Lady Augusta Gregory (1852-1932).
Augusta was the twelfth child of the very large and wealthy Persse family of Roxborough. Her life was quite uneventful until her marriage in 1880 to the influential and popular Sir William Gregory of Coole Park. He introduced her to a wide and intellectual world. She was forty when her husband died and the next forty years saw a transformed woman. It was the period of her life which was lived in the public eye, to a great extent. She contributed enormously to cultural nationalism stating that her aim was “to bring dignity to Ireland”.
Folklore and The Irish language
As a child in Roxborough, she displayed a keen interest in nationalist affairs, which was nurtured by her old nurse, Mary Sheridan. Douglas Hyde’s Love Songs of Connacht awakened her to what she describes as “the learning of the ages walking our roads”. From 1897, when W.B.Yeats came to Coole, she began to collect folklore. She learned the Irish language (Gaelic). She could speak the language but her skill lay in translating. In 1899 she helped to establish one of the first branches of the Gaelic League in rural Ireland at a function in Kiltartan National School.
When Lady Gregory visited President Theodore Roosevelt, USA in 1911, he informed her that her Cuchulain of Muirthemne was his favourite bedside book. It was from her translations of early epics that Yeats obtained most of the material for his plays on ancient Irish themes. Dr. Thomas Wall of the Irish Folklore Commission rightly called Lady Gregory “the mother of folklore”.
The Literary Renaissance
She organised and nurtured the talent of others, so much so that George Bernard Shaw called Coole “the workshop of Ireland”. Coole rapidly became a powerhouse of the literary movement, especially with the founding of the Irish Literary Theatre, later to become the Abbey Theatre. Lady Gregory was one of the Theatre’s co-founders, which was opened 27th December 1904. She was involved in the Abbey Theatre’s day-to-day running, securing its finances and writing plays. Many of her plays such as Spreading The News are still performed.
Lady Gregory was a woman of great humanity as can be clearly seen from her Journals. She looked after her tenants and founded the Kiltartan branch of the IAOS – Irish Agricultural Organisation Society.
On her headstone in Bohermore cemetery the following words are written:
“She shall be remembered forever.”
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