On An Irish Island

On An Irish Island

Book - 2012
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On an Irish Island is a love letter to a vanished way of life, in which Robert Kanigel, the highly praised author of The Man Who Knew Infinity and The One Best Way , tells the story of the Great Blasket, a wildly beautiful island off the west coast of Ireland, renowned during the early twentieth century for the rich communal life of its residents and the unadulterated Irish they spoke. With the Irish language vanishing all through the rest of Ireland, the Great Blasket became a magnet for scholars and writers drawn there during the Gaelic renaissance--and the scene for a memorable clash of cultures between modern life and an older, sometimes sweeter world slipping away.
 
Kanigel introduces us to the playwright John Millington Synge, some of whose characters in The Playboy of the Western World , were inspired by his time on the isl∧ Carl Marstrander, a Norwegian linguist who gave his place on Norway's Olympic team for a summer on the Blasket; Marie-Louise Sjoestedt, a Celtic studies scholar fresh from the Sorbon≠ and central to the story, George Thomson, a British classicist whose involvement with the island and its people we follow from his first visit as a twenty-year-old to the end of his life.
 
On the island, they met a colorful coterie of men and women with whom they formed lifelong and life-changing friendships. There's Tomás O'Crohan, a stoic fisherman, one of the few islanders who could read and write Irish, who tutored many of the incomers in the language's formidable intricacies and became the Blasket's first published writer; Maurice O'Sullivan, a good-natured prankster and teller of stories, whose memoir, Twenty Years A-Growing , became an Irish classic; and Peig Sayers, whose endless repertoire of earthy tales left listeners spellbound.
 
As we get to know these men and women, we become immersed in the vivid culture of the islanders, their hard lives of fishing and farming matched by their love of singing, dancing, and talk. Yet, sadly, we watch them leave the island, the village becoming uninhabited by 1953. The story of the Great Blasket is one of struggle--between the call of modernity and the tug of Ireland's ancient ways, between the promise of emigration and the peculiar warmth of island life amid its physical isolation. But ultimately it is a tribute to the strength and beauty of a people who, tucked away from the rest of civilization, kept alive a nation's past, and to the newcomers and islanders alike who brought the island's remarkable story to the larger world.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780307269591
0307269590
Branch Call Number: 941.96 Kanigel 02/2012
Characteristics: viii, 320 p. :,ill. ;,25 cm.

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Cdnbookworm Sep 16, 2012

This book looks at the legacy of the Blaskets, islands in the north west of Ireland. As the Irish language was vanishing throughout Ireland, these islands drew scholars and writers to them. A pocket where Irish was still the language spoken daily, this area drew a variety of visitors that elevated the islands both nationally and internationally. From J.M. Synge, the playwright to Carl Marstrander, a Norwegian linguist, the area drew both writers and scholars of the Irish language.
Some of these visitors encourage the local inhabitants to write of their lives as well, creating a body of work about their lives that is still studied.
I hadn't been aware of the role this area played in Irish nationalism, language, and literature. Part of their legacy is the language that is still spoken and studied today, but the Blaskets also represented a dying way of life with the move from rural to urban, the growth of modern conveniences, and the decline of community.
A very interesting study that provides many insights.

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