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Twenty Years A-Growing by Maurice O'Sullivan

Twenty Years A-Growing (1933)

by Maurice O'Sullivan

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I liked this one more than Islandman. More about growing up on Blasket Island. I think the voice sounded more contemporary, easier to relax into. ( )
  njcur | Oct 14, 2017 |
A memoir about life on the island of Great Blasket, off the west coast of Ireland, in the first quarter of the 20th century. The primitive lifestyle of the hearty inhabitants makes interesting reading, as they fish from canoes made of wicker and canvas, chase sheep up and down the cliffs, hunt for puffins, rabbits and sea-gull eggs, and enjoy their evening pipes. The author spent the first 7 years of his life away from the island, being raised as a semi-orphan, as his mother had died shortly after he was born. English was the language he learned first. But when he was 7 his father came to take him back to Blasket, where everyone spoke the old Irish, which was already being "lost underfoot" on the mainland. This memoir was written in Irish, and has been translated by a friend of the author. It retains a strong flavor of the original language, which makes the English a bit awkward at times. Nevertheless, it's a lyrical read, full of poetry and love of nature, unfettered and lovely as the islands must be. No one lives on Great Blasket any longer, and its way of life (which E. M. Forster rather condescendingly referred to as "neolithic") has disappeared. This makes O'Sullivan's heart-felt homage particularly poignant.

"When June came, it was very fine. It would gladden your heart to look out to sea, the sea-raven standing on the rock with his wings outspread, the ring-plover and sea-pie foraging among the stones, the sea-gulls picking the limpets, the limpet itself relaxing its grip and the periwinkle the same, the crab and the rock-pool trout coming out of their holes in the stillness of the sea to take a draught of the sweet-smelling air. So that it was no wonder for the sinner to feel a happiness of heart as he travelled the road."

And then..."White streaks of foam were passing up through the Sound to the north and they nicely gathered together on the surface of the sea. Then they would turn in on each other till not a trace of them was to be seen. There was a wonderful stillness. The mountains were clear before me, nodding their heads above in the sky. Isn't it they that are proud to have power to be higher than the rest, thought I. But if so, that height is nothing to boast of in the dark days of winter when they have to stand up boldly before the storms of the sky."

Countering all that stillness and beauty, however, were the winter storms which kept the islanders inside for days at a time, and the sudden fogs at sea that could obscure the land and blind men in boats to their way home.

When Maurice had completed his "twenty years a-growing" he left the Island for Dublin, to join the Civic Guards. His experiences taking the long train trip north, and discovering such miracles as doorbells, bridges, and pole lights made delightful reading. I think it's a pity his second volume was never published.

The title comes from Maurice's Daddo's version of the old proverb about the ages of man: "Twenty years a-growing, twenty years in bloom, twenty years a- stooping, and twenty years declining."

Review written in July 2014 ( )
1 vote laytonwoman3rd | Jun 26, 2015 |
Written in a beautiful lilting accent, very enjoyable ( )
  schmidpe | Aug 21, 2008 |
Justly called a classic. ( )
  JNSelko | Jun 18, 2008 |
O'Sullivan here tells the story of his growing up in Great Blasket, a sparse island off Ireland's Atlantic coast with a Gaelic-speaking population.
All the books I've read about the Blasket islands were interesting and well written - this is no exception. ( )
  jrbeach | Aug 1, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Maurice O'Sullivanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Forster, E. M.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There is no doubt but youth is a fine thing though my own is not over yet and wisdom comes with age.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192813250, Paperback)

In tellng the story of his youth, Maurice O'Sullivan uses a style derived from the folk tales he learned from his grandfather, and sharpened by his own lively imagination. Though he wrote simply for his own pleasure and for the entertainment of his friends--without any thought of a wider audience--O'Sullivan now enjoys a devoted following of readers who appreciate what E.M Forster praised as the "gaiety and magic" of this book.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:43 -0400)

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