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The Islandman

The Hidden Life of Tomás O’Crohan


Irene Lucchitti

This book concerns Tomás O’Crohan of the Blasket Islands and offers a radical reinterpretation of this iconic Irish figure and his place in Gaelic literature. It examines the politics of Irish culture that turned O’Crohan into «The Islandman» and harnessed his texts to the national political project, presenting him as an instinctual, natural hero and a naïve, almost unwilling writer, and his texts as artefacts of unselfconscious, unmediated linguistic and ethnographic authenticity. The author demonstrates that such misleading claims, never properly scrutinised before this study, have been to the detriment of the author’s literary reputation and that they have obscured the deeply personal and highly idiosyncratic purpose and nature of his writing.
At the core of the book is a recognition that what O’Crohan wrote was not primarily a history, nor an ethnography, but an autobiography. The book demonstrates that the conventional reading of the texts, which privileges O’Crohan’s fisherman identity, has hidden from view the writer protagonist inscribed in the texts, subordinating his identity as a writer to his identity as a peasant. The author shows O’Crohan to have been a literary pioneer who negotiated the journey from oral tradition into literature as well as a modern, self-aware man of letters engaging deliberately and artistically with questions of mortality.


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Acknowledgements 9 Introduction 11 Chapter One Wild Things and Western Men: Impressions of the People, Culture and Language of the Blaskets 23 Chapter Two “Illiterate Natives of A Wet Rock”? Oral Tradition and Literacy on the Blasket Islands 51 Chapter Three “The Lap of the Lost Mother”: The Gaeltacht and Revival 79 Chapter Four “The Song We Made Together”: Cultural Production and Translation in the Blaskets 115 Chapter Five “Each With His Own Tune”: The Personal Voice of Tomás O’Crohan 157 Chapter Six Sé Seo Mo Scéalsa: “This Is My Story” – Tomás O’Crohan and Autobiography 183 Conclusion “All that Seaboard a Silent Land”: Echoes of Voices Still 207 Bibliography 211 Index 223

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