A young couple from Canada and the Netherlands have been announced as the next caretakers of the Blasket Islands.
Each year the position attracts thousands of applicants vying to spend a summer working on the remote island off the Dingle peninsula, looking after visitors.
Claire De Haas and Brock Montgomery have been together for four years and decided to apply to the position almost on a whim:
“Two years ago we were on a little island in Malaysia and I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw this article about the Great Blasket Islands, they were searching for caretakers and I immediately saw the amount of people that responded so I just scrolled on further,” Claire recalled.
“And then something in me said, ‘No, just scroll back and show it to Brock.’ So that’s what I did and Brock actually immediately said, ‘Where can we apply?’”
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The two are experienced world travellers; they met four years ago in the Netherlands while Brock was playing hockey in nearby Germany. Since then they’ve explored Europe and Asia together and criss-crossed Brock’s native Canada in a campervan as well.
Potentially, life together in a campervan will have left them well prepared for a summer on An Blascaod Mór and the pair say they are under no illusions about the hard work ahead of them:
“We’ve had a few calls with Alice and Billy [who own the accommodation] already. We know it’s not going to be a holiday paradise with palm trees and whatever,” said Claire.
“We’re going to work pretty hard especially when it’s warm. [We’ll] probably work seven days a week - just welcoming guests and making sure they’re at ease.”
When the sky was blue and the sun rising - An early morning hike to the back of the Island never disappoints. pic.twitter.com/ukJ5WqR3X3
— Great Blasket Island (@gbisland) October 16, 2021
One man who knows exactly what their lives will be like this summer is former caretaker Eoin Boyle. He says that life out on the island is tough - but at times incredibly fulfilling:
“You’re dealing with all the elements. You’re very close to nature. There’s a lot of planning and you can’t pop to the shops if you forget something, you really need to be organised and ready for anything that could happen,” Eoin told The Anton Savage Show.
“The sea is the boss out there, if the sea swells at all and rises, it’s very difficult for the boats to get in. So usually the plan is, Billy and Alice, they drop over a big cooler full of stock to try and get you through the days.
“Two to three days was kind of the most we were ever really by ourselves but you wouldn’t be short of things.
“Look back over to Dún Chaoin, with the seasons, with the days, with the weather, the clouds moving, it’s just spectacular. It stopped me in my tracks so many times.”
Informants, Munster: Blasket Portraits; Girl [Redux]
Great Blasket Island, Co. Kerry
Photographer: Carl W. von Sydow
Source: https://t.co/8MANYEzBkd @duchas_ie CC BY-NC 4.0 pic.twitter.com/ufttC4CJ6l
— Old Ireland in Colour Takeover / The Past Revived (@irelandincolour) April 9, 2020
An Blascaod Mór was inhabited until 1953 when it was evacuated due to its declining population and remoteness from modern life. Locals had become famous the world over because of the literature produced by islanders such as Peig Sayers, Muiris Ó Súilleabháin and Tomás Ó Criomhthain. To this day it remains a place of huge historical interest to those fascinated by Gaelic culture and history.