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.