Blasket tragedy recalled

A TERRIBLE tragedy occurred on the Great Blasket on Friday, August 13, 1909, when two young people were drowned off the White Strand.

Those who drowned were Eibhlín Nic Niocaill, or Eveleen Nicolls, from Dublin and Domhnall Ó Criomhthain, son of famed Blasket writer Tomás.

Eibhlín (24) was one of the leading lights in Gaelic scholarship and the youngest elected member of the Executive Committee of the Gaelic League. According to some sources she was romantically involved with the patriot Pádraig Pearse. She went to the island to improve her command of Irish and stayed with a family there. She was a good swimmer and spent some of her time teaching the island girls to swim.

On that Friday afternoon she went to the strand with several girls, one of whom was Cáit Ní Criomhtahin (20) daughter of Tomás. There are several eyewitness accounts of what happened next, which differ on the exact details of the tragedy.

It seems that Cáit got into difficulties in the water and Eibhlín went to her aid. There was a struggle and both young women began screaming for help as they were being carried into deeper water.

Domhnall Ó Criomhthain (18) heard the screaming and rushed to the strand. Without removing his clothes or hobnail boots, he plunged into the sea but after reaching the two women he sank. Both he and Eibhlín were drowned.

Another islander, Peats Tom Ó Cearnaigh, also heard the cries for help and ran to the strand. He managed to reach Cáit and hold her head above water until a naomhóg came along and helped him bring her to the shore where she was revived.

The bodies of Eibhlín and Domhnall were recovered some time later and were brought to the quay where they were laid out.

Tomás Ó Criomhthain had been out fishing and is said to have recognised his son's covered body on the quay from the pattern of the nails in his boots which he had repaired.

Peats Tom Ó Cearnaigh was awarded a medal in October 1909 by the Irish Humane Society for saving Cáit's life. That medal and a certificate from the society are currently on display in the Blasket Centre in Dún Chaoin.