- A couple quit their jobs in London to become caretakers of a remote Irish island.
- Dan Regan and Emily Campbell run a coffee shop and cottages on Great Blasket Island.
- With no running water or electricity, and demanding wildlife, they’ve had a steep learning curve.
How far would you go to escape burnout? For one couple, the answer was about 450 miles west and into the Atlantic Ocean.
At the start of April, Emily Campbell and her husband Dan Regan became caretakers of Great Blasket Island, a 1,100-acre island off the West coast of Ireland.
The couple beat out thousands of other applicants to run the island for six months. With no running water or electricity, and sometimes difficult visitors, they’ve faced a steep learning curve.
Thousands of applicants
Regan, a civil engineer, and Campbell, a nurse, applied for the role of caretaker when they were going through what Regan described as the “January blues.” The position offered the chance to manage three cottages and a cafe and, more importantly, a chance to escape the rat race.
They were told there had been about 150,000 to take care of the island in the last five years. So to stand out, Regan and Campbell did away with a written application and instead sent in a video montage.
They were shortlisted and had a call with Billy O’Connor and Alice Hayes, a couple who own the island’s cottages, for a final screening.
“It was just quite an informal chat and basically them being like, ‘Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourself into?'” Campbell said.
Dan and Emily get free food and accommodation to manage the island and receive a salary from the owners.
Sheering sheep and making coffee
The job is as multifaceted as you would imagine from running an island. Sheering some of the island’s 200 sheep and giving them their vitamins is part of the job, as is looking after overnight guests and making coffee for day visitors.
Regan leads coffee-shop duties, while Campbell handles the changeovers of overnight guests. They’ll still try and balance some of the more unpleasant chores, like cleaning the toilet.
Regan drives the quad that helps transport several deliveries sent to the island. The couple said they’ve taken a lamb under their wing too, feeding it three times a day.
They do all these tasks on an island with no hot running water or conventional electricity. The couple uses a car battery connected to a wind turbine to power some essentials like their phones and head torches for guests.
“We’re sleeping better than ever because we don’t have screens and artificial light for most of the day, which is nice,” Campbell said.
Trouble with tourists
Great Blasket is about 22 miles north of Skellig Michael, the island which filled in as Luke Skywalker’s hideaway in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” The movie made the island a huge tourist attraction, causing it to suffer damage.
Campbell and Regan have faced a similar struggle with Great Blasket: accommodating tourists while ensuring the island is respected.
Previous caretakers Brock Montgomery and Claire de Haas told the Irish Mirror that tourists were badly behaved when they visited the island. The couple reported public urination, littering, and even visitors throwing seals.
While Regan and Campbell haven’t had trouble with littering, they’ve also been frustrated by visitors upsetting the island’s seals.
“There have been several occasions already where people have spooked them and run up, jumped on the beach, kind of making lots of noise. And then it’s really sad because it’s their space to rest and they’ve got their pups there,” Campbell said.
For now, the couple isn’t sure what they’ll do when their tenancy runs out in October. But they do find it hard to imagine living in a big city again.