Synge, John Millington

John Millington Synge was born in 1871 in Rathfarnham, Dublin.

John Millington Synge
John Millington Synge. Image source

He studied music in Germany and lived in Paris, where he wrote literary criticism, and where he met WB Yeats, who famously persuaded him to live in the Aran Islands before returning to Dublin. He spent five summers there, and perfected his Irish. He also wrote a classic book on the islands, The Aran Islands. All of Synge’s plays owe a fundamental debt his experiences there.

His first play was rejected by Lady Gregory, but In the Shadow of the Glen (1903), a comedy, and Riders to the Sea (1904), a tragi-comedy, were produced by the Irish National Theatre Society, Dublin.
With patronage from Miss Annie Horniman, premises were purchased on Old Abbey Street in Dublin, and the Abbey Theatre opened on December 27th 1904, with Synge, Yeats, and Lady Gregory as co-directors.

Synge’s The Well of the Saints was produced there in 1905 and The Playboy of the Western World in 1907. Some of his previous plays had attracted criticism from nationalists such as Arthur Griffith and Patrick Pearse, but The Playboy of the Western World caused a riot by nationalists in the audience.
He published The Tinker’s Wedding in 1908 but it was not staged, and Deirdre of the Sorrows, a tragedy, was unfinished at the time of his death but staged by the Abbey in 1910.

His collected work was published as The Works of John M Synge in Four Volumes (Dublin, Maunsel and Company Limited, 1910).

The principal actress in all his plays was Maire O’Neill, who became engaged to Synge shortly before his death, and their letters have been collected as Letters to Molly: John Millington Synge to Maire O’Neill, 1906-1909. Synge was also a significant poet. The standard modern edition of his work is The Collected Works of John Millington Synge, ed R. Skelton & Anne Saddlemeyer [Vol.1 Poems, Volume 2 Prose, Vol 3-4 PLays] (Oxford University Press, 1962-8).

He died of Hodgekins Disease in Dublin in 1909.

Synge’s Works at Gutenberg