Michael Carney on Great Blasket IslandValerie O’Sullivan

Michael Carney, the oldest living native of the Great Blasket Island off Ireland’s West Coast, has died at 94.

Born on Sept. 22, 1920, Carney was the oldest of only seven surviving natives of The Great Blasket Island. A long-time resident of the Hungry Hill neighborhood in Springfield, MA he passed away peacefully on August 29 in the presence of his family.

A notable Irish (Gaelic) speaker and political activist, Carney was instrumental in the establishment of The Blasket Centre, a museum that attracts 50,000 visitors a year. He was awarded a doctorate for his work by Limerick University.

"I am a native-born Irish speaker and I love the Irish language. Everybody on the island grew up speaking a pure form of Irish. We also learned a little bit of English in school and even more from the visitors that came to the island," Carney wrote in his 2013 memoir, "From the Great Blasket To America: The Last Memoir by an Islander."

"Storytelling was very important on the island. It built a very close-knit community. It was the basis for all the fine literature that came from the island. All my life I have told stories about the island. It is my own way of spreading the word, perpetuating the memory of my beloved island. The island was a place that got into your soul."

Carney immigrated to the United States in 1948, having sailed on the Queen Mary, and settled in Springfield, from where he coordinated the immigration of five of his 9 siblings to the US. He became an American citizen in 1954.

Currach approaching Dunquin Harbor from the Blasket Islands, 1960.

Currach approaching Dunquin Harbor from the Blasket Islands, 1960.

Passionate about his Irish heritage, Carney was active in advancing Irish culture and language. For 24 years, he was a member of the Board of Directors of the John Boyle O’Reilly Club, serving 16 years as its president. He also served as president of the Southern New England Gaelic Football league. His Springfield team won the New England championship three times. 

Carney taught Irish in the Adult Education Division of the Springfield Public Schools for 11 years. He was the Marshal of the Springfield delegation to the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1973, and, in 1979, he received the John J. Burke Award from the Springfield St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. He was listed in Irish American Who’s Who in 1987.

He was honored for his multiple contributions to Irish culture in 2010 with an an honorary doctorate in Celtic literature by the National University of Ireland at Maynooth.

Carney returned to the Great Blasket on an annual basis.

"Some people cannot get the island out of their system. I am one of those people. . . I think about it every day and still dream about it at night,” he wrote in his book.”

Carney retired as a court officer from the Hampden County Hall of Justice in 1993, Masslive.com reports.

Read more: Last of the Blasket Islanders were evacuated to mainland in 1953 (PHOTOS)