In praise of Lady Gregory, by Colm Tóibín

Celebrating Irish women writers: ‘Her translations of Irish poems and songs have a tender simplicity and immediacy’

 Augusta Gregory:   her plays and generous vision helped define modern Ireland. Photograph: Hulton/Getty

Augusta Gregory: her plays and generous vision helped define modern Ireland. Photograph: Hulton/Getty

 

After the death of her husband, in 1892, Lady Gregory devoted herself to the cause of “adding dignity to Ireland”, as she put it. She learned Irish. She collected folklore. Her translations of Irish poems and songs have a tender simplicity and immediacy. The tone she used for her translation of The Táin – often referred to as Kiltartanese – provided Synge and others with a template for a re-creation of the Irish idiom in English. Her Cathleen Ni Houlihan, which she wrote with WB Yeats, had a deep effect on the revolutionary generation. Her work with writers, especially Seán O’Casey, and her own plays, and indeed her generous vision, make her one of the architects of modern Ireland. Her diaries and letters offer one the best accounts of running a theatre, life during the Troubles and what it was like to lose a son in the first World War.

Colm Tóibín won the International Impac Dublin Literary Award for The Master and the Costa Award for Brooklyn

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