Gregory, Lady Augusta

Lady Gregory
Lady Gregory. Image source Wikipedia. Public Domain

Lady Gregory was born Isabella Augusta Persse in 1852 in Roxborough House, near Loughrea, Co. Galway.

At twenty-eight she married Sir W. H. Gregory, then a sixty-three year-old widower, former governor of Ceylon and Trustee of the National Gallery and MP for Galway, and who had been responsible for measures which compounded the misery suffered in the Great Famine (1846-1851). They settled in London, where the Gregorys’ salon was frequented by Browning, Tennyson, Millais, Henry James, and others. They summered at Coole Park, near Gort, Co. Galway, in the barony of Kiltartan which she would later make famous.

Her husband died in 1892, and shortly afterwards, her first visit to Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands, inspired her to learn Irish and the Hiberno-English dialect of Kiltartan. She met W. B. Yeats in 1896, and commenced collecting folklore in Kiltartan region with him. She also established an Irish class at Coole schoolhouse. She met Douglas Hyde, the Gaelic scholar and future first President of Ireland in 1897.

With Edward Martyn and Yeats, she founded the Irish Literary Theatre, 1899-1901, later the Abbey Theatre Company, of which she held the patent and which she directed with Yeats and J.M. Synge from 1904.

Her first publication was Poets and Dreamers (Dublin, Hodges & Figgis/London, John Murray, 1903), containing translations of Raftery, folk-tales, and translations of short plays by Douglas Hyde. This was followed by Gods and Fighting Men (With a Preface by W.B. Yeats. London, John Murray, 1904), based on mythological cycle of the Irish Kings; A Book of Saints and Wonders (1906), which narrates in Kiltartanese the lore of St Brigit, St Patrick, St Columcille, the voyages of Maeldun and Brendan, and the Old Woman of Beare.

She began writing plays by helping Yeats with the peasant dialogue of his plays and in effect co-authored his early plays, including Cathleen Ni Houlihan.

Her first play was Twenty Five (Dublin, The Abbey, 1904). Altogether she wrote nineteen original plays and seven translations for the Abbey between 1904-1912, including as The Doctor in Spite of Himself (1906), The Rogueries of Scapin (1908), The Miser (1909), and The Would-Be Gentleman (1923), included in Irish Folk History Plays (1912); her comedies include Hyacinth Halvey (1906); The Image (1909); Damer’s Gold (1912), and MacDonough’s Wife (1912), written aboard ship en route to America.

She published The Kiltartan History Book (Dublin, Maunsel & Co, 1909); The Kiltartan Wonder Book (Maunsel & Co, 1910); and issued a history of the national theatre as Our Irish Theatre: A Chapter in Autobiography (New York, G. Putnam’s Sons, 1913).

On a second tour of America in 1915, she wrote Shanwalla (London, Putnam, 1915); and Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland, 2 vols. (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1920).

Her monologue, An Old Woman Remembers (1923), was recited by Maire O’Neill in the Abbey. Her late plays include The Story Brought By Brigid (Abbey 1923); Sancha’s Master (1927) and Dave (1927).

She played Cathleen Ní Houlihan in three performances of the play shortly after her 67th birthday in 1919, the year she published The Kiltartan Poetry Book: Prose Translations from the Irish (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press).

She died on May 22, 1932, at her home in Coole Park, County Galway.

“Appendix I: Plays Produced by the Abbey Theatre Co. and its Predecessors, with dates of First Performances.” by Lady Augusta Persse Gregory

The Kiltartan Poetry Book: Prose Translations from the Irish, by Lady Gregory

Lady Augusta Gregory The National Library of Ireland