Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, anglicised as Maurice O’Sullivan, Irish author famous for his Irish language memoir of growing up on the Great Blasket Island and in Dingle, County Kerry, off the western coast of Ireland, drowns on June 25, 1950, while swimming at Knocknacarra off the Connemara coast.
Ó Súilleabháin is born on the Great Blasket Island on February 19, 1904. Following the death of his mother when he is six months old, he is raised in an institution in Dingle, County Kerry. At the age of eight, he returns to the Great Blasket Island to live with his father, grandfather and the rest of his siblings, and learns the native language.
Ó Súilleabháin is persuaded to write his memoirs by George Derwent Thomson, a linguist and professor of Greek who had come to the island to hear and learn the Irish language. It is Thomson who encourages him to join Garda Síochána in Dublin in 1927 rather than emigrate to the United States as do most of the young people. He is stationed in the Gaeltacht area of Connemara, where he maintains contact with Thomson.
Fiche Blian ag Fás is published in Irish and English in 1933. As one of the last areas of Ireland in which the old Irish language and culture has continued unchanged, the Great Blasket Island is a place of enormous interest to those seeking traditional Irish narratives. Thomson edits and assembles the memoir, and arranges for its translation into English with the help of Moya Llewelyn Davies.
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 Ó Súilleabháin 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, Ó Súilleabháin leaves the Guards and settles in Connemara. He marries Cáit ní Chatháin of Carraroe on July 10, 1934. They have one daughter, Máirín, and one son, Eoin, a dramatist and writer.
Ó Súilleabháin drowns on June 25, 1950, while swimming off the Connemara coast. He is buried at Barr an Doire near Carraroe. Dylan Thomas commences, but does not finish, a film script of Twenty Years a-Growing. The partially completed film script is published in 1964.