Twenty Years A-Growing (1933)
by Maurice O’Sullivan (1904-1950)
This is the third of the three books I bought at the Blasket Island Center. It seems to have been written a few years after The Islandman, and covers a much shorter period, roughly 1907 to 1927. The author left Blasket at about age twenty, went to Dublin to enter the Civic Guard, then was assigned to Connemara, where he lived the rest of his life.
His description of Blasket is the view of a boy and young man, at a time when many young people were emigrating to America. I found the work very interesting. His recollections begin in a kind of orphanage at about age four, and he describes going to school for a few years in Dingle, before his father takes him to Blasket. Once there he describes the way of life of a youth, attending school, working with animals, fishing, and meeting the man who would encourage him to leave Blasket, but not to emigrate to America, and who became a translator of the story.
It is interesting that the books I have read seem to have been very popular as examples of Irish language writing. I will probably never read them in Irish, but it would be interesting to know more about how they influenced people to appreciate the language, and helped it to become more popular. The author comments on the differences in dialect between Blasket (presumably a more “pure” dialect) and that of Connemara.
In considering the three books, I would recommend reading them in this order: The Islandman, An Old Woman’s Reflections, Twenty Years A-Growing. An Old Woman’s Reflections is quicker to read, and consists of quite short stories, but I think they would be more interesting with the background of The Islandman. All of them are tinged with the sadness of a lost culture. It is interesting to think about the pros and cons of such cultural loss, similar to that of many Native American cultures, in the face of extremes of hardship that the people endured. It is completely understandable why the young people preferred to seek a better life elsewhere.