The NUI college of Maynooth conferred an honorary degree on Micheál Ó Ceárna for a lifetime of service to the Irish language and his work on campaigning for the preservation of the Great Blasket Island off the coast of Country Kerry.
The Blasket Islands are five islands made up of the Great Blasket Island, Beginish, Inshabro, Inishtooskert and Tearaght.
Irish was the spoken language on the islands, which were inhabited until 1953. On November 17 of that year, the final inhabitants were relocated to the mainland as weather conditions were leaving the islanders too isolated and in some peril when emergency services were needed.
Many of those who were moved continued west to Springfield, Massachusetts, while others went to live on the Dingle peninsula.
O’Ceárna is the oldest native of the Great Blasket Island. He was born there in 1920 and emigrated to Springfield in 1948. He might have left the island, but the island never left him.O’Cearna has sis children and all were taught to speak Irish.
After seeing his brother die of meningitis on the island in 1947 without the help of a doctor of the solace of a priest, it was his intervention by letter to then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Eamon De Valera that had a big influence on the Government’s decision to move the inhabitants from the island in 1953.
In recent years O'Cearna has spearheaded efforts to make the Great Blasket Island a national heritage park.
“I’m accepting this degree in the name of all the people of the Great Blasket Island, especially those who have contributed so magnificently to Irish literature and the preservation of the Gaelic language," he said.
"I’m extraordinarily proud to represent such a distinguished group of people and for the recognition it gives our island home, in itself so representative of Ireland’s unique way of life. The designation of the island as a National Park will ensure Ireland plays its part internationally in preserving what is a living legacy of the lives and achievements of generations past”.
O'Cearna was conferred Doctor of Literature, D.Litt., at the Blasket Interpretive Centre in Dún Chaoin, the village on the mainland which provided the Great Blasket Island with a lifeline when it was inhabited.