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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 Five “Each With His Own Tune”: The Personal Voice of Tomás O’Crohan 157


CHAPTER FIVE “Each With His Own Tune”: The Personal Voice of Tomás O’Crohan In their exploration of the paratext that has long coloured the reading of Tomás’ work and limited recognition of his literary identity, intention and achievement, the previous chapters have recast the events portrayed in the framing narrative as a series of dialogues that translated Tomás into the Islandman. While much of the dialogue that called the Islandman into being remained outside his pages, those pages nevertheless bear its imprint. These chapters reconsidered the impact of the persons, processes and philosophies that facilitated, mediated and constrained the produc- tion of Tomás’ texts. They demonstrate the need to interrogate further Tomás’ sense of agency in the production of his own texts and contest the impression one gathers from the paratext that the dialogues in which he was engaged were unequal. Like the latter-day “ancient” that he was, engaged in a dialogue with modernity that replicated the mythic dialogue at the heart of the Acallam na Senórach, Tomás negotiated a profound cultural shift. He brought the habits and practices of orality into contact with the page and mediated a cultural exchange between the oral tradition of the Island and literature. In doing so, he also moderated a dialogue between the Island and the wider world. Dialogue implies voice and indeed there are many discussions of Tomás’ voice in the critical literature. The commentary on voice expresses two broad, related themes. The first...

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