Blasket Island Writers

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Blasket Island Writers

The major cultural-revival association founded in 1893, the Gaelic League, conferred new significance on the Irish language, oral culture, and the traditional way of life of the Gaeltachtaí, or Irish-speaking areas of Ireland. Interest in the Celtic languages generated by the rise of European philology in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and the "gaelicization" policy of the new Irish state influenced by the Gaelic League, brought growing numbers of scholars and students to the Dingle peninsula of County Kerry in the southwest to study modern Irish, and especially to the Great Blasket Island lying about three miles offshore, which had a special attraction for linguists, medievalists, and folklorists owing to its remoteness.

The interest shown by scholars such as Carl Marstrander, Robin Flower, and Kenneth Jackson in the language and folklore of the island, the influence of the Gaelic League on the islanders' perception of the importance of their language and culture, and the encouragement of language enthusiasts from the mainland developed an increasing awareness among islanders of the need to record their disappearing way of life. Tomás Ó Criomhthain (or O'Crohan) (1856–1937) was the first to do so in his journal of island life (Allagar na hInise, 1927), his classical autobiographical work (An tOileánach, 1929, translated into English as The Island-man by Robin Flower), and his topography of the Blasket island group (Dinnsheanchas na mBlascaodaí, 1935), in which he vividly and incisively depicts his natural environment, life on the island, and the mentality of the island community.

Muiris Ó Súilleabháin's celebrated depiction of a young man's view of Blasket Island life, Fiche Blian ag Fás, appeared in 1933. Owing much to the inspiration of the English classicist and student of modern Irish, George Thomson, it became, on translation into English, a world classic.

The gifted Blasket storyteller Peig Sayers (1873–1958) left three dictated accounts of her life (Peig, 1936, Machtnamh Seana-Mhná, 1939, and Beatha Pheig Sayers, 1970), providing a female perspective on island experience. Peig became known to generations of schoolchildren as it featured at intervals as a prescribed text on the Leaving Certificate Irish syllabus from 1943 to 1995, and it may still (2001–2003) be read for the optional course.

Among the next generation of Blasket writers, after the evacuation of the island in 1953 (due to population decline through emigration, and the lack of essential services), were Peig Sayers's son, Micheál Ó Guithín, whose elegiac autobiography (Is Trua na Fanann an Óige) appeared in that same year, and Tomás Ó Criomhthain's son, Séan, whose account (Lá dár Saol, 1969) is an epilogue to the story of the Great Blasket and to the tale of how the islanders settled on the mainland.

The Blasket Island literature, emphasizing autobiography as a literary medium and epitomizing the Gaelic League's ideal of the language and folklore of the Gaeltacht as the well-spring of a new literature in Irish, influenced genre, content, form, and style of the prose literature of the Gaelic revival for several decades. The Blasket writers were also important to the folklore movement through their use of oral tradition and their detailed depiction of a traditional society. An important corpus of folklore was collected from Peig Sayers by Robin Flower and Kenneth Jackson, and by her most important collector, Seosamh Ó Dálaigh, on behalf of the Irish Folklore Commission, after her return to the mainland in 1942. Flower's collection of folklore from Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Seanchas ón Oileán Tiar, appeared posthumously in 1949.

SEE ALSO Arts: Modern Irish and Anglo-Irish Literature and the Arts since 1800; Fiction, Modern; Gaelic Revivalism: The Gaelic League; Language and Literacy: Decline of Irish Language; Language and Literacy: Irish Language since 1922; Primary Documents: "The End" (1926); "Pierce's Cave" (1933); "Scattering and Sorrow" (1936)



Flower, Robin. The Western Island or The Great Blasket. 1941.

Mac Conghail, Muiris. The Blaskets: People and Literature. 1994, 1987.

Ní Aimhirgin, Nuala. Muiris Ó Súileabháin. 1983.

Nic Eoin, Máirín. An Litríocht Réigiúnach. 1982.

Ó Muircheartaigh, Aogán, ed. Oidhreacht an Bhlascaoid. 1989.


Flower, Robin, ed. "Sgéalta ón mBlascaod." Béaloideas 2 (1930): 97–111, 199–210.

Flower, Robin, ed. "Measgra ón Oileán Tiar." Béaloideas 25 (1957): 46–106.

Ó Criomhthain, Seán. Lá dár Saol. 1969.

Ó Criomhthain, Tomás. Allagar na hInise, edited by Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha (An Seabhac). 1928. New enlarged edition edited by Pádraig Ua Maoileoin, 1977.

Ó Criomhthain, Tomás. An tOileánach. 1929, 1967. New edition by Pádraig Ua Maoileoin, 1973. New edition by Seán Ó Coileáin, 2002.

Ó Criomhthain, Tomás. Dinnsheanchas na mBlascaodaí. 1935.

Ó Criomhthain, Tomás. Island Cross-Talk: Pages from a Diary. 1928. Translated by Tim Enright. 1986.

Ó Criomhthain, Tomás. Seanchas ón Oileán Tiar. Edited by Séamus Ó Duilearga. 1956.

Ó Criomhthain, Tomás (Pádraig Ua Maoileoin). Allagar II. 1999.

O'Crohan, Seán. A Day in Our Life. Translated by Tim En-right. 1992.

Ó Crohan, Tomás. The Islandman. Translated by Robin Flower. 1934, 1943, 1951, 1978.

Ó Gaoithín, Micheál. Is Truagh ná Fanann an Óige. 1953.

Ó Gaoithín, Micheál. Beatha Pheig Sayers. 1970.

Ó'Guiheen, Micheál. A Pity Youth Does Not Last. Translated by Tim Enright. 1982.

Ó Súileabháin, Muiris. Fiche Blian ag Fás. 1933, 1976, 1978.

O'Sullivan, Maurice. Twenty Years A-Growing. Translated by Moya Llewelyn Davies and George Thomson. 1933. Revised translation, 1953.

Sayers, Peig. Peig.i: A Scéal Féin do Scríobh Peig Sayers. Edited by Máire Ní Chinnéide. 1936.

Sayers, Peig. Scéalta ón mBlascaod. Edited by Kenneth Jackson. 1938, 1998.

Sayers, Peig. Machtnamh Seana-Mhná. Edited by Máire Ní Chinnéide. 1939.

Sayers, Peig. Peig: School Editions. Edited by Máire Ní Chinnéide. 1954?, 1970.

Sayers, Peig. An Old Woman's Reflections. Translated by Séamus Ennis. Introduction by W. R. Rogers. 1962.

Sayers, Peig. Peig: The Autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island. Translated by Bryan MacMahon. 1974.

Sayers, Peig. Machnamh Seanmhná. New edition by Pádraig Ua Maoileoin. 1980.

Sayers, Peig. Peig. A Scéal Féin. New rev. edition by Máire Ní Mhainnín and Liam P. Ó Murchú. 1998.

Patricia Lysaght