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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 Six Sé Seo Mo Scéalsa: “This Is My Story” – Tomás O’Crohan and Autobiography 183


CHAPTER SIX Sé Seo Mo Scéalsa: “This Is My Story” – Tomás O’Crohan and Autobiography Sé seo mo scéalsa, “this is my story”, wrote Tomás as he made his first attempt to draw his autobiography to its close (Ó Coileáin 255). This conclusion was rejected by his editor, An Seabhac, who demanded something more suit- able or substantial from the writer. Though he complied with the request and in so doing wrote the chapter that has become the most famous of the book, Tomás was clearly irritated by An Seabhac’s criticism of his original ending, as his terse reply to An Seabhac makes plain: “maybe it does not have such a short tail now. If there is a sentence in it which does not appeal to you, just leave it out” (255). The incident is significant for several rea- sons. First, in using the customary words of valediction of the traditional storyteller to close the written account of his life, Tomás gives literary representation to a moment of dialogue between the past and present, recording a significant moment in the translation of the old traditions of the culture into the new medium of writing. Secondly, in using these old, formulaic words, he declares his ownership of the story that has been told, he acknowledges his place in the old traditions and he asserts and affirms his identity as an author. Though his protagonist self ’s identity as a writer is rarely given more than scant...

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