“I am a boy who was born and bred in the Great Blasket, a truly small Gaelic island which lies north-west of the coast of Kerry, where the storm of the sky and the wild sea beat without ceasing from end to end of the year and from generation to generation against the wrinkled rocks which stand above the waves that was in and out of the coves where the seals make their homes.”
On the 28th of April I shook my feathers made ready my mind, washed and cleaned my body till I had the salt rubbed out of my skin, and with the sea-tan gone from my face and the look of the city swell upon me, I set out for the Depot in Phoenix Park, myself and my friend beside me.” –Moires O Suilleabbain’s account of his arrival at Garda Headquarters. It was a Tuesday morning in 1927.
According to Garda records he joined as member 7561, Maurice Sullivan with a height of 5 feet 10 and three-quarter inches. His occupation was Fisherman and he was recommended by “An Seabhac” (Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha, another Kerryman).
Muiris Ó Súilleabháin was born on the Great Blasket island on 19 February 1904, into an Irish-speaking community. His mother died when he was 6 months old and he was reared in an orphanage in Dingle and returned to the Great Blasket in 1911. He was enrolled in the Blasket National School on 22 August 1911. Poet, Micheal Ó Súilleabháin was his great-grandfather and Tomas O Criomthain was his uncle.
Linguist, scholar (and later a Professor of Greek), George Derwent Thomson visited the Blaskets first on 27 August, 1923, attracted by the way of life and to learn Irish and ended that first visit on 30 September. Thomson struck up a friendship with Muiris, who was only a year older than Ó Súilleabháin and had almost complete fluency of the Irish language within a few weeks. As one of the last areas of Ireland in which the old Irish language and culture had continued unchanged, the Great Blasket Island was a place of enormous interest to those seeking traditional Irish narratives, he urged Muiris to join the police force of the Irish State (the Garda Siochána), and later to write.
While stationed as a Garda in Indreabhán, in the Connemara Gaeltacht, he wrote Fiche Bliain ag Fás (and the translation Twenty Years A-Growing), were published in 1933. Thomson edited and assembled the memoir, and arranged for its translation into English with the help of Moya Llewelyn Davies.
On 25 June, while swimming at a place called ‘Lovers Strand’ near Salthill, Ó Súilleabháin drowned. He left a widow and two children. Eoghan (who went on the become an Abbey actor) and Máirin. The final resting place of the man who always claimed that he “wasn’t an Irishman, but a Blasket Islander,” is in a cemetery near Carraroe, Co Galway.
Photo: Ruins of Muiris O’ Suilleabhain’s house, Blasket Island, Co Kerry