ONE of the last surviving natives of the Great Blasket Island, Micheál O Cearna, 89, was last evening conferred with an honorary doctorate of literature.
The honour, from NUI Maynooth, was in recognition of his work to preserve the Irish language and culture and for his efforts to have the Blaskets designated a national park. It was Dr O Cearna’s approach to the then taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, that ultimately led to the evacuation of the Blaskets in 1953.
He emigrated to the US, in 1948, but maintained a life-long interest in the welfare of the island.
Speaking at the conferring in the Great Blasket Centre, Dún Chaoin, Minister of State for the Office of Public Works (OPW) Martin Mansergh paid tribute to Dr O Cearna for his lifelong promotion of the island’s heritage.
Mr Mansergh said initial steps had already been taken to address health and safety, protection and conservation of the core historic village and environmental issues.
The OPW was “totally committed” to conserving the island for future generations, he pledged.
“While the current overall financial climate remains challenging, we would hope to maintain momentum with an implementation programme spread over the next two to three years,” he said.
“Our ongoing approach will be positive and co-operative and will take fully into account the management principles previously established in discussions with stakeholders.” There are less than 10 people now living who were born on the Island, the eldest being Dr O Cearna, who was accompanied by his wife, Maureen and their children at the conferring.
It was recalled yesterday how in 1947, he wrote to Mr de Valera, petitioning him to do something about the plight of the Island community which was, by then, in terminal decline.
His brother, Seáinín, had died of meningitis on the island, “without the presence of a doctor or priest”, some days earlier.
A commission, set up as a result, found that the only option was to abandon the island and move the population over to Dún Chaoin.
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