At the very edge
August 31, 2009 12:54 PM   Subscribe

Island of Sorrows. On the far western tip of continental Europe lie The Blasket Islands, picturesque in the sunlight. Great Blasket produced a great wealth (scroll down) of oral and written folk history from personages such as Peig Sayers (photo); and Tomas O'Crohan and Maurice O'Sullivan.
Here's a brief , more recent of the Island and a bibliography of Blasket Literature.
posted by adamvasco (9 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Peig Sayers was compulsory on the Gaelic curriculum in Irish schools for decades. It's safe to say the miserable old bitch put thousands off the language forever! Her name is now a byword for the mess the government made of trying to keep our language alive.
posted by channel-1- at 1:22 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

Never read Peig, who I understand suffered by being a set text for Irish school-kids (and was satirised by Flann O'Brien of course), but loved O'Crohan's 'Island Cross-talk' and still retain a belief that smoking can be good for a head-cold as a result.
posted by Abiezer at 1:23 PM on August 31, 2009

I love Kerry, it's my 'family homeland', so though I grew up in county Down I still have a great fondness for the county. The Slea Head drive is stunningly beautiful if you can ignore the coachloads of tourists and the Blaskets are beautiful.

I'm stuck in the English midlands for another couple of weeks, but I can't wait to get a chance to go down to the south west for a few pints and a swim in the Atlantic. Ahh.
posted by knapah at 1:35 PM on August 31, 2009

And as a result of being educated in the north I never even got the option of learning Irish at school until I was 12, far too late. Although I'm not sure if being forced to read Peig would be worse.
posted by knapah at 1:36 PM on August 31, 2009

I landed in Ireland as a ten year-old in 1974 and for some miraculous reason didn't have to read Peig, though I did study Irish. By the time I finished my secondary level education my Irish was as good as anyone else in my class, but being in Galway, we were on the edge of the Gaeltacht, and had a class in our year that took all subjects through Irish. It was these poor unfortunates that had to study Peig. They hated her work with a passion.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 2:16 PM on August 31, 2009

I'm sad I never got a chance to see "Peig! The Musical," which was co-written by former Toasted Heretic lyricist and lead singer, and now novelist Julian Gough. I did find this description of it in a Guardian article, though:

"Years ago, I co-wrote Peig: The Musical!, with the Flying Pig Comedy Troupe," writes award-winning novelist Julian Gough, who is the one-time frontman of legendary Galway rockers Toasted Heretic. "The comedian Tommy Tiernan started off in the Flying Pigs, a mighty outfit. We turned a Blasket Island life of hardship, misery, poverty and potatoes into a two-hour musical comedy, starring the amazing Maggie O'Sullivan.

"It was an act of the most exquisite revenge. At the end of our show, after waiting for nearly 100 years, Peig finally gets the fare to America she was promised as a child by her old chum Pegeen Mike, heads off to New York and becomes a star on Broadway. The finale had Peig suspended 25 feet up in the air on a trapeze, singing:

Peig: "I'm an old woman now..."
Huge Exuberant Broadway Chorus: "She's an old woman now!"
Peig: "...with one foot in the grave..."
Huge Exuberant Broadway Chorus: "With one foot in the grave!"
Peig: "...and one foot on the edge of it."
Huge Exuberant Broadway Chorus: "And one foot on the edge!"

... and Peig then threw a chamber pot full of glitter out through the spotlights and over the front rows as the curtain came down on her triumph."
posted by chuq at 5:21 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

The first Irish phrase that springs to mind whenever anyone asks me if I speak gellick is for some reason "baite i bfiach" (drownded in debt) which I owe to Peig. I think the hatred for the porr woman wears off after a few years and becomes more of an affectionate "how the hell did I get through that". She's not on the curriculum any more, right? The family is currently working through translating my great grandfather's diaries, which are as gaeilge and were lost for a while, he was a contemporary of Peig's and from Kerry also and had some interesting experiences - emigrated to Holyoke in the US but didn't like it and missed the fishing so came home, for example - which I'm thrilled with now but wouldn't have wanted to stumble across while still in the post leaving cert ptsd phase.

Anyway, the blaskets are beautiful (especially in the off season!) and that's a nice article in the Times.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:08 PM on August 31, 2009

If you see the Blaskets in fair weather, hulking islands hovering just off shore, their isolation can be difficult to understand. Surely they're just a quick boat ride away, a strenuous swim if you were desperate. You wouldn't realise that the islands could get cut off so easily by weather, for weeks on end, so near you could see the lights in the cottage windows, so far as to be inaccessible. Pass the Blaskets and the next stop is America.

It's a deeply strange place. The locals (who despite never exceeding 196, produced more than 40 books) knew their small island intimately. Local maps show names attached to every field, every crevice, even large rocks. They fertilised their fields with seaweed, burnt turf to warms their houses. And in the end, even that wasn't enough. "stormbound distress send food nothing to eat - blaskets." A tough people, we'll not see their like again.
posted by outlier at 3:11 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nicely put, and with a fitting username.
posted by knapah at 3:35 AM on September 1, 2009

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