Maurice O’Sullivan (Irish: Muiris Ó Súilleabháin), Irish author famous for his memoir of growing up on the Great Blasket Island and in Dingle, County Kerry, off the western coast of Ireland, is born on February 19, 1904.
Following the death of his mother when he is six months old, O’Sullivan is raised in an institution in Dingle, County Kerry. At the age of eight, he returns to Great Blasket Island to live with his father, grandfather, and the rest of his siblings, and learns the native language. He joins the Garda Síochána in Dublin in 1927 and is stationed in the Gaeltacht area of Connemara.
O’Sullivan is persuaded to write his memoirs by George Derwent Thomson, a linguist and professor of Greek who has come to the island to hear and learn the Irish language. It is Thomson who encourages him to go into the Guards, rather than emigrate to America as do most of the young people. Thomson edits and assembles the memoir, and arranges for its translation into English with the help of Moya Llewelyn-Davies.
Fiche Blian ag Fás (in English, Twenty Years a-Growing) is published in Irish and English in 1933. As one of the last areas of Ireland in which the old Irish language and culture have continued unchanged, the Great Blasket Island is a place of enormous interest to those seeking traditional Irish narratives.
While Fiche Blian ag Fás is received with tremendous enthusiasm by critics, including E.M. Forster, their praise at times has a condescending tone. Forster describes the book as a document of a surviving “Neolithic” culture. Such interest is tied up with romantic notions of the Irish primitive, and thus when O’Sullivan tries to find a publisher for his second book, Fiche Bliain faoi Bhláth (in English, Twenty Years a-Flowering), there is little interest, as this narrative necessarily departs from the romantic realm of turf fires and pipe-smoking wise-women.
In 1934, O’Sullivan leaves the Guards and settles in Connemara. He drowns on June 25, 1950, while swimming off the Connemara coast. Dylan Thomas commences, but does not finish, a screenplay of Fiche Blian ag Fás.
(Pictured: The ruins of the house in which Maurice O’Sullivan grew up on the Great Blasket Island)