In praise of Lady Gregory, by Peter Murphy

Irish Women Writers series: ‘Her use of Hiberno-English, the channeling of native rhythms through the language of Empire, was innovative in a way that, after Joyce, we take for granted’

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Lady Gregory is probably better known as a dramatist, theatre director and Irish Literary Revivalist than a prose stylist, but I love her collections of Irish myths Of Gods and Fighting Men and Cuchulain of Muirthemne. These stories, like all myths, oscillate between the profound and the ridiculous, but Gregory's rendering of the material is muscular and ornate. Her use of Hiberno-English, the channeling of native rhythms through the language of Empire, was innovative in a way that, after Joyce, we take for granted. (Joyce himself took the mick out of Yeats's grand claims for her books while patterning Ulysses after Greek myth. How's that for Epic denial?) In a so-called rationalist age, it's easy to dismiss Augusta Gregory and her cabal (Yeats, George Russell) as crazy mystics, away with the faerie. Maybe, having grown used to the government of jumped-up parish-pumpers and second-hand car salesmen, we forget that the State was founded not by coin-fondlers, but folk who fancied themselves as patriots, poets and, dare we say it, visionaries.
Other favourites: Edna O'Brien and Sara Baume

Peter Murphy is the author of the novels John the Revelator and Shall We Gather at the River, and a member of The Revelator Orchestra.