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.


Out Of the Blue Sky: 9/11 Minute By Minute

A report from The Independent on Sunday first published in September 2001.

11 September 2001


An ordinary morning in lower Manhattan. Clyde Ebanks, vice-president of an insurance company, is one of the 20,000 or so men and women already at work in the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. At a meeting on floor 103, his boss catches a glimpse of something outside in the bright blue sky and yells: “Look at that!”

8:45am (1.45pm BST)

North Tower, World Trade Centre: American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 with 92 people on board, crashes into floors 91 to 100. “We are under attack,” says Nigel Thompson, a 33-year-old trader from Sheffield, on the telephone to his twin brother. Other workers in the building call lovers, friends and family. The initial impact is followed by an explosion as 24,000 gallons of aviation fuel ignite.

London and Los Angeles: Workers at Cantor Fitzgerald hear colleagues on floors 101 to 105 of the tower scream as their conference call is interrupted by the crash.


South Tower, World Trade Centre: Derek Swords, 29, telephones his family in Dundee to say there has been an explosion in the other building but that he is safe. There is no need to leave, say fire marshals and security guards, but some people make for the lifts. An official with a megaphone on floor 44 tells people to go back up to their own offices.

North Tower, World Trade Centre: Emergency generators light the stairwells of the damaged, shaking building. Thousands of workers from floor 88 down attempt to flee, moving aside to let burns victims pass more quickly. Ronnie Clifford, 47, from Cork is at the foot of the building. “There was an explosion and a haze and a smell of fuel. Out of this haze came a woman. She came through the revolving doors with her two arms totally burned; her clothes were burned right on her body; no shoes. Her hair was literally melted with her face and eyes. We lifted her up and carried her outside.”


Fitzherbert Suite, Grand Hotel, Brighton: Tony Blair is on a sofa, preparing to give a speech to the TUC conference, when an aide enters to tell him about the crash. Like everyone else he presumes it is a dreadful accident. Continue reading “Out Of the Blue Sky: 9/11 Minute By Minute”