2004-09-10: The Islandman

The Islandman (1929, tr 1937)

by Tomás O’Crohan (1856-1937), tr. Robin Flower (1881-1946)

In about 1909 the Irish language became an interest of certain English-speaking persons, and it was apparent that the purest Irish was spoken furthest from England. Carl Marstrander came to Blasket and spent five months in daily sittings with O’Crohan. Others also came, and by 1929 he had been persuaded to write about the life he knew. His work was a best-seller in Irish, and soon translated into English. This translation seems to have been done with care, and is pleasant to read.

Tomás was clearly an unusual man for any place or time, and he lived an interesting life. The stories here make very clear how hard life was on Blasket, and the changes that came in one man’s life, and the lives of those whose memories he inherited. They also make clear how the people identified with the Island, as opposed to the communities on ‘mainland’ Ireland where their relatives and in-laws lived. The stories of how Tomás lost his own children are sad, but the attitudes of people exposed to such a hazardous way of life are very different from our own; most of us would be devastated by such loss, but they carried on.

The book is very interesting, along with An Old Woman’s Reflections.


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