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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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Chapter Four “The Song We Made Together”: Cultural Production and Translation in the Blaskets 115


CHAPTER FOUR “The Song We Made Together”: Cultural Production and Translation in the Blaskets Any reading of Tomás’ texts as “authentic” or for “the authentic” must take into account the fact that others apart from the author himself were also implicated in the production of his texts and thus impacted upon the “cul- ture” that is represented in them. Most significant of those who played a part were Brian Ó Ceallaigh who is credited with recognising Tomás’ ability to tell his own story and instigating the autobiographical process; An Seabhac, the editor of his two major works; and Robin Flower, his translator, all of whom came from places outside the Island. At first glance, it might seem obvious that Brian Ó Ceallaigh, an Irishman born in Killarney, and his teacher, Ventry-born An Seabhac, were insiders to Irish culture equipped to appreciate the culture of the Blasket Islands. It might also seem obvious that Robin Flower, an Englishman sent to the Island by a Norwegian linguist, was an outsider to Irish culture and thus less equipped for the encounter with Blasket culture. A consideration of the circumstances of their lives and of the roles they played in the production of Tomás’ texts will show that the easy assumption of the obvious can be misleading. We are indebted to Muiris Mac Conghail for much of what we know about Brian Ó Ceallaigh who was, by all accounts, a lonely and mysterious man with few friends (Mac Conghail 1994 140–2). A Killarney...

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