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on 6 January 2000
With encouragement from Linguistic scholar George Thomson who visited the western Blasket Isles off Ireland's Kerry coast in 1923, Muiris O'Sullivan writes an insider's account of the last of the ancient celtic lives. It is full of sadness and gentle glimpses of close family and community life but, surprisingly, its most compelling feature is the humour and the modesty of understatement.
In an introduction to the English translation, E.M. Forster writes that Moya Llewelyn Davies (one of the two translators from the original Irish) "is in sensitive touch with the instincts of her countryside".
I have enjoyed both the English and the Irish editions and believe that Moya was the key to the lightness and the lustre of the translation.
Moya was a great "natural" gaelic scholar. Like George, Moya gets a mention in the text when Muiris (the young islander) visits Dublin for the first time. He stays at Moya's "castle" in Killester on the outskirts of the city. O'Sullivan and Moya were life-long friends. In time, I believe the reputation of O'Sullivan will grow to the point where his anthropological masterpiece will become a cornerstone work for serious students of social studies and indeed I believe it has great potential as a more widely-read piece of complete entertainment.
Moya Llewelyn Davies is an almost forgotton figure in Irish History despite her intimate closeness to Michael Collins and her pivitol role in the independence movement and the Anglo-Irish peace process of 1921.
Moya's story ("magnificent lamp alight above the door") will be told soon and it would be fitting if her portrait could hang alongside O'Sullivan's and Thomson's in the National Gallery in Dublin where they belong.
The story of Halloween night with the all-night thrush-hunt, the ventry races where two young runaways down their first pints of stout, the dependence on the sea and the "drowned millionaires" from the Lusitania, luchious scenes of first love, tragic scenes of hopeless emigration to America, outragously funny scenes of innocence slaughtered en route from the Island to Dublin and the final tragedy of the two old men sitting at the fire all alone, the grandfather smoking his pipe, all mix into a picture of a paradise lost and an innocence that can never be regained.
It should rank with the great Irish works of prose and poetry as an essential piece of the Celtic-Irish tapestry.
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At the most Westerly tip of Europe; situated just off the tip of the Dingle peninsula in the very South West of Ireland, watched over by the mighty Mount Brandon, there lies an Island that stands like a whales back riding just above the storm tossed waters of the Atlantic. The Island is constantly assailed by the corrosive powers of wind and rain. The next landfall West is the Eastern American seaboard where so many people of Irish descent now live. On this Island there are deserted cottages where people once lived. It was a hard unforgiving life which the younger generation were unable to continue. Now only seagulls and a steady trickle of tourists visit this beautiful desolate place. This Island and its surrounding Islets are known as The Blasket Islands. The main Island is the Great Blasket, and it was here that a small community eked out a hard existence from the sea. The Island is also remarkable for the number of authors that it produced. Maurice O'Sullivan the author of this book is perhaps the best known but there is also Thomas O'Crohan and Peig Sayers. They were all Irish Gaelic speaking and were brought up in a strong oral story telling tradition that is thousands of years old. In this way by means of story tellers were the classics of Homer originally recited, and it is to this tradition the works of the Blaskets are akin.

"Twenty Years A-Growin" first published in 1933, is rich in human observation and family bonds. It chronicles a now sadly lost way life. That O'Sullivan loved the life is clear from his book. It has a remarkable style and lyrical quality no doubt gleaned from from the folk tales he heard at his Grandfathers fireside. These must have sharpened an already lively imagination. He originally wrote the book for the entertainment of his fellow Islanders and sought no readership beyond that, and this unassuming quality comes across strongly. It is a very unpretentious book, and this is its great strength. He speaks lovingly of the excitement of a trip to Ventry Races and seeing a whale in the ocean. The tapestry of life on the Island is woven consummately into the book. We meet many of the Islands characters and attend wakes and wedding celebrations in company with the author. We too yearn for the lost lives of the Islanders and you will yearn for the simple happy lives that they led.

This book is more than just a fitting elegy for this little community. It questions us as to where modern society has gone wrong. Rather than building relationships modern life seems to be about making as much money as possible and then spending it on a mountain of material possessions. There is much we can learn from this little book about where our treasure truly lies. It is a rich and highly rewarding reading experience.

O'Sullivan sadly died in a swimming accident in Connemara at the young age of forty six. He lives on so long as men read his little book. At the books ending O'Sullivan writes about returning to the Island after a long time away. He says, "There was a great change after two years- green grass growing on the paths for lack of walking; five or six houses shut up and the people gone out to the mainland; fields which had once had fine stone walls around them left to ruin; the big red patches on the Sandhills made by the feet of the boys and girls dancing- there was not a trace of them now.
When I returned home the lamps were being lit in the houses. I went in. My Father and Grandfather were sitting on either side of the fire, my Grandfather smoking his old pipe."

They are all gone now and so I leave my own literary imprint in the sands again for the sake of a good cause. But if nobody reads it, then no matter because like my friend from the pages of this book I do so for my own pleasure and the thought a few friends may read it. Reward enough!
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on 12 July 2013
Maurice O'Sullivan was there in front of you leading through every moment of this enjoyable book.
It was while reading another book whose Author mentioned how much he had loved it that brought me to read
this beautiful book I am so pleased I did...
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on 22 July 2011
Sometimes you pick up a book, blow the dust from it and find inside not just words, but a living account of vanished lives. O'Sullivan documents his childhood on the mainland, his growth amongst the Islands and easy acceptance into a way of life that is no longer with us. The joy of bird hunting, the terror of the cliffs and the scree. His superstition and musha, his turn of phrase all combine in this delicate translation to reveal a rich peat-steeped tradition, where coin meant little and family was everything.
His book is a valuable glimpse of an Ireland that is gone, an old Ireland; one that will no longer open its doors to the casual observer. One that has gone the way of the turf and the curragh. Ireland's literary tradition is without peer, more so when one considers the few that called her home; and this is yet another wonderful work brimming with beauty and humour.
Inside is the raw uncut Ireland, long before tourism tainted her waters, and politicians ruined her clothes. Every page inspires with its simplicity yet delightful prose and warmth.
A gem, that gleams long in the memory, well after the last page has whispered to a close.
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on 3 September 2013
Not the usual type of book I read. However, it was recommended by a friend and I found it very interesting. I enjoyed it. Further I suggested a friend in the USA read it and she couldn't put it down and said she read it along with referring to Google Earth to better understand the location.
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on 22 December 2013
A delightful memoir of a time and a life-style long gone from most of us. Also enjoyable for the fifferent rythms of the language used
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on 29 September 2015
A splendid book, carried along by the Maurice O'Sullivan's joy of life and community. The sub-plot of the translator's role in the sotry is equally as fascinating.
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on 17 August 2015
Very well written for someone with little schooling - delightful! Gives interesting & stimulating insights into a way of life that's almost gone.
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on 19 January 2015
A wonderful voice from the island complements 'Tomas' works.
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on 21 April 2016
Absolutely great book. Excellent seller.
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