Tomás Ó Criomhthain (1856–1937) is one of the giants of Irish-language literature. His best-known books, Allagar na hInise and An tOileánach, are acknowledged classics. But he was a highly unlikely author. He lived his entire life on the isolated and now-abandoned Great Blasket, in a house he built with his own hands using stones he found on the island. Likewise, he crafted a valuable literary heritage out of island life. With indefatigable persistence, he steadily built on his modest formal education, learning to read and write in Irish during middle age while simultaneously expanding his knowledge of literature and history.
Scholarly visitors were impressed with Tomás’s observations of his tiny community. They encouraged him to commit his stories and memories to paper. He wrote three first-person accounts of his experiences, bequeathing to us a captivating saga of a folk culture doomed by difficult circumstances. His works are among the first examples of Ireland’s transition from oral to written folk storytelling.
The Blasket Islandman tells, for the first time, the full story of Tomás’s life, with its many triumphs and travails. This absorbing account also describes the forces that influenced his work and details his impressive legacy. Tomás was determined that his community be remembered. In the process, he achieved a level of immortality for himself. More than eighty years after his passing, he remains the famed ‘Blasket Islandman’ and, to paraphrase the man himself, the like of him will never be again.
Gerald Hayes, based in Massachusetts, holds degrees from the College of the Holy Cross and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His late father-in-law, Mike Carney, gave him a gift that was to substantially influence him: the story of the human drama that unfolded on the Great Blasket, Carney’s beloved homeland. Gerald is co-author with Carney of From The Great Blasket to America: The Last Memoir by an Islander (2013) and with Eliza Kane of The Last Blasket King (2015). His hope is to share the island’s story with the world.