| 3.4°C Dublin

Blasket Islander home -- after 74 years

HE'S lived in the US for most of his life but once a Blasket Islander, always a Blasket Islander.

Micheal O Cearna celebrated his 91st birthday in west Kerry this week with members of his family, having returned home to fulfil an important duty.

Today the oldest living Blasket Islander will hand over bursaries worth €1,000 each to two students who will study Irish culture at third level.

Dr O Cearna, who received an honorary doctorate of Celtic Literature at NUI Maynooth in 2009 for his contribution to Irish heritage and culture, has raised over $10,000 (€7,400) to fund the bursary.

Although it's been 74 years since he left the Great Blasket to seek his fortune in Springfield, Massachusetts, the gentle American lilt disappears when he speaks his native tongue among his own.

The Blasket Islander was 17 before he learnt to speak English fluently in Cahirsiveen where he spent nine months before going to Dublin to work as a barman for 11 years.

"It's something that grew within me, but my Irish heritage, my Irish ideals and my Irish culture were always important. He who loses his culture and his heritage might as well lose himself," he says.

When the last residents were evacuated from the Great Blasket in 1953, Micheal read about it in the 'Kerryman', which he gets every week.

"I cried like a baby," he revealed. "My wife wanted to know what I was crying about. Then I said to myself, I should be glad because the people who were left could not take care of themselves."

He has high hopes the Government will take care of his island and preserve its heritage and language.

"I wanted the Government to take care of it because I thought they'd be able to do a better job than a private person and it should be their responsibility," he said.

"I'd also like to see some kind of building there in the future to show an exhibition on how the people lived.

"We didn't have any church on the island, we didn't have any priest, doctor, nurse or policeman and do you know why? It was because we didn't need them.

"People lived within themselves and they helped one another. When they got hungry and ran out of food, the next-door neighbour took care of them.

"And when they got the food that was the first thing they did, returned it to the neighbour."

Irish Independent