Irish Marxist writer with a hatred of neoliberalism
Birth: February 19, 1938
Died: February 17, 2022
Tomás Mac Síomóin, Irish writer, translator, editor and scientist, died in Spain. Although he worked primarily as a biology teacher, Mac Síomóin was passionate about the Irish language and Ireland’s Gaelic heritage. A committed Marxist and member of the Communist Party of Ireland for many years, he translated Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto into Irish, as well as works by other leftist writers, including the selected poems of Marxist priest Ernesto Cardenal.
Mac Síomóin published four collections of poetry before turning to prose. His sardonic short story Cín Lae Seangáin (The Diary of an Ant) won first prize at the An tOireachtas Irish Language Publishing Awards 2005 organized by Foras Na Gaeilge. And his science fiction novel, An Tionscadal (The Project) whose narrator is an Irish employee of a pharmaceutical multinational in the Pyrenees, won the main Oireachtas literary prize in 2007.
Referring to his own dystopian writing, he said, “Signaling dysfunction is part of the creative destruction that must always precede the new”
Cultural critic Jenny Farrell—who was a friend of Mac Síomóin—said he had no time for rural idyll literature. “The inhuman machinations, the willingness to sacrifice people, the denial of dignity, lurk everywhere in his work,” she said. Mac Síomóin himself often lamented that society “has been regulated and controlled by the theology of government bureaucracies or the industrial mega-corporations that have replaced them”, adding that “some citizens realize, too late, that their societies misrepresent human potential but, being powerless to change this apparent immutability of the ruling order, opt for helpless resignation.” Referring to his own dystopian writing, he said, “pointing out the dysfunction is part of the creative destruction which must always precede the new”.
Much of Mac Síomóin’s writing was steeped in his opposition to neoliberal politics, his concerns about environmental degradation, and the dehumanization caused by artificial intelligence. He spent some time in Cuba, and his novel, Ceallaigh: Scéal Ón mBlár Catha (2010) examines contemporary life in communist Cuba through the eyes of a fictional Irish journalist while recalling the Cuban stay of Irish journalist, JJ O ‘Kelly, who while working for the New York Herald reported on the Ten Years’ War from 1868 to 1878.
Banned in Ireland
In an effort to bring the poems of the Irish-language poet, Máirtín Ó Direáin to non-English speaking audiences, Mac Síomóin together with Douglas Sealy translated and published a compilation of his work as Selected Poems / Tácar danta (1984). And through the publishing house he founded with his second wife, illustrator Karen Dietrich, of Nuascéalta, he has also republished three novels by Liam O’Flaherty – The House of Gold, Hollywood Cemetery and The Martyr – all of which had been banned in Ireland since their original release. editions were published in the 1920s and 1930s.
As a founding member of the Communist Party in Ireland who wrote in the Irish satirical literary tradition, O’Flaherty was something of a model for Mac Síomóin (although he was disappointed by the lack of debate in Ireland about his republication of O’Flaherty’s novels while they were well received in the United States). The 20th century Gaelic poets Máirtín Ó Direáin and Somhairle Mac Ghill-Eathain were other major influences. But, as a true internationalist, polymath and multilingual (he was also fluent in Spanish and Catalan), Mac Síomóin was also inspired by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, the Chilean poet and physicist Nicanor Parra, the Spanish poet Antonio Machado and the Czech poet Miroslav Holub. .
He left Ireland to settle in Spain partly because he was disillusioned with what he saw as modern Ireland’s abandonment of the ideals of the Irish Revolutionary period.
He edited the Irish-language weekly Anois and the Irish-language literary review Comhar for a time. And with Irish-language publisher Pádraig Ó Snodaigh, he co-edited the short-lived political, philosophical and literary journal Lasair. He also wrote for the Communist Party of Ireland publication, A Socialist Voice, for some years.
Mac Síomóin grew up in Sandymount, Dublin, the eldest of three children. He was educated by the Christian Brothers and studied science at University College Dublin. He studied for a year in the Netherlands and was a lecturer at University College Galway [now NUI Galway] before leaving to do his doctorate at Cornell University in New York. He spent seven years in the United States and then worked as a researcher and lecturer in biology at the Dublin Institute of Technology. [now Technological University of Dublin] for many years.
In 1998, after retiring from the DIT, he left Ireland to settle in Spain, partly because he was disappointed by what he saw as modern Ireland’s abandonment of social ideals , linguistic and cultural aspects of the Irish revolutionary period and their replacement by Anglo- American consumerist values. He explored these losses, their historical origins and their international context in books such as The Broken Harp: Identity and Language in Modern Ireland and The Gael Becomes Irish: An Unfinished Odyssey.
While in Spain he also started translating some of his own work into English to reach a wider audience. His friend and academic colleague Éamon Ó Ciosáin said that although Mac Síomóin considered himself a voluntary literary exile, he was harmed by the lack of critical attention and readership of his work in Ireland and the “iron curtain” between the Irish language literature and English. language literary establishment in Ireland. He was invited again as a featured writer for the Imram Irish language literature festival in Dublin in 2012.
Mac Síomóin’s move to Catalonia also allowed him to deepen his lifelong interest in Iberian and Hispanic literature, culture and politics. His book, From One Bright Island Flyn: Irish Rebels, Exiles and Martyrs in Latin America, traced the lives of these often-forgotten emigrants who passed through France and Spain to Latin America and at times became involved in the fight for the independence of the countries there. Wexford-born Liam Lamport, who is the only non-Mexican depicted in a statue at Mexico City’s Angel de la Independencia, and Alejandro O’Reilly of Co Galway, who has a street named after him in Havana, Cuba , were among those whose lives he explored.
In 2014 he published Three Leaves of a Bitter Shamrock, a trilogy of sorts that included Liam O’Flaherty’s The Cure for Unemployment, Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal and his own rewrite of Swift’s satirical essay. One of his last books was the bilingual (Irish and Spanish) account of the Argentine-Irish Bulfin family’s contribution to the cause of Irish independence.
Tomás Mac Síomóin is survived by his second wife, Karen Dietrich, his son Ruairí, his daughters, Liadan, Aoife and Seonaidh from his first marriage, eight grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and his sister, Eileen Twomey. His brother Gérard died before him in 2021.