Great Blasket Island ferry to get new lease of life, thanks to support from BIM

For over two decades The Peig Sayers has been ferrying tourists from Dingle harbour across the bay to experience the beauty and mystery of the Great Blasket Island.

The ferry has also been a vital lifeline for the island, transporting supplies from the mainland during the summer and winter months.

Now one of the most familiar tourist attractions in Co. Kerry is to get a new lease of life, and will be fitted with new engines at the end of September thanks to a €65,000 grant under the Brexit Blue Economy Enterprise Scheme, implemented by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

“The Peig Sayers has been such a loyal servant to us,” says the owner of the ferry, and the man who runs the Great Blasket Island Experience, Billy O’Connor. “She is not only a ferry, but she is also a rubbish boat, a supply boat, and a maintenance boat. And when she breaks down, everything stops.”

Being more than 20 years old The Peig Sayers has been breaking down more frequently, something that has been disrupting Billy’s tourism business. “The new engines will make the ferry more reliable. And ultimately it will have a positive impact on the business. We are thrilled that this work is going to take place and are very grateful to BIM,” said Billy.

The Great Blasket Experience is a seasonal tourism enterprise which operates full day eco tours from Dingle Bay to the Great Blasket Island from April to October. It is licensed to carry 12 passengers, and for many years those on board got to see and interact with the famous Dolphin, Fungie.

The Great Blasket Experience also offers overnight stays in three cottages on the island, giving people the opportunity to stay in one of the most beautiful and untouched locations in Ireland. There is no electricity, running water, or wifi, so it offers a unique escape.

Outside of the tourist season The Peig Sayers makes regular trips to the island to manage the large number of sheep which are essential for the island’s ecosystem.

Said Billy: “My grandfather and granduncle first ran the ferry business and commissioned The Peig Sayers to be built in 2001. She was named after Peig Sayers the famous storyteller who lived on the Great Blasket Island. I worked with them as a young lad, and learned my trade with them.”

Billy took over the business in 2014. “While the majority of ferry operators at that time were solely focused on Fungie the Dolphin, we were one of the few eco boat tours departing from Dingle Harbour which included an extensive history and geography tour of the area, combined with island landing,” said Billy.

According to Billy his customers experience is of upmost importance – and the business strives for a high-quality standard with better tours and equipment.

The Great Basket Island was put on the map when Billy and his partner Alice did a call out for two caretakers to live on the island for the tourist season. “Since we first advertised this role five years ago we have had over 100,000 applications from people all over the world. It is incredible.” said Billy. “We were not expecting this reaction. After all it is inviting people to live for around six months on a remote island with no water, electivity, or Wi-Fi. But it is something which clearly appeals to people.”

The massive international interest in the caretaker’s role has been a huge draw for the area. Regular updates are posted on social media showcasing life on the island. “This contributes to the much sought after experience of being on the edge of the world, exploring nature. We hope this has had a knock-on effect to the local hospital sectors, and publicising and bringing more tourists to the area.” said Billy.

But central to the operation is The Peig Sayers which does one to two trips a day to the island during high season.

“We are careful not to do too many trips as this can overwhelm marine life. The new engines will allow for better fuel consumption, and we will be careful to keep driving the Peig Sayers at a moderate cruising speed of 20 knots.”

“We are looking forward to the 2024 season and to having a fit Peig Sayers doing what she does best!”