Making the case for the Blasket Islands

Ciana Meyers interviews Trinity alum Lorcán Ó Cinnéide on his time at Trinity and his crucial role in developing The Dingle Peninsula’s cultural resources

Growing up in Ireland’s West Kerry Gaeltacht, Lorcán Ó Cinnéide recalls fond memories of “a wonderful environment [with] music, songs, stories and people”. 

A visit to the Dingle Peninsula comes highly recommended. Beyond the island’s inherent natural beauty, it hosts many events dedicated to Irish cultural interests: The Dingle Food Festival, musical territories of Irish traditional Scoil Cheoil an Earraigh and intercontinental Other Voices. 

Photo by Ciana Meyers for Trinity News

“The wide range of people he met [growing up in the islands] encouraged his curiosity, broad-mindedness and self confidence.”

Recalling his upbringing, Ó Cinnéide shared that “if you stick around long enough on the Dingle Peninsula, the world comes to you”. The wide range of people he met there complemented his parents’ encouragement of curiosity, broad-mindedness and self confidence. His father, Caoimhín, was a teacher who believed that the best way to emphasise an idea was to speak it rather than write it on paper. His personal motto “never look up or down at anyone” still resonates with Ó Cinnéide. He noted that being a member of a large family made him more considerate and aware of others.

This upbringing led to full and exciting years at Trinity College. Ó Cinnéide entered Trinity as a mature student to study Economic and Social Studies, and graduated in 1989. During his time in Trinity, he enjoyed Hist debates and served as Auditor for the Politics Society. Thinking back, Ó Cinnéide remembers his love for the library, where he “devoured books, except the ones I should have been reading, I think”. He remembers sitting in on Brendan Kennelly’s lectures and witnessing the contributions of Nobel Peace Laureate Seán McBride to Séamus Heaney. Although living in Front Square during his final year meant many meals at the Buttery, Ó Cinnéide thoroughly enjoyed not only Dublin’s galleries and musical venues but family time too. His sisters Leila and Neasa were in Dublin as well, with the latter’s husband being Trinity Provost John Hegarty. 

“Ó Cinnéide’s current work entails conserving the island and its accessibility, something the government has named a priority.”

Ó Cinnéide’s high regard for The Great Blasket Island, located off the west coast of the Dingle Peninsula, informed his government job in the Office of Public Works. A place known to many thanks to the work of Peig Sayers and Tomás Ó Criomhthain, the island has even had its own cultural centre since 1993 in Duquin to celebrate and educate visitors on its culture. Ó Cinnéide’s work involved rejuvenating this space, which was a serious investment. Current work entails conserving the island and its accessibility, something the government has named a priority. In 2022, the Centre celebrated Beauty an Oileáin, an album dedicated to the musical heritage of the Blasket Islands, with former Taoiseach Micheál Martin in attendance at the ceremony. 

Photo by Ciana Meyers for Trinity News

Ó Cinnéide finds power in “the emotional gut feeling response to art, something we can’t always grasp and comprehend”. When paired with the unique tendencies of the mind, this emotional link develops further complexity. He believes a personal experience with art, whether that be a book or music, becomes “woven into the story – one’s own story”. What is crucial for Ó Cinnéide is the individual’s encounter with art, painted by the unique interplay of thought and experience like brushstrokes. 

Ciana Meyers

Ciana Meyers is a Deputy Arts & Culture Editor and is currently in her second year of English Literature.