Peig (Margaret) Sayers, Ireland’s best-known female Seanachai (traditional teller of stories, myths, folktales) was born in Vicarstown, Dunquin, County Kerry in 1873.
She inherited, as she tells us,her storytelling gift from her father, Tomas Sayers.
She had an uncanny mastery of spoken Kerry Irish. Visitors, from Ireland and elsewhere, came to listen to her stories, her language, and her accent. The English scholar and translator, Robin Flower (whom she called Blathain–“little flower”), said “her words could be written down as they leave her lips, …. with no savour of the artificiality of composition.”
As a young woman, Peig worked twice in domestic service in Dingle. Having been disappointed in her attempt to emigrate to America, she spent the rest of her life in Kerry. After marriage to Peats Guithin, a fisherman and native of the Great Blasket Island, she went to live on the island Five of her children predeceased her: Her husband died early, from a cold caught while out fishing, and her remaining children emigrated.
When the Irish Department of Education put her book on its Leaving Certificate curriculum in the seventies, the book and its author got a reputation for gloom and doom among those who felt forced to read it.
What Eamon Grennan has tried to do, in this “play for voices” (adapted from Bryan McMahon’s translation of Peig : a scéal Féin) is capture a number of Peig’s own voices–courageous, sad, humorous, compassionate, angry, and always dramatic at root–great storyteller as she is.His hope is to illustrate Peig’s uncanny powers of observation and recall, as reflected in Bryan McMahon fine translation, from which he has adapted passages to create her voice in the play. This “voice collage” adds up to a life: a full life in which her simple yet complex power of character turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, makes it memorable beyond the often monochromatic picture that many people may have had of her. We hear and see her in her simple, richly experienced love of life and of the world around her. It is a voice bringing Peig herself into our world as an ordinary yet extraordinary, living, audible and brave human being in her own particular time and place and, most importantly, in her own voice.
The play is adapted from the translation of Peig’s autobiography (dictated in Irish to her son, Micaél) by Bryan McMahon, playwright and author, and former lecturer in Paul Engel’s School of Creative Writing, Iowa. HIs translation, Peig: The Autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island was published in the United States by Syracuse University Press in 1974.