The Islander by Tomás Ó Criomhthain
Life on the Blasket Islands…
Tomás Ó Criomhthain had four sisters, Maura, Kate, Eileen and Nora, and a brother, Pats. His personality was well-grounded in intimate affection and respect for his parents who lived to a ripe old age. The only, minor, disharmony arose between himself and Nora who was five years older than he. She had been the family favourite until Tomás arrived “unexpectedly”. Her jealousy of him created friction between them.
He married Máire Ní Chatháin in 1878. She bore ten children but many died before reaching adulthood: One boy fell from a cliff while hunting for a fledgling gull to keep as a pet among the chickens; others died of measles and whooping cough; their son Domhnall drowned while attempting to save a woman from the sea; others were taken by other misfortunes. Máire herself died while still relatively young. Their son Seán wrote a book, Lá dar Saol (A Day in Our Life), describing the emigration of the remaining islanders to the mainland and America when the Great Blasket was finally abandoned in the 1940s and 50s.
He wrote two books, Allagar na h-Inise (Island Cross-Talk) written over the period 1918–23 and published in 1928, and An t-Oileánach (The Islandman), completed in 1923 and published in 1929. Both have been translated into English.
Born in 1856, this autobiography ‘The Islander’ spans a whole lifetime. O Crohan himself died in 1937. The book is full to the brim with adventure, sadness and countless interesting characters. More than anything though, it captures on paper a world that is long gone, where people fought against the elements and faced hardship on a daily basis. Death was a regular occurrence, but people on the Blaskets just had to get on with life and focus on securing the next meal.
Slea Head and the Blasket Islands. Mounted prints available here from €25.