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.