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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


Acknowledgements I wish to express my gratitude to those who have accompanied me and assisted me in so many ways on my long journey through the writings of Tomás O’Crohan. I am deeply indebted to Anne Collett for the enthusi- asm, quiet wisdom and intellectual generosity with which she supervised my postgraduate research. With her encouragement, I entered the life of the Academy through participation in the life of our own university and through membership of IASIL, whose members have nourished and extended my love of Irish Studies over the past few years. I am thankful too to Áine de Paor for her lessons in Irish language and her translations of several critical articles that were most useful to the study. A debt of thanks is owed to Micheál de Mordha and Ruth Uí hOg’ain who opened the archive of the Blasket Heritage Centre, Dunquin, to me, and to the staff of Dingle Public Library for allowing the use of their records. I wish also to thank Carol Woolley of the University of Wollongong Library for the many documents she retrieved from places far away and from times long ago. I wish also to acknowledge the personal support of my husband and family. I thank Pasquale for the chance to live out this dream and for sharing the adventure, for dropping everything to go to conferences in far-flung places. Thank you also to my sister, Joanne Harris, for the oppor- tunity to study in places of unique tranquillity....

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