Kerry woman who is the oldest surviving Blasket Islander honoured in the US

Mairéad Kearney-Shea with Congressman Richard Neal, her son Tommy who is a Springfield firefighter, her daughter Theresa, and Tánaiste Mícheál Martin.

Declan Malone and Joan MaguireKerryman

Republican Congressman Richard Neal made a presentation to the oldest surviving Blasket Islander, Mairéad Kearney on Sunday, an event that would have been beyond her wildest dreams when she packed her bags in 1949 to leave for America.

Mairéad Kearney Shea (nee Mairéad Ní Chearna), who lives in Springfield, celebrated her 100th birthday in December and in her honour Tánaiste Micheál Martin and a host of dignitaries gathered at the Irish Cultural Centre in West Springfield on Sunday for the presentation of the Congressional Certificate by Rep. Richard Neal.

US-based Baile ’n Fheirtéaraigh man Maurice Brick, who has remained closely connected to the West Kerry Community in Springfield, knew Mairéad when she was young and came to stay with her sister Hannah, who had married into Gorta Dubha. “I remember her as a great sport” he said.

According to Maurice, Mairéad stayed with Hannah and her husband, Muiris Ó Sé, for about a year before emigrating to the US. When the Great Blasket was evacuated in 1954, Mairéad’s father, Pats Tom, and her mother, Nellí Jerry Kearney, went to live in Gorta Dubha, much to the delight of the community. “We were very fortunate because young and old would make for his house at night to listen to his seanachaíocht,” said Maurice.

Mairéad also had a welcome for all visitors at her home in the US and manager of Ionad na Bhlascaoid Lorcan Ó Cinnéide said of her: “I’ve met Mairéad many times in Springfield. She is indefatigable, a great character indeed. I’m delighted the Cultural Centre organised the special ceremony for her and we are delighted to be associated with this gesture.”

Lorcán also accompanied Congressman Richard Neal on a visit to the Blasket islands last year. “I was very happy to show our great friend, Congressman Richie Neal, Mairéad’s home place on his visit last year,” he said.

Mairéad is not the only one living beyond the wildest dreams of their West Kerry childhood. Maurice Brick posted his comments about Mairéad on Facebook from a multi-storey cruise ship anchored off Haiti. The ship even has elevators, which seem to have made a great impression on Maurice who said: “I couldn’t help but take in the wonder of it all. And for a fleeting moment our wee naomhóigh that I fished in with Ger and Séamus Eonín fadó came to mind. Oh my, need I say any more.

“Far from decks and elevators were we as we rowed way out from Ferriter’s Cove to the wild and open Atlantic sea.”