Appreciation: Leslie Matson, author who immortalised culture of Blasket Islands
He embedded himself in the community and culture of the west Kerry Gaeltacht
Leslie Matson is among that select group of authors who have immortalised in literature the rich culture of the Blasket Islands, along with others such as Robin Flower, Carl Marstrander, Peig Sayers, Tomás Ó Criomhthain and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin.
He was initially drawn to Corca Dhuibhne in 1954 to improve his Irish so he could register as a teacher, staying with the legendary “Kruger” Kavanagh.
Never a man to do things by half, he embedded himself in the community as well as in the culture of the west Kerry Gaeltacht.
His social research on the 125 former inhabitants of the Blasket Islands stands as a valuable resource to scholars for posterity.
He befriended Mártan Ó Catháin, a nephew of Máire “Méiní” Dunleavy (1876-1967) who had been the Blasket midwife for 36 years.
Méiní, not accustomed to the name Leslie, hilariously called him “Italy” and that was how local people greeted him, “Conas atá Italy inniu?”.
Encouraged by Mícheál de Mórdha, Bainisteoir Ionad an Bhlaoscaid, he wrote Méiní, the Blasket Nurse, which was published by Mercier Press in February 1996.
Apart from his social research, he was a renowned linguist, teacher, chorister and a much loved family man. He enjoyed speaking Irish, French, German and Russian, and was widely read in English and French, quoting the classics from memory.
He began his teaching career in Aravon School in Bray followed by Villiers School in Limerick, however most of his teaching career was in Newtown School, Waterford where he taught mainly French and was Senior Master.
From 1977 he spent six years as headmaster of Sligo Grammar School before teaching in Millstreet Community School. He retired at 65 (~1995) and returned to live in Waterford where he continued his work on the Blaskets and on the archives of Newtown School.
In 1961 he married Joan Powell, whom he had met on the staff of Villiers School and they lived in Waterford. They looked after many of the Newtown pupils in their home as the school was short of boarding space. In 1964 Joan and Leslie memorably took 20 pupils from Newtown School on a cycling trip from Waterford to Paris.
Benjamin Leslie Matson was born on January 6th, 1930 and grew up in Cork, joining the choir of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral at the age of six. This began a life-long love of choral and classical music, which culminated in his appointment as Lay Vicar Choral at Christ Church, Cathedral, Waterford. He was a member of the Waterford Music Club for 60 years.
He was educated at Mountjoy School, Dublin as a boarder, and attended Trinity College Dublin where he attained a MLitt and MA. He also studied in Paris and later was sent to La Rochelle, with 20 other teachers, by the Irish Government as they were introducing oral French into the State examinations.
He is descended from the Matsons of Göteberg, a Swedish sea-faring family which worked the fast clipper ships to Australia. Leslie’s great great grandfather sailed into Cork in 1810. There he met and married a local woman and from then on worked out of Cork. His captain’s logbook is a family heirloom. Leslie’s grave now overlooks the sea at St Andrew’s Church, Dunmore East.
He died on March 12th, 2020 and is survived by his wife, Joan, daughters, Kristin and Sheila, sons-in-law and four grandchildren, Ben, Allison, Amine and Ines. A memorial service will be held once the threat of Covid-19 has passed.
MÉINÍ: THE BLASKET NURSE by MATSON, LESLIE
This is the life story of a remarkable woman, Méiní Dunlevy. Born in Massachusetts of Kerry parents, Méiní was reared in her grandparents house in Dunquin. When she was nineteen, she eloped with an island widower to the Great Blasket, where she worked as a nurse and midwife for thirty-six years. Returning widowed to Dunquin, she died in 1967, aged 91.
Méiní’s story, recorded by the author from her own accounts and those of her friends and relatives in Dunquin, is an evocation of a forceful, spicy personality and a compelling reconstruction of a way of life that has exercised an enduring fascination for readers. [Mercier Press] [archive.org]
Blasket Lives: Biographical Accounts of 125 Blasket People: Blasket researcher Leslie Matson has painstakingly assembled whatever information exists in an unpublished compendium of brief life sketches referred to as Blasket Lives: Biographical Accounts of 125 Blasket People. Matson’s information is taken from Irish census results from 1901 and 1911, Griffith’s Valuation survey, baptismal records at St. Vincent’s Church in Ballyferriter, the archives of the Great Blasket Centre, various Blasket writings and other sources. A draft of this research was completed in 2005. This was an enormous undertaking and now provides an exceptional in-depth insight into island life. All Blasket scholars are indebted to Matson for his work [The Last Blasket King, Chapter 4]
William M. Glynn (Liam Mac Fhloinn): Quaker, Liberal and Gaeilgeoir by Leslie Matson: WILLIAM Mortimer Glynn was born on 30 October 1895 in Ranelagh, Dublin, the second of four children of Edward Glynn and his wife Susan Halliday. The eldest of the family was Norah and there were two younger children, Sherwood McClure and Kathleen. His grandfather Mortimer Glynn was married to … [Journal of the Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society, no.65 2009]
He also did further research on Newtown.
Leslie Matson was born in Cork in 1930 and studied Modern Literature in Trinity College, Dublin, from which he holds the degrees of M.Litt. and MA. He taught French at Newtown School in 1952 and again from 1959 to 1977 under Liam Glynn and Maurice Wigham and was senior master from 1973 to 1977. He was headmaster of Sligo Grammar School for five years. In 1954, when he first visited it, he developed an interest in the Corca Dhuibhne gaeltacht, particularly Dunquin and the Blasket Islands. He has done extensive research on the Blasket people, which resulted in a biographical study of the 125 inhabitants of those islands most frequently referred to in the literature. In 1996 he published Me’ini, the Blasket Nurse (Mercier Press), the biography of an unforgettable old friend who had been midwife on the Blaskets for thirty-six years. [Journal of the Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society, no.65 2009]
The death has occurred of LESLIE MATSON, Former French Teacher at Newtown School, Newtown, Waterford
MATSON (Waterford and Cork) on 12th March 2020 in his 91st year at University Hospital Waterford, Benjamin Leslie, Newtown, Waterford, suddenly, after a difficult year of health issues. Sadly missed by his loving wife Joan, his adored daughters Kristin and Sheila, his affectionate grandchildren Ben, Allison, Amine and Ines, sons-in-law, relatives and many friends also his former pupils many of whom kept in touch with him.
Funeral is private but a Memorial Service will be held to honour his life once the risk of Covid-19 has passed. House private. Donations, if desired, to Protestant Aid or St Vincent de Paul. [RIP.ie] [Irish Times]
‘Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, in our music God is glorified’
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