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


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Death of Dramatist John Millington Synge

John Millington Synge, a leading figure in the Irish Literary Revival, dies in Dublin, on March 24, 1909. He is a poetic dramatist of great power who portrays the harsh rural conditions of the Aran Islands and the western Irish seaboard with sophisticated craftsmanship.

Synge is born in Newtown Villas, Rathfarnham, County Dublin, on April 16, 1871. He is the youngest son in a family of eight children. His parents are members of the Protestant upper middle class. His father, John Hatch Synge, who is a barrister, comes from a family of landed gentry in Glanmore Castle, County Wicklow.

Synge is educated privately at schools in Dublin and Bray, and later studies piano, flute, violin, music theory and counterpoint at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. He enters Trinity College, Dublin, in 1889. He graduates with a BA in 1892, having studied Irish and Hebrew, as well as continuing his music studies and playing with the Academy Orchestra in the Antient Concert Rooms.

After studying at Trinity College and at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin, Synge pursues further studies from 1893 to 1897 in Germany, Italy, and France. In 1894 he abandons his plan to become a musician and instead concentrates on languages and literature. He meets William Butler Yeats while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1896. Yeats inspires him with enthusiasm for the Irish renaissance and advises him to stop writing critical essays and instead to go to the Aran Islands and draw material from life. Already struggling against the progression of Hodgkin’s lymphoma which is untreatable at the time and eventually leads to his death, Synge lives in the islands during part of each year between 1898 and 1902, observing the people and learning their language, recording his impressions in The Aran Islands (1907) and basing his one-act plays In the Shadow of the Glen and Riders to the Sea (1904) on islanders’ stories. In 1905 his first three-act play, The Well of the Saints, is produced.

Synge’s travels on the Irish west coast inspire his most famous play, The Playboy of the Western World (1907). This morbid comedy deals with the moment of glory of a peasant boy who becomes a hero in a strange village when he boasts of having just killed his father but who loses the villagers’ respect when his father turns up alive. In protest against the play’s unsentimental treatment of the Irishmen’s love for boasting and their tendency to glamorize ruffians, the audience riots at its opening at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Riots of Irish Americans accompany its opening in New York City in 1911, and there are further riots in Boston and Philadelphia. Synge remains associated with the Abbey Theatre, where his plays gradually win acceptance, until his death. His unfinished Deirdre of the Sorrows, a vigorous poetic dramatization of one of the great love stories of Celtic mythology, is performed there in 1910.

John Millington Synge dies at the Elpis Nursing Home in Dublin on March 24, 1909, at the age of 37, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

In the seven plays he writes during his comparatively short career as a dramatist, Synge records the colourful and outrageous sayings, flights of fancy, eloquent invective, bawdy witticisms, and earthy phrases of the peasantry from County Kerry to County Donegal. In the process he creates a new, musical dramatic idiom, spoken in English but vitalized by Irish syntax, ways of thought, and imagery.

 

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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.


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Birth of George Moore, Writer, Poet & Dramatist

george-augustus-mooreGeorge Augustus Moore, novelist, short story writer, poet, art critic, memoirist, and dramatist, is born in Moore Hall, near Lough Carra, County Mayo on February 24, 1852. He is considered an innovator in fiction in his day.

Moore comes from a distinguished Catholic family of Irish landholders. When he is 21, he leaves Ireland for Paris to become a painter. His Reminiscences of the Impressionist Painters (1906) vividly describes the Café Nouvelle-Athènes and the circle of Impressionist painters who frequent it. He is particularly friendly with Édouard Manet, who sketches three portraits of him. Another account of the years in Paris, in which he introduces the younger generation in England to his version of fin de siècle decadence, is his first autobiography, Confessions of a Young Man (1888).

Deciding that he has no talent for painting, Moore returns to London in 1882 to write. His first novels, A Modern Lover (1883) and A Mummer’s Wife (1885), introduce a new note of French Naturalism into the English scene, and he later adopts the realistic techniques of Gustave Flaubert and Honoré de Balzac. Esther Waters (1894), his best novel, deals with the plight of a servant girl who has a baby out of wedlock. It is a story of hardship and humiliation illumined by the novelist’s compassion. It is an immediate success, and he follows it with works in a similar vein: Evelyn Innes (1898) and Sister Teresa (1901).

In 1901 Moore moves to Dublin, partly because of his loathing for the South African War and partly because of the Irish Literary Revival spearheaded by his friend, the poet William Butler Yeats. In Dublin he contributes notably to the planning of the Abbey Theatre. He also produces The Untilled Field (1903), a volume of fine short stories reminiscent of Ivan Turgenev’s writing that focuses on the drudgery of Irish rural life, and a short poetic novel, The Lake (1905). The real fruits of his life in Ireland, however, come with the trilogy Hail and Farewell (Ave, 1911; Salve, 1912; Vale, 1914). Discursive, affectionate, and satirical by turns, it reads like a sustained monologue that is both a carefully studied piece of self-revelation and an acute, though not always reliable, portrait gallery of his Irish acquaintance, which included Yeats, George William Russell, and Lady Gregory. Above all it is a perfectly modulated display of the comic spirit.

The increasing narrowness of the Irish mind, politics, and clericalism sends Moore back to England in 1911. After Hail and Farewell he makes another literary departure. Aiming at epic effect he produces The Brook Kerith (1916), an elaborate and stylish retelling of the Gospel story that is surprisingly effective despite some dull patches. He continues his attempts to find a prose style worthy of epic theme in Héloïse and Abélard (1921). His other works include A Story-Teller’s Holiday (1918), a blend of autobiography, anecdote, Irish legend, and satire, Conversations in Ebury Street (1924), autobiography, The Pastoral Loves of Daphnis and Chloe (1924) and Ulick and Soracha (1926), an Irish legendary romance.

George Moore dies at his home at Ebury Street in the London district of Belgravia on January 21, 1933, leaving a fortune of £70,000. He is cremated in London at a service attended by Ramsay MacDonald among others. An urn containing his ashes is interred on Castle Island in Lough Carra in view of the ruins of Moore Hall, which had been burned by anti-treaty forces in 1923, during the final months of the Irish Civil War.


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Birth of Stephen Lucius Gwynn, Writer & Politician

stephen-lucius-gwynnStephen Lucius Gwynn, journalist, biographer, author, poet, Protestant Nationalist politician, and Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, is born on February 13, 1864 in St. Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, Dublin, where his father John Gwynn, a biblical scholar and Church of Ireland clergyman, is a warden.

Gwynn spends his early childhood in rural County Donegal, which shapes his later view of Ireland. He is educated at St. Columba’s College and goes on to Brasenose College, Oxford, where, as scholar, in 1884 he is awarded first-class honours in classical moderations and in 1886 literae humaniores. During term holidays he returns to Dublin, where he meets several of the political and literary figures of the day.

After graduating Gwynn moves to France where he works as a schoolmaster for ten years. In December 1889 he marries his cousin Mary Louisa Gwynn. They have four sons and two daughters. Having dabbled in journalism since his student days, he moves to London in 1896 to pursue a career as a writer. He soon becomes a prominent figure in literary and journalistic circles.

In 1904 the Gwynns return to Ireland to live in Raheny, County Dublin. In November 1906 he wins a seat for Galway Borough, which he represents as a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party until 1918. During this time he also becomes active with the Gaelic League and the Irish Literary Revival.

At the outbreak of World War I, Gwynn gives his support to John Redmond that Irishmen should enlist in the British forces. At the age of fifty-one he enlists as a private in the 7th Leinster Regiment and is later commissioned lieutenant in the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers, attached to the 16th (Irish) Division. He is promoted to captain in 1915 and serves with his battalion at the battles of Ginchy and Guillemont during the Somme offensive and also at Messines in 1917, leaving the front line shortly afterwards.

Gwynn is appointed to the Dardanelles Commission in 1916, an investigation into the unsuccessful 1915 Gallipoli Campaign.

After the war Gwynn continues with his writing and political life. He receives honorary doctorates from the National University of Ireland in 1940 and the University of Dublin in 1945. He dies on June 11, 1950 at his home in Terenure, Dublin and is buried at Tallaght cemetery.


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Birth of Thomas Crofton Croker

thomas-crofton-crokerThomas Crofton Croker, antiquarian and folklorist, is born on January 15, 1798 in Cork, County Cork. His collections of songs and legends form a storehouse for writers of the Irish Literary Revival.

The son of an army major, Croker has little school education but does read widely while working in merchant trade. For some years Croker holds a position in the Admiralty, where his distant relative, John Wilson Croker, is his superior.

Croker devotes himself largely to the collection of ancient Irish poetry and Irish folklore. He assists in founding the Percy Society and the Camden Society. He and his wife’s testimonies about funereal customs, particularly the tradition of keening the deceased are among the earliest and most significant contributions to the understanding of the Irish language lament and the accompanying traditions. The first part of his Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland is published in 1825. It grows to six editions and is translated into German by the Brothers Grimm (Irische Elfenmärchen, 1826). Parts two and three follow in 1828, the latter including Croker’s translation of the long Grimm preface to part one.

Croker publishes Legends of the Lakes: Or, Sayings and Doings at Killarney in 1829, in which he features discussions of the music of his friend, the Irish piper James Gandsey.

Thomas Crofton Croker dies on August 8, 1854 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.


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Death of Poet & Barrister Samuel Ferguson

sir-samuel-ferguson

Sir Samuel Ferguson, Irish poet, barrister, antiquarian, artist, and public servant, dies in Howth, County Dublin on August 9, 1886. Ferguson is perhaps the most important Irish poet of the 19th century. Due to his interest in Irish mythology and early Irish history he is seen as a forerunner of William Butler Yeats and the other poets of the Irish Literary Revival.

Ferguson is born in Belfast on March 10, 1810. He lives at a number of addresses, including Glenwhirry, where he acquires the love of nature that informs his later work. He is educated at the Belfast Academy and the Belfast Academical Institution, and then moves to Dublin to study law at Trinity College, obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 1826 and his masters degree in 1832.

Because his father has exhausted the family property, Ferguson is forced to support himself through his student years. He turns to writing and is a regular contributor to Blackwood’s Magazine by the age of 22. He is called to the bar in 1838, but continues to write and publish, both in Blackwood’s and in the newly established Dublin University Magazine.

Ferguson settles in Dublin, where he practises law. In 1848, he marries Mary Guinness, a great-great-niece of Arthur Guinness and the eldest daughter of Robert Rundell Guinness, founder of Guinness Mahon bank. At the time he is defending the Young Irelander poet Richard Dalton Williams.

In addition to his poetry, Ferguson contributes a number of articles on topics of Irish interest to antiquarian journals. In 1863, he travels in Brittany, Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland to study megaliths and other archaeological sites. These studies are important to his major antiquarian work, Ogham Inscriptions in Ireland, Wales and Scotland, which is edited after his death by his widow and published in 1887.

His collected poems, Lays of the Western Gael is published in 1865, resulting in the award of a degree LL.D. honoris causa from Trinity College. He writes many of his poems in both Irish and English translations. In 1867, Ferguson retires from the bar to take up the newly created post of Deputy Keeper of the Public Records in Ireland. As reward for his services, he receives a knighthood in 1878.

Ferguson’s major work, the long poem Congal is published in 1872 and a third volume, Poems, in 1880. In 1882, he is elected President of the Royal Irish Academy, an organisation dedicated to the advancement of science, literature, and antiquarian studies. His house in North Great George’s St., Dublin, is open to everyone interested in art, literature or music.

Ferguson dies on August 9, 1886 in Howth, just outside Dublin city, and is buried in Donegore near Templepatrick, County Antrim.


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Death of Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory

lady-gregoryIsabella Augusta, Lady Gregory, an Irish playwright, folklorist and theatre manager, dies at her home in Galway on May 22, 1932.

Augusta is born at Roxborough, County Galway, the youngest daughter of the Anglo-Irish gentry family Persse. She is educated at home, and her future career is strongly influenced by the family nanny, Mary Sheridan, a Catholic and a native Irish speaker, who introduces her to the history and legends of the local area.

Augusta marries Sir William Henry Gregory on March 4, 1880 in St Matthias’ Church, Dublin. He is a well-educated man with many literary and artistic interests, and the house at Coole Park houses a large library and extensive art collection. He also owns a house in London, where the couple spends a considerable amount of time, holding weekly salons frequented by many leading literary and artistic figures of the day, including Robert Browning, Lord Tennyson, John Everett Millais and Henry James.

Augusta’s earliest work to appear under her own name is Arabi and His Household (1882), a pamphlet in support of Ahmed Orabi Pasha, leader of what has come to be known as the Urabi Revolt. In 1893 she publishes A Phantom’s Pilgrimage, or Home Ruin, an anti-Nationalist pamphlet against William Ewart Gladstone‘s proposed second Home Rule Act.

Augusta continues to write prose during the period of her marriage. She also writes a number of short stories in the years 1890 and 1891, although these never appear in print. A number of unpublished poems from this period have also survived. When Sir William Gregory dies in March 1892, Lady Gregory goes into mourning and returns to Coole Park. There she edits her husband’s autobiography, which she publishes in 1894.

A trip to Inisheer in the Aran Islands in 1893 re-awakes for Lady Gregory an interest in the Irish language and in the folklore of the area in which she lives. She organises Irish lessons at the school at Coole, and begins collecting tales from the area around her home. This activity leads to the publication of a number of volumes of folk material, including A Book of Saints and Wonders (1906), The Kiltartan History Book (1909) and The Kiltartan Wonder Book (1910).

With William Butler Yeats and Edward Martyn, she co-founds the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre, and writes numerous short works for both companies. Lady Gregory produces a number of books of retellings of stories taken from Irish mythology. Born into a class that identifies closely with British rule, she turns against it. Her conversion to cultural nationalism, as evidenced by her writings, is emblematic of many of the political struggles to occur in Ireland during her lifetime.

Lady Gregory, whom George Bernard Shaw once described as “the greatest living Irishwoman” dies at home at the age of 80 from breast cancer on May 22, 1932. 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.

Lady Gregory is mainly remembered for her work behind the Irish Literary Revival. During her lifetime her home at Coole Park in County Galway serves as an important meeting place for leading Revival figures. Her early work as a member of the board of the Abbey Theatre is at least as important as her creative writings for that theatre’s development. Lady Gregory’s motto is taken from Aristotle: “To think like a wise man, but to express oneself like the common people.”