itself, in a way that protects nature and wildlife.”
Mr Varadkar and Mr O’Donovan visited the former home on the Great Blasket of author Tomás Ó Criomhthain, which has been restored by the OPW.
Ó Criomhthain’s book, An tOileánach (The Islandman), is considered a classic of Irish-language literature and describes the lives of peasants and fishermen living on the island.
The annual Ceiliúradh an Bhlascaoid also took place this weekend at the Blasket Centre, which has been fully restored.
This annual three-day gathering on the history and heritage of the Blasket Islands was founded in 1996.
The Taoiseach viewed recent refurbishments to the Blasket Centre, including the new exhibition on the story of the Blaskets and the significant cultural legacy of their inhabitants.
Mr O’Donovan said conservation and environmental factors are being considered in the restoration projects taking place on the island.
“The refurbishment of the Blasket Centre last year demonstrates what the State can achieve by working collaboratively,” he said.
“This year we secured an agreement to provide toilet facilities for visitors to the island and we are currently working on a Conservation Management Plan which will consider the conservation and protection of the built heritage but also the marine and environmental ecology of the island.”