Iris na Gaeilge    Eanáir 2005         uimh 8

Allagar na hInse

Tomas O CriomhthainThose who read the Irish language today would be much poorer if Tomás Ó Criomhtháin ( 1859 -1937 ) had not written 'Allagar na hInse' and 'An tOileánach'. Tomás was a fisherman on the Great Blasket Island, Co Kerry. He was also a one-cow farmer and a stonemason. A native speaker of Irish, he received only minimal schooling, and that was in basic English. He taught himself to write very simple Irish.

Never the less, it must be said in turn, that Ó Criomhtháin would never have become a writer had Brian Kelly, the son of a Killarney businessman, not come on a visit to the island in 1917. After some time there, it seems that Kelly tried to persuade Ó Criomhtháin to write little pieces in Irish about life on the island. The fisherman was both cynical and dismissive of the idea. He could not be budged, apparently,to put pen to paper.

Then this remarkable but largely forgotten, man showed Ó Criomhtháin a copy of "Pecheur d'Islande" an account of Canadian fishermen. He also showed him stories by Maxim Gorky about the poor in Russia. This ploy seems to have won over the Islander. The way was now open for the two great books which followed.

Brian Kelly had to leave the island soon after, but he suggested that O Criomhtháin should write little pieces daily, or frequently at least, and post them to himself. This was done from 1918 to 1924 in diary form. Kelly had the wisdom then to send the carefully kept pieces to An Seabhac, the great Gaelic scholar and writer. It is now known as 'Allagar na hInse'.

Many critics claim that it is the best thing ever written in Irish.The daily entries have been likened to Shakespeare's sonnets. A recent copy has 355 pages and is divided into 268 little daily sections. Sections can be read in sequence, or in any order, as one pleases. Each gives a vivid picture of some aspect of island life, its gossip, the weather, the crops, the fishing,, the changing scenery, the wildlife, the outside world, the people or the passing ships.

There is a wonderful eleven page review of 'Allagar na hInse' in Padarig Ó Fiannachta's book 'Léas ar ár Litríocht'.

Apart from its literary value, it is ideal bedside reading, and useful for keeping in touch with the Language. Here in the UK there are so many who regret that they have now lost the Irish which they once valued so much. Regular reading of a simple Irish language newspaper or a magazine would have averted that loss, of course. A copy of 'Allagar na hInse' nearby, with its short daily entries could do much more to save the exile's threatened Irish.

"And what happened to the remarkable man who made it all happen?'' one may well ask. According to a report in "Foinse'' in 2001, he died in Split, Yugoslavia, on 28 December, 1936. Fittingly, in Killarney a memorial plaque was erected recently at the Killarney Heights Hotel, where his people once had a business. He was born there as Bryan Albert Kelly, on 13 January, 1889.