Cover image for Hungry for home : leaving the Blaskets : a journey from the edge of Ireland
Hungry for home : leaving the Blaskets : a journey from the edge of Ireland
Moreton, Cole.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 288 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
General Note:
Maps on lining papers.
Format :


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On Christmas Eve, 1946, a young man collapsed on a remote island off the western coast of Ireland. There was no priest or doctor on the Great Blasket and no contact with the outside world. Helpless, his family watched him die. This was the catalyst for the end of the island community whose people spoke a pure form of Irish and gathered by turf fires to hear tales handed down from ancient times. Despair forced them to abandon their medieval way of life and plead for evacuation, which finally came in 1953. Some, like the dead man's sister went to live on the Irish mainland. Others headed west to America.Cole Moreton's Hungry for Home tells the story of these islands and the dramatic events that led to their abandonment. He goes in search of the islanders, discovering a few survivors still living within sight of the Great Blasket. Following the footsteps of the emigrants who had left half a century earlier, Moreton seeks out the dead man's brothers and discovers an extraordinary end to their story. Driven out of a home locked in the Dark Ages, they had crossed the Atlantic and made a new life in the world's most advanced nation. This is a book about home and what that means and a gripping account of the quest for a vanished people, and the story of the Kearney family's breathtaking journey from one way of life to another.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Of all the removals and dispossessions throughout Ireland's history, one grips the Irish imagination--the mid-twentieth-century evacuation of the stark, unwelcoming Blasket Islands off Ireland's west coast. The Blaskets weren't just rocks at Europe's furthest extremity. They were the last outpost of Gaelic culture, the home to storytellers whose mellifluous Irish and extravagantly poetic style had famously inspired J. M. Synge, among others. Being the bearers of an ancient culture had too high a human cost, and when a strapping young man fell ill, apparently of meningitis, and died while the winds whipped the sea to such a winter frenzy that help from the mainland was impossible, even had the radio been working to call for it, the islanders gave up. Moreton re-creates the last months on the Blaskets almost novelistically. He hunts down survivors, and finds, surprisingly, that the islanders didn't disperse in the vast ocean of humanity but built a new little island in a new land. Absorbing and meticulously researched, this book extends but hopefully doesn't conclude the literature of the Blaskets. --Patricia Monaghan

Publisher's Weekly Review

British journalist Moreton's fiercely lyrical account of an abandoned island off Ireland's southwest tip, and of its residents' emigration to America, is memorable and evocative. The people of Great Blasket, which was permanently abandoned in 1953, spoke Gaelic and preserved an ancient culture and language to the very end. Work was communal; money seldom changed hands. An informal panel of elders acted as judge in disputes, often meting out rough justice. Mourners at a wake would tell ghost stories, huddled by candlelight in the same room as the corpse. But isolation and poverty drove away the younger generation, fishing and agriculture slowly died and, by 1947, there were just 15 extended families left, many of them petitioning the government to be given new homes on the Irish mainland. Great Blasket became a symbol of an old Ireland, a pawn in a game between politicians with opposing views of what it means to be Irish. By the time of the official evacuation, most of the island's inhabitants had already emigrated to the U.S. Through interviews and historical records, Moreton re-creates the saga of one family, the O Cearna clan (a Gaelic surname anglicized as Kearney or Carney), most of whom moved to Springfield, Mass., where they assimilated while attempting to revive the sense of community they once enjoyed on Great Blasket. The book's cadenced, flavorful first half, evoking traditional life on Great Blasket, is magical; the second half, centered on America, is more pedestrian, though it insightfully traces the shaping of Irish-Americans into a major political force. Moreton closes with a recent trip to the island's ruined, abandoned village, which the Irish government may transform into a national park. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Off the western coast of Ireland lie the remote and frequently inaccessible Blasket Islands, which were populated by a people whose language and lifestyle had not changed for hundreds of years. Gradually, some inhabitants left the islands, but in the 1950s all of the remaining islanders evacuated. Intrigued by the story, British journalist Moreton set out to Ireland and America to interview several of the former islanders and record why they left the Blaskets after they had survived there for so long. Blending the historical narrative with his own personal account, Moreton chronicles their lives and describes how in 1946, after gradually having to abandon their traditional lifestyles in order to survive, they became demoralized and eventually chose to leave after a sick young man died because they could not reach help from the mainland. This is a compelling story, and Moreton does a good job of telling it without overly romanticizing the past. Recommended for large travel and history collections.DKathleen Shanahan, Kensington, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.