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On an Irish Island

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  141 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
On an Irish Island is a love letter to a vanished way of life, in which Robert Kanigel, the highly praised author of The Man Who Knew Infinity and The One Best Way, tells the story of the Great Blasket, a wildly beautiful island off the west coast of Ireland, renowned during the early twentieth century for the rich communal life of its residents and the unadulterated Irish ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 7th 2012 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2012)
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This was an amazing book. Kanigel has woven the history of the rise of 20th century writing in Irish, and the Great Blasket Island. I discovered that there were a number of outsiders aside from Robin Flowers, whose name I knew, who helped launch the literary movement on the island. A number of islanders wrote works in the Irish language starting with The IslandmanTomas O'Crohan. I didn't know that Irish speakers at the turn of the 20th century were not literate in Irish, though this makes sense ...more
Feb 06, 2012 Joan rated it really liked it
A wonderful book about the people of the Great Basket during the first half of ,the 20th century, both the islanders and those few men and women who went to study the language and became part of the story. The hard lives of the island folk, their love of singing and dance, and story-telling contrast with the lives of the scholars who spend brief weeks with them, but are deeply moved and influenced by those times. It's the story of change and courage, and a tribute to the people who brought the i ...more
Carolyn Stevens Shank
Jan 13, 2013 Carolyn Stevens Shank rated it really liked it
This is a moderately interesting book about life on the idyllic Great Blasket Island, off the coast of Ireland. Set during the early Twentieth Century, the isolated spot was the site of a purer Irish culture before the onset of literacy, technology and emigration, eradicated the 18th century based customs, values, and communality.
The book is somewhat academic for most tastes, unless one is a student of Irish literature or of Irish history. Much of it concerns the incredible literary output of
Steve Smits
Feb 20, 2012 Steve Smits rated it it was amazing
I read "The Islandman" years ago when living in Ireland after visiting Slea Head on the Dingle peninsula and seeing the Blaskets across the sound; it's intriguing to imagine the tiny community on that desolate island, abandoned only in relatively recent times. The imagery of place and times conveyed by Tomas O Criomhthain is wonderous enough, but the language is what makes the book so marvelous. It has a luminosity and lyricism -- through Flower's superb translation from the Irish -- that is spe ...more
May 27, 2013 Susan rated it liked it
If you drive far enough around the Dingle Peninsula, you will come to the amazing Blasket Island Center and a fascinating story of what life was like before the last of the inhabitants left these remote Irish-speaking lands in the 1950s. To some extent this book is the story of the islanders. However, any insight into their way of life is limited because they relied on an oral tradition and few could read and write. The few exceptions created a subgenre of literature that is still important toda ...more
Liam O'Shiel
Apr 11, 2012 Liam O'Shiel rated it really liked it
The story of educated English and Irish authors immersing themselves in the isolated, Gaelic-speaking culture of the Blasket Islands circa 1900 - 1930. Occasionally a little hard to follow as the author moves from one writer to another - but always absorbing and well-written. The best account I know of the now-vanished Blasket culture.
Nov 23, 2014 Chris rated it liked it
We want stories of isolated life to be mysterious and uplifting. This story was sometimes enticing, sometimes plodding. It's the sort of book to read only if you have a compelling interest in the topic.
Kevin Cain
Jan 16, 2017 Kevin Cain rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For any who are drawn to the Irish culture, this book is a great collection of insights into the last vestiges of that culture's heart; the simplicity of shared community and oral tradition. It's amazing to see that it survived into the early 20th century on the small island off of Ireland's west coast. A testament of a people unwilling to be tamed or cowed by English culture.
Jul 29, 2012 Tammy rated it really liked it
This work is a unique combination of telling the story of a way of life that is gone, a language and word origin study, how writers are affected by location and people and the shared love and admiration for a particular set of islands, the Blaskets.

This story is set mainly of the Great Blasket, an island off the west coast of Ireland, known during the early twentieth century for the communal life of its residents and the unadulterated Irish they spoke. With the Irish language vanishing all throu
Oct 31, 2013 Rae rated it liked it
I have a long standing fascination with the Blasket Islands - their beauty, their isolation, their story.
The roofless jumble of stone houses perched on the steep slopes of the island look out on the tip of the Dingle Peninsula. It's only a 3 mile boat trip but such a treacherous one that the last inhabitants choose to abandon their homes forever in 1953. Only a few hundred of people ever lived there but their impact on Irish language and literature is remarkable. Irish schoolchildren have learne
Shonna Froebel
Nov 21, 2012 Shonna Froebel rated it really liked it
This book looks at the legacy of the Blaskets, islands in the north west of Ireland. As the Irish language was vanishing throughout Ireland, these islands drew scholars and writers to them. A pocket where Irish was still the language spoken daily, this area drew a variety of visitors that elevated the islands both nationally and internationally. From J.M. Synge, the playwright to Carl Marstrander, a Norwegian linguist, the area drew both writers and scholars of the Irish language.
Some of these v
Jon Black
Nov 30, 2016 Jon Black rated it really liked it
"On an Irish Island" tells the curious story of Great Blasket, an isolated and thinly populated island off the southwest coast of Ireland, and of the group of writers who were inspired by the island, its people, and its way of life during the first half of the 20th century. In the course of reading, I discovered I was not the target demographic for this work. It is a little too micro-scale for my preferences and I have no special interest in 20th century Irish literature beyond the obligatory Jo ...more
Peter Herrmann
Aug 28, 2015 Peter Herrmann rated it did not like it
I read it because some literati reviews somewhere praised it. Actually, midway through I skipped to the final two chapters. What a slog! I can't imagine anybody other than a relative of a Blasket Islander caring about this material. Although there seemed to be much research by the author, he gets into trivia that seemed almost pointless. I felt afterwards that I had learned little about the lives of the islanders. Maybe I learned a little more about the distinguished visitors who stayed there to ...more
Deb W
Dec 24, 2013 Deb W rated it did not like it
I was enamored with this book at the start, but like a young schoolgirl in the throes of her first love that she married in haste; I had the remainder of the book to repent at leisure. At the end -- and it took a l-o-n-g time coming, I felt acrimonious toward the author for even writing it.

It seems there have been a number of books published about the Blaskets off the west coast of Ireland's county, Kerry and Kanigel thought he would string together enough loosely connected stories about persons
Aug 30, 2015 Betty rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, ireland
If you're not into all things Irish, this book is not for you. I had read several of the Blasket Islanders memoirs, so this was a good overview of the last fifty years of the island and how the memoirs came to be written and published. Its major flaw is that it doesn't adequately describe the harshness of living on the island, which was compensated for by its community and traditions. Eventually, as in the rest of Ireland, the young were emigrating to America as if Ireland were raising their chi ...more
John Benson
Jul 08, 2014 John Benson rated it it was amazing
The topic of this book was something completely new to me. Off the west coast of Ireland is an island called Great Blasket, where about 150 people made their home till the early 1950s. The book tells the story of different influential visitors who formed connections with these islanders and had some of them share their stories which then became mainstays of Irish literature. The book brings out the impact of these visits to both the visitors and the islanders and the positive connections that de ...more
At first was painful getting thru this bk but once I got used to the difficult Celtic words, it got better as the story progressed. This bk was one of those that you appreciated more once you started discussing it in a group. There was a lot of discussion, the mtg lasted about 3 hrs. Definitely was evocative & struck everyone in different ways. Anyone who's ever pondered escaping to a simpler faraway place will find this bk interesting. I made Irish soda bread which was a little on the hard ...more
Feb 07, 2014 Gail rated it really liked it
Interesting book. The author writes this history almost as a novel, and I feel as if I know some of the "characters" quite well. He relates the history is an almost spiral style, introducing people, leaving them, then coming back to them as their work or something else about them relates to another person or a later event. It's at times a bit confusing, but it's an effective device.

If you're at all interested in Ireland, Irish history, Gaelic as a language or separator of men, this is a fascina
Apr 26, 2012 Abbey rated it liked it
BOTTOM LINE: Lovely history of a once-inhabited island off the west coast of Ireland that is now empty, but had been home to a small village for centuries. Tells the story of various anthropological and social history types that came to visit and study the inhabitants starting in 1905. Not as clinical as that sentence makes it seem, this is actually a bit of a love poem to the lifestyle and the people, written by one of the last outsiders to "come visit".
Jim Willse
Mar 18, 2013 Jim Willse rated it it was amazing
It’s a book about books about an island. It’s about visitors to the Blaskets, the westernmost islands of Ireland, off the Dingle Peninsula, in Kerry. It covers the years from 1905, when the islands were visited by John Millington Synge, until 1953, when the last inhabitants left. Synge was the first of a series of visitors who came in search of a pure form of the Irish language, and the thread of the story is how those visitors came to affect life on the island, and how it affected them.
Jun 25, 2013 Jill rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, ireland
Fascinating history of the Blasket Islands, the people who lived there, and the writers who visited. Informative and well-written, it also described the magic of island life without being naive. I also appreciated how he examined what it is about the "simple life" that draws us, even today. A great book about seeking youth and beauty, and the pull between modernity and simplicity, even today. I'm adding the Blaskets to my list of places to see on my next travels through Ireland.
Jan 18, 2014 Amy marked it as to-read
DNF. This was recommended to me at my library's ebook page. It's an interesting read, but I had a difficult time reading it on my computer. It just wasn't engaging me. I think it would be better in book form without the pressure of finishing it by a certain date and with the ability to read it anywhere. Definitely will give it another try another time.
Mar 07, 2013 Carmen rated it really liked it
Shelves: european-history
A story about the Blaskett Islands in Ireland, this story combines the myths with the realities. Characters I have read in other stories, such as Peig, come back in this one. Brings wonderful memories of the vacation I spent in that part of Ireland. Just the right blend of the sadness of the poverty and the happiness about the richness of the culture.
Aug 06, 2013 Micki rated it it was amazing
Another book I bought for my sister who loves Ireland and languages. There was a balance between the wonderful (kinship,music and dancing every night) and hardships ( the isolation and lack of creature comforts) in a community that was evacuated more than a half century ago.
Mar 16, 2012 John rated it liked it
Shelves: irish-authors
This was a fact filled book about an island.(Blasket) The book is dry and not a good read. If you want to learn about the Irish language and in the purest form this is a good book. Not for fun reading.
Nick Light
Jun 21, 2013 Nick Light rated it really liked it
On a remote island in the west of Ireland, ancient norms and languages persist through the modern era, and scholars and poets come to record the old ways there before they disappear. Excellent history.
Jul 13, 2012 Zzee rated it really liked it
Beautiful, a real surprise.some of the poetry is exquiste. My fav.Robin Flower early 1900s.i love this book !

Mar 06, 2013 jane added it
I enjoyed the book and discovered where the Island of Blakesley is near Ireland. An island which brought in Irish writers and academics. Looking in a guide book it looks lovely but untamed.

Zak rated it liked it
Dec 20, 2014
Susan rated it it was amazing
Nov 09, 2015
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Robert Kanigel was born in Brooklyn, but for most of his adult life has lived in Baltimore, where he lives today. He has written seven books.

"The Man Who Knew Infinity," his second book, was named a National Book Critics Circle finalist, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, and a New York Public Library "Book to Remember." It has been translated into Italian, German, Greek, Chinese, Thai, and
More about Robert Kanigel...

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