seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.”