In praise of Augusta Gregory, by Patrick Lonergan

Celebrating Irish women writers: ‘Gregory has long been recognised as a great Irish person – but it’s time for her to be recognised as a great Irish writer too’

From a portrait of Lady Gregory by Gerald Festus Kelly, courtesy of the Abbey Theatre: “She also did more than any other Irish writer to promote freedom of expression – first in a 1909 struggle with Dublin Castle about the production of a Shaw play, and then in a 1926 row with the newly-independent Free State about O’Casey’s Plough and the Stars”

From a portrait of Lady Gregory by Gerald Festus Kelly, courtesy of the Abbey Theatre: “She also did more than any other Irish writer to promote freedom of expression – first in a 1909 struggle with Dublin Castle about the production of a Shaw play, and then in a 1926 row with the newly-independent Free State about O’Casey’s Plough and the Stars”

 

Augusta Gregory is justly celebrated for her achievements. She co-founded the Abbey Theatre, nurtured countless new writers, and promoted Irish literature nationally and internationally. She also did more than any other Irish writer to promote freedom of expression – first in a 1909 struggle with Dublin Castle about the production of a Shaw play, and then in a 1926 row with the newly-independent Free State about O’Casey’s Plough and the Stars.

Yet her accomplishments as a writer have been severely neglected. With WB Yeats she co-wrote Kathleen ni Houlihan, one of the most important Irish plays ever staged. But Yeats suppressed her role in its composition – so it went largely unacknowledged until the 1990s. Her own plays include wonderfully theatrical comedies, moving proto-feminist tragedies and vivid translations. Her versions of ancient Irish sagas remain essential. And her essays and memoirs provide invaluable insight into Irish life and culture during a crucial period.

Gregory has long been recognised as a great Irish person – but it’s time for her to be recognised as a great Irish writer too.

“My desire is a desire that is as long as a year, but it is love given to an echo, the spending of grief on a wave, a lonely fight with a shadow… that is what my love and my desire have been to me” Ailell in Gods and Fighting Men – the Story of the Tuatha de Dannan and of the Fianna

Other favourites: Maeve Brennan and Kate O’Brien

Patrick Lonergan is professor of drama and theatre studies at NUI Galway.

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