seamus dubhghaill

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


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First Production of the Irish Literary Theatre

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 75The first production of the Irish Literary Theatre, The Countess Cathleen, is performed on May 8, 1899. Like many of William Butler Yeats’ plays, it is inspired by Irish folklore. In a time of famine, demons sent by Satan come to Ireland to buy the souls of the starving people. The saintly Cathleen disposes of her vast estates and wealth in order to feed the peasants, yet the demons thwart her at every turn. At last, she sacrifices her own soul to save those of the poor.

Yeats, Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn publish a “Manifesto for Irish Literary Theatre” in 1897, in which they proclaim their intention of establishing a national theatre for Ireland. The Irish Literary Theatre is founded by Yeats, Lady Gregory, Martyn and George Moore in Dublin in 1899. It proposes to give performances in Dublin of Irish plays by Irish authors.

In 1899 Lady Gregory secures a temporary licence for a play to be given at the Antient Concert Rooms in Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) in Dublin, and so enables the Irish Literary Theatre to give its first production. The play chosen is The Countess Cathleen by Yeats. It is done by a very efficient London company that includes May Whitty (Dame May Webster) and Ben Webster. The next production given is Martyn’s play The Heather Field.

In the following year the Irish Literary Theatre produces three plays at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin: Maeve by Edward Martyn, The Last Feast of Fianna by Alice Milligan and The Bending of the Bough by George Moore. The Bending of the Bough is staged during the Second Boer War which begins on October 11, 1899.

The Irish Literary Theatre project lasts until 1901, when it collapses due to lack of funding.

The use of non-Irish actors in these productions is perceived to be a failure, and a new group of Irish players is put together by the brothers William and Frank Fay, among others. These go on to form the Irish National Theatre Society, which leads to the founding of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1904.


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W.B. Yeats Receives Nobel Prize in Literature

william-butler-yeats-1William Butler Yeats, Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature, receives Nobel Prize in Literature on December 10, 1923.

Yeats is born at Sandymount in County Dublin on June 13, 1865. His father, John Butler Yeats, is a lawyer and a well-known portrait painter. He is educated in London and in Dublin, but spends his summers in the west of Ireland in the family’s summer house at Connacht. The young Yeats is very much part of the fin de siècle in London. At the same time he is active in societies that attempt an Irish literary revival. His first volume of verse appears in 1887, but in his earlier period his dramatic production outweighs his poetry both in bulk and in import.

Together with Lady Gregory, Yeats founds the Irish Literary Theatre, which later becomes the Abbey Theatre, and serves as its chief playwright until the movement is joined by John Millington Synge. His plays usually treat Irish legends and also reflect his fascination with mysticism and spiritualism. The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), The King’s Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907) are among the best known.

After 1910, Yeats’s dramatic art takes a sharp turn toward a highly poetical, static, and esoteric style. His later plays are written for small audiences. They experiment with masks, dance, and music, and are profoundly influenced by the Japanese Noh plays. Although a convinced patriot, he deplores the hatred and the bigotry of the Nationalist movement, and his poetry is full of moving protests against it. He is appointed to the Irish Senate, Seanad Éireann, in 1922.

Yeats is one of the few writers whose greatest works are actually written after the award of the Nobel Prize. Whereas he receives the Prize chiefly for his dramatic works, his significance today rests on his lyric achievement. His poetry, especially the volumes The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), and Last Poems and Plays (1940), make him one of the outstanding and most influential twentieth-century poets writing in English. His recurrent themes are the contrast of art and life, masks, cyclical theories of life (the symbol of the winding stairs), and the ideal of beauty and ceremony contrasting with the hubbub of modern life.

Yeats dies at the age of 73 at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France, on January 28, 1939. He is buried after a discreet and private funeral at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. In September 1948, his body is moved to the churchyard of St. Columba’s Church, Drumcliff, County Sligo, on the Irish Naval Service corvette Macha.

(From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969)


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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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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.”


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Birth of Edward Martyn, Playwright & Activist

edward-martynEdward Martyn, Irish playwright and early republican political and cultural activist, is born in County Galway on January 30, 1859. He serves as the first president of Sinn Féin from 1905 to 1908.

Martyn is the elder son of John Martyn of Tullira Castle, Ardrahan and Annie Mary Josephine (née Smyth) of Masonbrook, Loughrea, both of County Galway. He is educated at Belvedere College, Dublin, and Wimbledon College, London, both Jesuit schools, after which he enters Christ Church, Oxford in 1877, but leaves without taking a degree in 1879. His only sibling, John, dies in 1883.

Martyn begins writing fiction and plays in the 1880s. While his own output is undistinguished, he acquires a well-earned reputation as a noted connoisseur of music, both European classical and Irish traditional. He is a fine musician in his own right, giving memorable performances for guests on an organ he has installed at Tullira. He uses his wealth to benefit Irish culture.

Martyn is reportedly pivotal in introducing William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory to each other in 1896. The three found the Irish Literary Theatre, for whom Martyn writes his best and most popular plays, The Heather Field and A Tale of a Town. He covers the costs of the company’s first three seasons, which proves crucial to establishing the company and the future of the Abbey Theatre. He later parts ways with Yeats and Gregory, something he later regrets, but remains on warm terms with Lady Gregory until the end of his life.

Martyn is a cousin and friend to George Moore (1852–1933). The two make frequent trips all over Europe, where Moore influences Martyn’s views on modern art, which result in the latter purchasing several works by Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Kitagawa Utamaro, all later donated to the National Gallery of Ireland. Moore does not share Martyn’s fenian ideas nor espousal of violent means to achieve national sovereignty. Their different political opinions eventually drive their friendship apart.

Martyn is descended from Richard Óge Martyn, a leading Irish Confederate, and Oliver Óge Martyn, a Jacobite who fights in the Williamite War in Ireland. Yet by his lifetime, the family are unionists. Martyn’s outlook begins to change in the 1880s after studying Irish history, as well as living through the events of the Irish Land War. He comes out as an Irish republican when he famously refuses to allow “God Save The Queen” to be sung after a dinner party at Tullira. By this stage he is involved with the political work of Maude Gonne and Arthur Griffith, and is a vocal opponent of the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland in 1897. He also protests the visit by Edward VII in 1903, this time as chairman of the People’s Protection Committee. He is the first president of Sinn Féin from 1905 to 1908. In 1908 he resigns from the party and politics in general to concentrate on writing and his other activities.

He is on close personal terms with Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Mary Plunkett and Patrick Pearse, and deeply mourns their executions in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. A parish hall and church that he founded at Labane, near Tullira, are burned by the Black and Tans. He supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.

Martyn dies at Tullira on December 5, 1923 after years of ill health. Friends and family are shocked at a provision in his will that directs that his body be donated for the use of medical science and, after dissection, be buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. The Palestrina Choir sings at his graveside. He bequeaths his papers to the Carmelites of Clarendon Street in Dublin, who subsequently misplace and lose them. Portraits of Martyn exist by, among others, John Butler Yeats and Sarah Purser. On his death the senior line of the Martyn family dies out. His property is inherited by his cousins, the Smyths of Masonbrook and Lord Hemphill. Tullira is sold by the latter forty years later changing ownership several times since.