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Biography with lightness of Heaven and shortness of dance.
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.