Hear how a young man’s death broke the heart of an Irish island community, on the Great Blasket 70 years ago

IMG_2752Seventy years ago, a young man known as Seánín died on the Great Blasket, a remote island at the tip of the Dingle peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. He was one of the few remaining strong, youthful men in an island community that had once been strong and vibrant and famous for its oral, storytelling culture. Most of the young had gone to America, where they gathered again in a place called Hungry Hill and flourished. The death of Seánín broke the hearts of the remaining islanders and ultimately led to the evacuation of the Great Blasket in 1953.

I was privileged to be able to tell his story and go in search of the islanders for the book Hungry for Home (published by Viking 2001 and later by the Curragh Press, and now being prepared for a revised, updated edition with details here) with the help of my friend and guide Mícheál de Mordha. The photograph above shows Dr Mike Carney looking out across the Sound to the island where his brother died, when Mike risked his life to go back for one last look in 2013, at the age of nearly 93. In tribute to Seánín and the rest of the remarkable Ó Cearna – or Carney – clan, here is Enda Oates reading from the first chapter of the book, describing those final moments. It was originally broadcast by RTE.

Since posting this, I have learned of the death of Ray Stagles, a fellow Englishman who was passionate about the Blaskets. He was a friend, a mentor and a great support when I was writing the book and I will always remember him as a gentleman and a scholar.

 

Hungry For Home

51Ei3PQKSKL._Hungry For Home: A Journey To America From The Edge Of Ireland was published by Viking and Penguin. “Extraordinary … when I put it down I wasn’t sure whether I had seen the film or read the text; the quality of its writing creates an essence which is both visual, oral and literary.” Irish Times

The Last Islandman

“I don’t know if I will be able to make it,” says Mike Carney, looking out across a wild stretch of water to the place where he was born 92 years ago. “I would like to put my feet down there one more time, but I wonder, is it possible?” Frankly, it seems crazy to try. The Great Blasket is famous throughout the world as a place where a remarkable community once lived, but it is remote, empty and inaccessible for most of the year. To get to the island, the old man will have to negotiate a wet quayside, a rubber dinghy, a sharp climb up into a converted fishing boat and an hour’s journey by sea, buffeted by the Atlantic waves. Then he will face the derelict island slipway, slick with seaweed. Yet he says: “I have the determination within me to do this.” A long-form report and film for The Telegraph.