Cladaigh Chonamara was written in Irish in 1927 in New York when the author, Seamus Mac an Iomaire, was recovering from tuberculosis, the book was eventually published in 1938 by the Irish Government.
The coastline of Connemara (‘beside the sea’ Irish) brings together the sea and the shore, the animals and plants living there and the lives of people depending on them for their existence. The material base of prosperity was very narrow, fishing, seaweed cutting and turf collecting along with a little farming. People experienced a harsh poverty, however they used their imagination to utilise the fish and seaweed to their full potential. The people of the west of Ireland in the early decades of the 20th century were resourceful, they developed a maritime economy to maintain their community intact to fight famine in a culture richly experienced in the natural world. The sense of living on a border or edge resonates with the actual geography of south Connemara. Mainis or Mweenish is a former island, joined to the mainland of Ireland by a storm in 1901, is set amongst peninsulas, inlets and bays which were densely populated at the start of the 20th century. Na Sceirdi (Skerd rocks) marked a 60 metre coastal ledge 12km due south-west of Mainis where rich fishing grounds provided a livelihood for the Connemara fishermen.
The cold plankton rich waters supported large populations of coalfish and pollack. Mac an Iomaire knew the big spring tides coinciding with the greatest upwelling and plankton bloom of the year ‘The big spring tide of the birds in May.’ Mac an Iomaire teaches us to relate to nature and to express our immediate emotions to what we see. The sandhopper (tonachan tra) has an observable social life: ‘The tonachan tra is always working at the ebbing tide, making small holes under the sand. He is no bigger than 2 inches in length, but very lively. He raises his hard pointy little head from time to time to look around and see how the labour is going. I haven’t a clue why he works so hard. He doesn’t live in his holes. Usually there is a huge crowd of them together, helping each other loyally and stoutly.’ Mac an Iomaire here is telling us about himself, he cares to communicate to us about his natural surroundings. The science library cannot tell us about the fish life, crustaceans and seaweed in the manner Mac an Iomaire details in this treasure of a book.
An enlightening read.