I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Augmenting Memory, Dispelling Amnesia

Augmenting Memory, Dispelling Amnesia

Lillis Ó Laoire
Róise Rua: An Island Memoir, by Pádraig Ua Cnáimhsí, translated by JJ Keaveny. Mercier Press, 288 pages, €19.99, ISBN: 978-1856356244 Island autobiographies and memoirs are synonymous with the emergence of a strong voice in Irish language writing, something new for a people who had previously been represented primarily in English by outsiders. The publication in the 1920s and 30s of the Blasket island books The Islandman, Peig and Twenty Years A-growing, first in Irish and, subsequently, in translation in English and in other languages, promoted a certain kind of Irish identity which the newly emerging state was able to capitalise on. The image of a hard life lived against the background of an unforgiving environment is nowhere more evident than in Tomás Ó Criomhthain’s classic An tOileánach (The Islandman), which appeared originally in 1928 but whose definitive edition had to wait until 2002. Muiris Ó Súileabháin’s work Fiche Blian ag Fás (Twenty Years A-growing), a more lyrical and poetic account of life on the same island, places more emphasis on the joy and carefree nature of youth for most of its length, making the spectre of emigration and change all the more effective when it finally appears. Peig Sayers’s narrative, also underscoring the straitened circumstances she endured, appears in more than one book, accenting certain episodes differently in each of them. Significantly, the two men wrote their own stories whereas Peig’s writing depended on an amanuensis in the person of her son, Maidhc, himself a storyteller, poet and prose writer. Despite Peig’s dependence on others to commit her work to writing and Ó Criomhthain’s and Ó Súileabháin’s competence in this regard, it is widely recognised that outside influence played a major role in stimulating the Blasket writers. Though the works were long thought to have emerged through the encouragement of Gaelic scholars and enthusiasts, a recent study has suggested that the Protestant mission active in nineteenth century West Kerry played an unrecognised role that was downplayed in the overtly nationalistic milieu of fin de siècle cultural activism. Whatever the sources of the stimulus, clearly these iconic books resulted from intervention on the part of outsiders, who convinced islanders they had something of importance to say. This was consonant with the ideals of cultural romantic nationalism, whose impulse to recognise the richness and depth of the vernacular culture of the “people” and the Irish-speaking people above all, achieved material expression in these works. The processes involved in the production of “native”…

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