The Shores of Connemara

The Shores of Connemara

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Genres: Natural History, Tir Eolas
Tag: Shores of Connemara
Publisher: Tir Eolas
Publication Year: 2000
Length: 192pp
ISBN: 187382114X

Translated and annotated by Padraic de Bhaldraithe

ISBN: 978-1-873821-14-5
192pp, 22.0 x 16.0 cm, 16 colour plates, 12 newly commissioned etchings by Sabine Springer  2000

First published in Irish in 1938 as Cladaí Chonamara and not previously available in English, The Shores of Connemara is both a naturalist's guide to the seashore and coastal waters of Connemara, Co. Galway and an account of the life of the people who lived there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Séamas Mac an Iomaire was born in 1891 near Carna in Connemara and wrote about the way of life he knew and the environment in which he grew up. He describes the flora and fauna of the seashore, the living people made from them and the crafts involved, such as kelp making, boat building and fishing. With this English edition a new audience can discover this classic of Irish social and natural history.

'Ribe ribe róibéis, tabhair dom greim ar bharr do shlata bige agus tabharfaidh mé duit arís amárach é.’ (Give me a grip of the top of your little rod, shrimp, and I’ll give it back to you tomorrow.) This was the chant that children recited on the shores of Connemara as they attempted to persuade the rock pool shrimps to desert their crevices and allow themselves to be captured. This is but one of the many customs and practices that linked the people of Connemara to the abundance of sea creatures that surrounded them. The Shores of Connemara presents a wonderful description of marine life, not according to the norms of scientific natural history, but as the people themselves saw it.  Séamus Mac an Iomaire combines his own acute observations of nature with the rich maritime traditions and customs of the people of Maínis to produce an informative, uplifting and original account of the sea life of the Irish Atlantic coast. The clarity and charm of his writing, so faithfully translated in this book, will appeal to a wide variety of readers, including naturalists, environmentalists, and social historians, but most of all to anyone fortunate enough to spend time walking and boating along the Connemara coast. The book is greatly enriched by the striking original illustrations of Sabine Springer.

Contents: Foreword – Introduction – Maínis – Fishing – Searching for Bait – Shore Creatures – Sea Fish – Boat Races in Connemara – Material for the Púcán – Kelp Making – Seaweed – List of Names of Invertebrates – List of Names of  Fishes – List of Names of Seaweeds – List of Place Names – Index of English Names of Fishes, Invertebrates and Seaweeds – Bibliography.

'Mac an Iomaire's is an original and clear story, a commentary on the social life of a people co-existing with nature and the cycles of the sea.'  Wild Ireland

'This is one of the most interesting and captivating books about nature ever written in Ireland. Here is a joyful supplement to the solemnities of regular field guides. A major cultural text and also one of the most enjoyable and revelatory books in the whole of Irish writing about nature. The rich illustration includes original etchings of fish by Sabine Springer that rank with the best in marine illustration. The whole book is a labour of love.'  Michael Viney, Irish Times

About the author

Séamas Mac an Iomaire was born in 1891 on Maínis, an island off the coast of Connemara. As a boy he learned all the traditional skills of the way of life on the seashore - sailing, fishing, cutting seaweed and similar activities. He also absorbed the heritage of songs, storytelling and folklore of this Irish speaking region. As a youth he was involved with the Irish Republican movement and he was arrested and briefly imprisoned, as were his father and one of his brothers. He began writing while in his teens and his essays and stories were published regularly in the Irish language press. He started to teach Irish through the Gaelic League and worked as a teacher until he emigrated to the USA in 1926. He at first taught Irish for the New York Gaelic Society then worked for a railway company. He worked mostly underground, spending months on end without seeing the light of day and it was then that he contracted TB and was hospitalised.

His friend Seosamh Daibhéid encouraged him to continue writing while in hospital and he began to record what later became Cladaí Chonamara. Seamas wrote (in Irish) "I was in bed when I wrote most of the pieces as I was not allowed to get up. The doctor told me there was no harm in writing three or four pages a day, that is, after having already spent six months on the flat of my back not being allowed stir. I often wrote eight pages a day, although the doctor doesn't know that yet. I got so immersed in such desirable memories that I would forget altogether that I was in a foreign country lying on the flat of my back with TB."

After his recovery Séamas continued to work for the railroad company until his retirement in 1960. He visited his native home from time to time and died in 1967.

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