Nonagenarian joins list of authors from Blasket Islands
Oldest living Blasket islander Michael Carney (93) makes an emotional return journey to the island where he was reared
Michael J Carney (Micheál Ó Ceárna) travelled back to the Great Blasket at 93 years of age, accompanied by his family. Photograph: Valerie O’Sullivan
The oldest living Blasket islander, Michael Carney, aka Micheál Ó Ceárna (93), made an emotional return journey at the weekend to the island where he had been reared. Accompanied by sons, daughters, grandchildren and son-in-law, Mr Carney appealed to people not to forget their heritage.
Born in 1920, he left the island at 16 and spent much of his life in the US. However, he has maintained strong links with west Kerry.
His trip to his native island coincided with the launch of his memoirs at the Blasket Island interpretive centre at Dunquin. The Great Blasket, an uninhabited treeless island in the Atlantic, became a centre of literary effort thanks to the encouragement of urban-based scholars who visited the remote fishing community seeking to learn Irish in the early part of the 20th century.
It was abandoned 60 years ago after life became impossible for the handful of islanders left there and was neglected for many years. Mr Carney’s book, subtitled “the last memoir”, follows in the 80-year tradition of Tomás Ó Criomhthain’s An tOileá nach , Peig Sayers’s Peig and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin’s Fiche Bliain ag Fá s and many others, but it is the first to be written only in English.
Now in State ownership, for the most part, restoration work is taking place on the old village and other areas. Neglected for years because of legal wrangling over ownership, its importance as a nature reserve has recently begun to be appreciated.
From the Great Blasket to America – The Last Memoir by an Islander (The Collins Press, €12.99) tells the story of Carney’s childhood as well as his decision to leave the island – and its isolation – in 1937 to seek a better future in Dublin and eventually in America. He spoke no English when he left the island to work in Dublin and he continues to speak Irish.
A regular visitor to Dunquin from his home in Springfield, Mr Carney has been conferred with an honorary doctorate in Celtic literature from Maynooth for his efforts on behalf of the Irish language.
He was encouraged by his son-in-law Gerald Hayes to begin writing the book when he was 92. Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan officially launched the book at the weekend.