Memories of Christmas on island that’s now silent

Micheál Ó Conghaile grew up on the tiny island of Inis Treabhair during the 1960s and ’70s when 40 people lived there. One of eight children, he loved island life and while he was glad to move away as a teenager, it remains his greatest source of inspiration. Micheál has written a book about his youthful memories.  Published in Irish last year, it’s now available in English, as he tells JUDY MURPHY.

When Micheál Ó Conghaile first went to boarding school in the city’s Coláiste Éinde at the age of 13 and told his fellow students he was from an island, they wondered if he was from Inis Mór.

“That really annoyed me,” says the author who was most definitely not from Aran. Micheál was born in 1962 on the tiny Inis Treabhair, located in Conamara’s Ceantar na nOileán.

Just a mile in length, there were some six houses and about 40 residents on Inis Treabhair in his youth, somewhat similar to nearby Inis Bearachain and other small islands locally.

And while Inis Mór had electricity by the mid-1970s, Inis Treabhair did not.

So, growing up there was a very different proposition, albeit one that Micheál remembers fondly in An Island Christmas, just published by Mercier Press.

It’s a translation from the original, Nollaig Oileánach, published last year by Cló Iar-Chonnacht, the company Micheál set up in 1985, and which he moved on from a couple of years ago to focus on his own writing.

This translation is by Mícheál Ó hAodha and its author is happy the book is available in English.

“Writing in Irish is mo chéad ghrá, but I’m delighted it’s been translated for those people who don’t have Irish,” he says.

In the past year, Micheál met people from other offshore islands and from rural areas on the mainland, who had read the book in Irish and found many similarities with their own childhoods. Now it can reach a wider audience.

“And that includes the many descendants of people from Inis Treabhar who live all over the world and who may not know about its history,” he says.

While the book is based on Christmas memories, Micheál gives an excellent overview of the island’s history, and life there in his youth; how people rowed to the mainland for Mass, how they grew their own vegetables, how they heated their homes, and the various methods of lighting their houses – gas lamps, tilly lamps, lanterns and candles. Very little was wasted, because getting supplies to Inis Treabhair was a labour-intensive process.

“It’s a way of life that’s gone. But when we were young, it was the world as we knew it until we went to boarding school.”


Pictured: Micheál has a busy career as a writer of short stories, novels and dramas and his work has won many awards.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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