If you love old Irish stories and tales, chances are you’ve heard one through the storytelling of Lady Gregory.
Who Was Lady Gregory?
Born Isabella Augusta Persee on March 5, 1852 in County Galway, she married Sir W.H. Gregory, a widower who was several decades old than she. They lived in London where they were often visited by such creative minds of the age as Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Sir John Everett Millais, and Henry James. Their summers were spent at Coole Park in County Galway, where she would spend the end of her life. When Lady Gregory’s husband passed away in 1892, she turned her attention to writing and preserving Irish culture for the stage at time of cultural revival in Ireland.
Lady Gregory’s Work
She wrote over 40 plays along with numerous poems and essays. Along with William Butler Yeats, whom she met in 1896, she founded The Irish Literary Theater in 1899, which survived only two years. Soon after she was one of the founders of Abbey Theater.
She met Douglas Hyde, Gaelic scholar and future first President of Ireland, in 1897. Hyde is known for the ancient folks tales he collected, translated, and published. Lady Gregory, with Hyde’s translations, published Poets and Dreamers (Dublin, Hodges & Figgis/London, John Murray, 1903), a book of folk-tales and short plays. More books followed including A Book of Saints and Wonders, which contains stories of St. Patrick, St. Brendan the Navigator, St. Brigid, and St. Columcille.
Lady Gregory’s Legacy
Lady Gregory was not a native Gaelic speaker, but she learned the language and mastered it at age 50. She undoubtedly had a great mind along with being blessed with creativity. Her home at Coole Park became something of a writers’ retreat. You can still see her famous autograph tree there with the initials of George Bernard Shaw, Yeats, Sean O’Casey, and more. The house itself is long gone, but the tree lives on.
Without the work of 19th century storytellers like Lady Gregory, some of the tales we enjoy today might have been lost. As someone who enjoys retelling old stories for today’s audience, I’m inspired by Lady Gregory and others like her.
Mankind as a whole had a like dream once;
everybody and nobody built up the dream bit by bit, and the ancient
storytellers are there to make us remember what mankind would have been
like, had not fear and the failing will and the laws of nature tripped
up its heels. ~Lady Gregory, from Gods and Fighting Men
Cindy Thomson is the author of Celtic Wisdom and Brigid of Ireland. She enjoys exploring Irish history, especially the Early Christian period. She has written numerous articles on Irish genealogy. Visit her blog Celtic Voices and her web site where you can sign up for her monthly newsletter.