Todays photograph shows the English novelist E.M. Forster with the Blasket Island writer, Muiris 0'Suilleabhain. It was taken in Woodquay circa 1934.
Muiris was born on the Blasket one hundred years ago. His mother died while he was very young and he was sent to an orphanage in Dingle, where he stayed for six years. He went to school on the island. His grandfather was a gifted storyteller, and had a vast fund of Island lore, much of which Muiris acquired, and indeed used later in his book. Muiris is remembered as having a great sense of fun, and playing practical jokes.
George Thomson was a classical scholar who was born in London. He visited the Blasket regularly, and became very friendly with Muiris. Many of the young islanders were destined to emigrate, but George persuaded Muiris to avail of a new scheme created for young men from the Gaeltacht, and join the Gardaí. After completing his training, he was posted to Inverin. In 1931, George got a position as a lecturer in Greek in U.C.G. He encouraged Muiris to write, not very successfully at first. They would meet every Saturday to discuss Muiris' writing, and when the book was finished, George edited it. It was submitted to AN GÚM , the Government publishing agency, but they would only agree to publish it if references to drinking pints at the Ventry Races were removed, and if there were no English translation.
George, quite rightly, found these conditions too restrictive, and found another publisher, subventing part of the cost himself. The book, entitled "Fiche Bliain ag Fás" was published in 1933, and was an instant success. George Thomson and Moya Llewelyn Davies translated it into English, with the title "Twenty Years a Growing" and it became an international best seller. Moya was from Co. Wicklow and was a close friend of Michael Collins.
The introduction was written by the distinguished novelist E.M. Forster, a friend of Thomsons, and he said, "This book is unique... I know the author too. He is now a civic guard in Conamara, and though he is pleased his book should be translated, his main care is for the Irish original, because it will be read on the Blasket. They will appreciate it more than we can, for whom the wit and poetry must be veiled. On the other hand, we are their superiors in astonishment. They cannot possibly be as much surprised as we are, for here is the egg of a sea-bird, lovely, perfect, and laid this very morning."
The huge success of the book in Irish and English encouraged Muiris to leave the Gardai, and take up writing full time. He disliked some aspects of the work, such as raiding illicit poitin stills. A few days after leaving the force, he married Cait Ni Chathain from Carraroe, and they had two children, Eoghan and Mairin he enjoyed some modest success as a playwright and journalist, but sadly, could never repeat the enormous success of "Twenty Years a Growing." He rejoined the Gardai in 1950. Tragically he drowned a short time later while swimming in Salthill, at a place where his wife always referred to as "Lover's Strand". He is buried in Carraroe.
George Thomson lived at Waterside, near where this photograph was taken... it was probably he who took it. He was to become one of the major classical scholars of the