Sixty years ago to-day, the last remaining Islanders were evacuated from the Great Blasket Island . One of the three most famous Blasket Island books was Fiche Bliain ag Fás. It was published in Irish and English in 1933. As one of the last areas of Ireland, in which the Irish language and culture had continued unchanged, the Great Blasket Island was a place of enormous interest to those seeking traditional Irish narratives. Muiris Ó Súilleabháin was persuaded to write his memoirs by George Thomson, a linguist and professor of Greek who had come to the island to hear and learn the Irish language. It was Thomson who encouraged him to go into the Guards, rather than emigrate to America as most of the young people did. Thomson edited and assembled the memoir, and arranged for its translation into English with the help of Moya Llewelyn Davies.
Following the death of his mother when he was six months old, Ó Súilleabháin was raised in an institution in Dingle, Co. Kerry. Aged eight, he returned to Great Blasket Island to live with his father, grandfather and the rest of his siblings, and learnt the native language. He joined the Garda Síochána in Dublin in 1927 and was stationed in the Gaeltacht area of Connemara, where he kept up contact with George Thomson. In 1934, Ó Súilleabháin left the Guards and settled in Connemara. He drowned on 25 June 1950, while swimming off the Connemara coast.
Muiris’ s daughter Máire Ní Shúilleabháin-UíChiobháin, who is now a retired Nurse. living in Galway. My sister-in-law, Anne Moloney (Scully) got this lovely letter from Máire reminiscing about their schooldays in Dingle. She finished it off with a long poem about life in Dingle in late 1950s. We will publish this poem to-morrow in the blog.
We left Connemara in 1954, four years after my father, Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, had drowned. At this point his sister Eibhlín, nó Neilí Sheáin Lís, had died in Springfield and also her brother Séan – both in their forties – of heart disease or heartache and loneliness. A mixture of all I would say, as their sister Máire had returned to Ireland and married Pádraig Ó Ciobháin, and settled in Carraig, Baile na nGall. Máire was the eldest of the three Súilleabháins who had lived in Springfield. It was said that Máire leaving to go home affected them greatly and thit an tóin as an sail and cailleadh le huaigneas an bheirt. Níor phos cheachtar acu.
This left my father Muiris, who was drowned in 1950 and Mike who was now a tailor in Dingle, married to Hannah Philí Ni Chearna, with no family. Mike had served his time in the tailoring trade with the Lynch family in the Cottges in Dingle. He had died in 1951 of heart disease.
Hannah was now alone in Goat St, as was the custom in those dark days, she was ‘mad to have me stay with her for a while’ for the company. So in 1954, I landed in Dingle where I spent three magical eccentric years, leaving an imprint on my soul forever more.
The small house backed onto the Convent wall where I went to school at the age of 10 and spent three happy years. The nuns were wonderful women, totally dedicated, be it in the classroom, or in the large welcoming kitchen with the Aga and its warmth, where I was brought on a few occasions. I must mention Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart or Sr. Mary Tarrant, who arrived as a fresh-faced new teacher and mothered and cared for me whilst I was there. She certainly influenced us all greatly and we never forgot all she taught us.
Three years afterwards, I was to attend a Catholic girls’ school in West Yorkshire, run by the Passionist Sisters, and found that what I carried with me from Dingle, placed me in a different league on the steps of education.”
Look out to-morrow, for Máire’s poem depicting life in Dingle in late 1950s, people and places.
Such a sad story of families departing and having to be separated. I know how my mother felt when she married and eventually left her home in Tralee in 1919 and came out to Australia in 1922, knowing she would probably never see her family again. When she died in 1946 of a stroke after having heart trouble for 9 years, and I was only 12 years old, I know what it was like to leave my home and family and live with other people then college untill I was 16. Coming home again to my Dad but not having Mum there was very sad for me but I was determined to look after Dad and do the best I could for him. I had a job as a Secretary in a Timber Company and eventually married in 1952 to a beautiful man ( who passed on 3 years ago) and raised a family of 5 children. Many relatives and friends say how I was and still am a very carinig mother but I never wanted my children to feel the insecurity and loneliness I felt as a child. I stll have them all living close by with their children married giving me 12 Grandchildren (1 beautiful girl dying at birth) and 5 grt grandchildren. I feel so lucky and privilidged to still have them all and Thank God for allowing me to live to see them all.
I have only opened this site today Kay but will go back and find the other stories from this beautiful land of my parents birth.
Mary Mizzi (formerly Hooley)
It is really great to know that you found this site firstly and then that you can understand what our emigrants had to go through to make a better life for themselves. Would you like me to look up your mother’s family in Tralee in the 1911 Census? I would just need her christian name and surname. Kay C
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This makes me so sad to read of Eibhlin’s death in Springfield, Missiouri. I am a mature student, studying the literature of the Blaskets especially Eibhlín’s diary: Cin Lae, which I loved and An t-Oileánach.
It is good to be able to read what Muiris’s daughter wrote.