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The Islandman

The Hidden Life of Tomás O’Crohan

Series:

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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Chapter Three “The Lap of the Lost Mother”: The Gaeltacht and Revival 79

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CHAPTER THREE “The Lap of the Lost Mother”: The Gaeltacht and Revival As resilient and self-sufficient as the oral tradition of the Island had been over the centuries, as we have seen, it was neither insular nor imperme- able, as early discussion of Blasket culture implied. And so, just as Tomás, an Islandman surrounded by an often hostile sea, had to navigate his own sea-path as he ploughed and harvested the ocean, he had also, as the epony- mous Islandman, to navigate the ideological waves that washed over him. Wave after wave of imported ideology swirled around the bedrock of Island culture, brought in by mainland visitors that included Gaelic League activ- ists as well as foreign scholars, all alarmed by the rapid decline of the Irish language. While the foreign scholars were concerned about the threatened loss of one of the oldest European languages, Irish fear for the language was part of a broader range of political concerns. The death of Parnell is often identified as the watershed moment in the Irish history of this period. His fall from grace resulted in a widespread disillusionment with the political processes that had failed to achieve Home Rule and left a void in the public discourse of the nation (Welch 466). Many see his fall as the moment of realisation that the solution to the crisis facing the Irish nation was as much cultural as it was political. Thus, the various cultural activities aimed at Revival grew directly out of...

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