Saturday 24 March 2018

Lovelorn islanders wanted 'boatload of women' and food

Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

"STORM bound, distress, send food, nothing to eat" -- it was a plea for help sent directly to the Taoiseach by a dwindling island population fighting to stay alive.

The telegram sent to Eamon de Valera on April 22, 1947, prompted the arrival on the Blasket Islands a few days later of a boat carrying basic food supplies and a couple of bottles of whiskey to sustain the, by then, mainly male population of the island.

Just five years later, the Great Blasket was evacuated for good and its population resettled on the west Kerry mainland in Dun Chaoin.

A new book chronicling the evacuation -- and the events that led to it -- claims that a lack of single women on the island was the main reason why life on the Great Blasket became unsustainable.

'Sceal agus Dan Oileain' (The Story and Fate of an Island), by Micheal de Mordha, was recently launched by Moya Llewelyn Davies (Ni Shuilleabhain), daughter of Muiris O Suilleabhain, one of the Blasket Island writers and author of 'Fiche Bliain ag Fas' (Twenty Years A-growing).

As one islander, Seamus O Duinnshleibhe, put it: "The only way to relieve our situation is to send a boatload of women."

"I became a grandfather again this week and the joke within the family was that we had two arrivals on the same week but one only took nine months instead of nine years but I suppose you could add 10 to that," said Mr de Mordha, who manages the Blasket Island Centre in Dun Chaoin.

The last person to be born on the Great Blasket was Gearoid O Cathain. He was only six years old when his family was evacuated.

Following an article in the 'Irish Press' in 1948, he became known as "the loneliest boy in the world".

"The following Christmas presents arrived for him from all over the world," Mr de Mordha said.

Irish Independent

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