Ó Súilleabháin, Muiris (1904–50), author, was born 19 February 1904 on the Great Blasket Island, youngest of the five children of Seán ‘Lis’ Ó Súilleabháin, fisherman and farmer, and Cáit Ó Súilleabháin (née Ní Ghuithín), niece of the author Tomás Ó Criomhthain (qv). Following the death of his mother in 1905, he was sent to an orphanage in Dingle where he remained until he was seven. Brought back to the Great Blasket by his father in 1911, he was educated in the village school and learned the Irish language.
In the early 1920s he formed a close friendship with the Cambridge scholar George Thomson (qv), who came to record the language and the folklore of the island. Thomson advised him against joining his emigrant siblings in Massachusetts and encouraged him to join the Garda Síochána, then anxious to recruit Irish-speaking guards for Gaeltacht areas. He left the island in March 1927 and, after training at the Garda Depot, Phoenix Park, Dublin, he was stationed at Inverin in the Connemara Gaeltacht.
With Thomson's assistance, he began recording the reminiscences that became Fiche blian ag fás. Modelled on Ó Criomhthain's An tOileánach, it was refused publication by An Gúm because of its depiction of young Gaeltacht boys drinking. An Gúm was also averse to its translation into English. Refusing to change or shorten the manuscript, Ó Súilleabháin and Thomson contributed financially to its eventual publication by the Talbot Press in 1933. An English translation, Twenty years a-growing, compiled by George Thomson and Moya Llewelyn Davies, was published simultaneously in London. In 1938 an edition was published by Penguin with a laudatory introduction by E. M. Forster. Though the book was widely successful, praised as an idealised remembrance of the island and its culture, and quickly translated into French and German, the Catholic Bulletin raised its voice against it, condemning its vulgarity and its propensity to ‘swear by the devil’ (Catholic Bulletin, xxiii, 562).
Dissatisfied with life as a policeman and encouraged by his literary success, Ó Súilleabháin left the Gardaí in July 1934 to pursue a career as a full-time author. This proved as dissatisfying as his time with the police. He found no publisher for the next instalment of his biography, ‘Fiche bliain faoi bhláth’. His plays, though performed on radio, were, like his subsequent books, never published. He found only modest success as a contributor to newspapers and journals and was forced to return to the Gardaí in February 1950.
Stationed initially in Oughterard, he was sent to Galway city on temporary duty in June. He died 25 June 1950 within a week of his posting, while swimming in Galway Bay. He is buried at Barr an Doire near Carraroe. Dylan Thomas's partially completed film script of Twenty years a-growing was published in 1964. He married on 10 July 1934 Cáit ní Chatháin of Carraroe; they had one daughter, Máirín, and one son, Eoin, a dramatist and writer.
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).