'Bouncers' on wild isle baffle visitors seeking Irish soul

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The Independent Online

The windswept Great Blasket island off Ireland's wild Atlantic west coast is said to reflect certain aspects of the Irish soul, with its brooding history and almost mystical isolation.

It is on the very edge of Europe, at the end of one world and the beginning of another: the geographical fact that the next stop is Newfoundland attracts several thousand fascinated visitors there every year.

So the recent stationing of men described as "bouncers" on the island is raising eyebrows. The men have been handing out notices to visitors, some of whom have travelled thousands of miles, warning them against trespassing. A small group of tourists who arrived there the other day were allowed to land but were solemnly handed leaflets by security men sternly pointing out the hazards of wandering into privately owned land.

Their warnings have arisen from unresolved issues swirling around the island concerning its ownership, its future and property and ferrying rights.

Hence the printed words of discouraging caution: "More than 90 per cent of the land on the Great Blasket Island is private and the owners have the same rights to permit or deny access as apply to property on the mainland," it specifies.

The warnings amaze visitors because Great Blasket is uninhabited. The last family left in the 1950s, joining many others who had established a kind of Blaskets colony in Springfield, Massachusetts. The harsh island life and in particular the collapse of the fishing industry had brought about a gradual depopulation.

The land is now in the possession of a variety of owners, some of whom object to a ferry which they describe as "a business built on trespass''. This is not, however, a large-scale conflict: there were only seven visitors on the ferry which received the warnings.

The Irish authorities would like to buy the island with a view to applying for Unesco world heritage status, building a new pier and preserving homes used by the many authors associated with the island. But its plans ran into a 10-year legal dispute over compensation.