Oldest surviving islander dreams of return to Blaskets

The oldest surviving Blasket islander has told how he longs to return to his long-lost former island home to live out the rest of his days.

Micheál Ó Ceárna, 93, left the Kerry outpost in 1937 to seek a better future in Dublin, eventually settling with other emigrant islanders in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the US, where he lives to this day.

The father of four was instrumental in persuading the then taoiseach Éamon de Valera to evacuate the 22 remaining islanders from the increasingly desperate conditions they faced on their storm-ravaged island on Nov 17, 1953.

Ó Ceárna, one of just nine surviving natives of the Great Blasket, said he constantly dreams about “a lost way of life” and said he expects “to be full of emotion” next Sunday, the 60th anniversary of the evacuation of the island.

The native Irish speaker admits the tears flowed when he set foot on the abandoned windswept isle with members of his US-based family last May.

He had returned with members of his US-based family to his former home, which lies 5km off the Dingle coast, to launch his memoirs, From The Great Blasket To America — The Last Memoir by an Islander.

It was the death of one of Ó Ceárna’s eight siblings, Sean, 24, in 1947, from meningitis, that triggered the abandonment of the island six years later.

Speaking from the US, he said: “It’s going to be very emotional next Sunday, because there are just nine islanders left. There’s six in Ireland and three here in the US — myself, my sister and my niece.

“It’s the most beautiful place on Earth, but the best thing about it was the people.”

Ò Ceárna was pivotal in setting up the Blasket Island Centre in Dunquin in West Kerry 20 years ago.

He said he still dreams of returning to the island. “I’d love to go back and live there, but I don’t think my old bones could take it.

“I’ll be saying a prayer for the island and all the islanders on Sunday and no doubt I’ll shed a tear on the day. There aren’t many of us left now, but because of the Blasket Island Centre in Dunquin, I know that our wonderful island and people will never be forgotten.”


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