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Release of Springfield Mass. area resident Michael Carney's 'Great Blasket'

From MassLive
Written by Anne -Garard Flynn


This weekend looms large in Irish literature, as Michael Lonergan, the Republic of Ireland’s Consul General to Boston, noted on a stop in Springfield. 

Internationally, June 16 is Bloom’s Day when venues around the world read James Joyce’s epic “Ulysses.” June 16, 1904 is the time frame of the somewhat autobiographical novel in which Leopold Bloom, the main character, takes the reader on a cerebral walkabout of Dublin that ends in an affirmation of love and life. 

Locally, June 15 is the state-side release date for Springfield area resident Michael Carney’s book, “From the Great Blasket to America: The Last Memoir by an Islander,” written with son-in-law Gerald Hayes. The event brought Lonergan to the campus of Elms College, in Chicopee, where the theater in Alumnae Library was packed in the morning with attentive listeners - some with similar heritage - to pay tribute to Carney and the Great Blasket’s contribution to Gaelic-Irish literature. 

Carney released his book last month in Ireland during a much celebrated event at The Blasket Island Centre in Dunquin, County Kerry, a center that he helped fund through the establishment of a foundation. Carney’s son and three daughters and their families were all in attendance, and accompanied him on the ferry boat for the mile-journey to the Great Blasket, where Carney was raised on the rugged island that is no longer inhabited. 

While there were few amenities on the island, a fact that brought tragedy to Carney’s own family, there was a rich cultural and communal life rooted in the Irish language. In time, scholars from the top universities in the British Isles came to study and record the life of the islanders, whose legendary authors writing in Gaelic include Peig Sayers, Muiris O Suilleabhain and Tomas O Criomhthain. 

Carney writes about these authors in his memoir as well as the island’s way of life. As the oldest living Blasket native and veteran advocate for its heritage, he is treated as a national treasure in Ireland, and was awarded an honorary doctoral degree in Celtic literature from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, in 2009. 

Carney’s abilities as an intelligent and engaging storyteller are also evident in a video interview that is part of “The Irish Legacy: Immigration and Assimilation in the Connecticut Valley,” a current exhibit at the Wood Museum of Springfield History. His reference to the Great Blasket as an island of conversationalists and philosophers, where people survived by endurance and getting along with each other, offers insight into the speaker, still sturdy and well framed at 92, as well. 

Carney, who settled in the Hungry Hill section of Springfield in 1948, worked in Dublin for a number of years after the Great Blasket was evacuated in 1952. His book can be purchased online at www.collinspress.ie. 

Other area authors who have written about their Irish heritage include James Francis Cahillane, Carole O’Malley Gaunt, Kevin O’Hara, Sister of St. Joseph of Springfield Judith Kappenman, the late Judge Daniel M. Keyes, and Joan Morris Reilly.