seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Birth of Lady Gregory, Writer & Playwright

lady-gregoryIsabella Augusta, Lady Gregory (née Isabella Augusta), Irish playwright, folklorist and theatre manager, is born on March 15, 1852 at Roxborough, County Galway. Her translations of Irish legends, her peasant comedies and fantasies based on folklore, and her work for the Abbey Theatre, play a considerable part in the late 19th-century Irish Literary Revival.

Augusta is the youngest daughter of the Anglo-Irish gentry family Persse. Her mother, Frances Barry, is related to Standish O’Grady, 1st Viscount Guillamore, and her family home, Roxborough, is a 6,000-acre estate located between Gort and Loughrea, the main house of which is later burned down during the Irish Civil War. She is educated at home, and her future career is strongly influenced by the family nanny, Mary Sheridan, a Catholic and a native speaker of the Irish language, who introduces the young Augusta to the history and legends of the local area.

In 1880 Augusta marries Sir William Henry Gregory, a neighbouring landowner who had previously served as a Member of Parliament and as governor of Ceylon. He is a well-educated man with many literary and artistic interests, and his estate at Coole Park houses a large library and extensive art collection, both of which Lady Gregory is eager to explore. He also has a house in London, where the couple spends a considerable amount of time.

Lady Gregory’s literary career does not begin until after Sir Gregory’s death in 1892. In 1896 she meets William Butler Yeats and becomes his lifelong friend and patron. She takes part in the foundation of the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899 and becomes a director of the Abbey Theatre in 1904, which owes much of its success to her skill at smoothing the disputes among its highly individualistic Irish nationalist founders. As a playwright, she writes pleasant comedies based on Irish folkways and picturesque peasant speech, offsetting the more tragic tones of the dramas of Yeats and John Millington Synge.

Lady Gregory writes or translates nearly forty plays. Seven Short Plays (1909), her first dramatic works, are among her best, vivid in dialogue and characterization. The longer comedies, The Image and Damer’s Gold, are published in 1910 and 1913 and her strange realistic fantasies, The Golden Apple and The Dragon, in 1916 and 1920. She also arranges and makes continuous narratives out of the various versions of Irish sagas, translating them into an Anglo-Irish peasant dialect that she labels “Kiltartan.” These are published as Cuchulain of Muirthemne (1902) and Gods and Fighting Men (1904).

Lady Gregory returns to live in Galway after ill health forces her retirement from the Abbey Theatre board in 1928, although she continues to visit Dublin regularly. The house and demesne at Coole Park is sold to the Irish Forestry Commission in 1927, with Lady Gregory retaining life tenancy. Her Galway home had long been a focal point for the writers associated with the Irish Literary Revival, and this continues after her retirement. On a tree in what were the grounds of the house, one can still see the carved initials of Synge, Æ, Yeats and his artist brother Jack, George Moore, Seán O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Katharine Tynan and Violet Martin.

Lady Gregory, whom Shaw once described as “the greatest living Irishwoman,” dies at the age of 80 on May 22, 1932 at home from breast cancer. She is buried in the New Cemetery in Bohermore, County Galway. The entire contents of Coole Park are auctioned three months after her death, and the house is demolished in 1941.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

The Ballyturin House Ambush

In what is known as the Ballyturin House Ambush, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit in County Galway ambushes a motor car as it leaves Ballyturin House near Gort on May 15, 1921.

The IRA gets into position at about 1:00 PM. They see Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) District Inspector Cecil Blake arrive, as they have positively identified him through prior reconnaissance. They take over the gatehouse, and make any passersby prisoner in it, seventeen in all, until Blake’s car is seen about 8:30 PM. Passengers in the car with Blake include his wife Eliza, Captain Cornwallis of the 17 Lancers, Lieutenant McCreery of the 17 Lancers, and the daughter-in-law of Lady Gregory of Coole Park.

The car drives down the long drive to the gate. When they get there, one of the gates is closed, unbeknown to them a ploy by the IRA ambushers to force the car to stop. The car stops and Captain Cornwallis gets out to open the gate. It is at this point that they are ambushed by a group of twenty IRA men.

One of the IRA men in the bushes to the right shouts, “Hands up.” Cornwallis dashes outside the gate to protect himself from the men in the bushes, and fires a couple of revolver shots at the group. He is completely protected from them by the wall, but completely exposed to the men in the gatehouse and is shot and killed.

Mrs. Gregory gets out of the car on the side facing the IRA ambushers, which is believed to have saved her life, as they leave her alone. She works her way around to the back of the car and is led back towards the house by some of the IRA men after the firing stops.

Blake, Mrs. Blake, and Lt. McCreery are apparently killed without firing a shot. The IRA men then move in and remove the guns of their victims.

John and Anna Bagot, who are the owners of Ballyturin House, run down the long drive to the gate when they hear the shooting. Mrs. Gregory was handed over to Miss Molly Bagot. She tells the inquiry that she does not recognise any of the men. John Bagot is held at gunpoint and handed a note which apparently reads, “Volunteer HQ. Sir, if there is any reprisals after this ambush, your house will be set on fire as a return. By Order IRA.”

John Bagot dies on the April 27, 1935. His wife, Anna, lives until January 17, 1963. She dies in London at the age of 96 and is buried at Gresford Church near Wrexham, North Wales. Ballyturin House is abandoned and falls into a total ruin.

The ambush is believed to be in retaliation for an incident in which soldiers or police had tortured three local men for information by forcing them to dig their own graves and then threatening to bury them alive. It is also rumoured in the vicinity, although unsubstantiated, that Lady Gregory conspires with the IRA in planning the ambush which is why her daughter-in-law survives.

(Pictured: Death on a Summer’s evening: The deadly ambush at Ballyturin House on May 15 1921. London Illustrated News May 28 1921)


Leave a comment

Birth of Sir Hugh Percy Lane, Gallery Director & Collector

hugh-percy-laneSir Hugh Percy Lane, art dealer, collector, and gallery director, is born in County Cork on November 9, 1875. He is best known for establishing Dublin‘s Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, the first known public gallery of modern art in the world, and for his contribution to the visual arts in Ireland, including the Lane Bequest.

Lane is brought up in Cornwall, England, and begins his career as an apprentice painting restorer and later becomes a successful art dealer in London.

Through regular visits to the home of his aunt, Lady Gregory, in Coole Park, near Gort in County Galway, Lane remains in contact with Ireland. He soon counts among his family, friends, and social circle those who collectively form the core of the Irish cultural renaissance in the early decades of the 20th century.

Extolling the cause of Irish art abroad, Lane also becomes one of the foremost collectors and dealers of Impressionist paintings in Europe, and amongst those works purchased by him for the new gallery are La Musique aux Tuileries by Édouard Manet, Sur la Plage by Edgar Degas, Les Parapluies by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and La Cheminée by Jean-Édouard Vuillard.

The Municipal Gallery of Modern Art opens in January 1908 in temporary premises in Harcourt Street, Dublin. Lane hopes that Dublin Corporation will run it, but the corporation is unsure if it will be financially viable. Lane does not live to see his gallery permanently located as he dies on May 7, 1915, during the sinking of the RMS Lusitania off the west coast of Cork. The gallery, extended in 2005, is now in Parnell Square in central Dublin.

For his “services to art” in Ireland, Lane is knighted in June 1909 at the comparatively young age of 33.

Following his death, Lane’s will bequeaths his collection to London, but an unwitnessed later codicil bequeaths it to Dublin. Having possession, London’s National Gallery does not recognise the codicil. At the request of Lane’s aunt, Lady Gregory, W.T. Cosgrave, leader of the Irish Government unsuccessfully approaches Ramsay MacDonald on the matter in 1929. When John A. Costello becomes Taoiseach in 1948, he initiates further negotiations with the government of the United Kingdom, eventually leading to a compromise in 1959, under Taoiseach Seán Lemass, whereby half of the Lane Bequest will be loaned and shown in Dublin every five years. In 1993 the agreement is varied so that 31 of the 39 paintings would stay in Ireland. The remaining 8 are divided into two groups, so that four would be loaned for six years at a time to Dublin. In 2008, The National Gallery in London arranges for the entire collection to be on display in Dublin together for the first time.