Augusta, Lady Gregory 1852-1932

Augusta, Lady Gregory was born in Roxborough, County Galway on the 6,000-acre Persse family estate. She had twelve brothers and sisters and was home educated, developing a great interest in Irish folklore and history through her nurse, Mary Sheridan, a native Irish speaker.

In 1880 she married Sir William Henry Gregory, a widower 35 years her senior and a former governor of Ceylon and Member of Parliament for Galway. They lived at Coole Park, an extensive country estate near Gort and also had a house in London where they held literary salons attended by Browning, Tennyson and other luminaries. They had a son Robert who died in a WWI flying accident in 1918 in Italy as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps which inspired four poems from W B Yeats, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, In Memory of Major Robert Gregory, Reprisals, and Shepherd and Goatherd. This must have been a great blow to her.

Sir William and his wife travelled extensively overseas in the 1880’s and soon after their marriage she had an affair with the poet, Wilfred Scawen Blunt, in Egypt, which prompted her to write several sonnets which Blunt published under his own name.The first work she issued under her name was Arabi and his Household (1882), a pamphlet on the Egyptian nationalist revolt. In 1887 she wrote another pamphlet, Over the River, to raise funds for St Stephen’s church in Southwark and in 1893 an anti-Nationalist pamphlet, A Phantom’s Pilgrimage, or Home Run, against Gladstone’s second Home Rule Act.

Her husband died in 1892 and the following year after a trip to the Aran Islands her writing turned to cultural nationalism.Over the next few years she around twenty plays about Irish legends, also acting in one, and two Kiltarton folklore books in English but with Gaelic syntax. She edited her husband’s autobiography in 1894 and wrote A Book of Saints and Wonders in 1906. Based at Coole Park, she hosted literary gatherings, gave Irish lessons at the school in Coole and collected tales from the residents of the Gort workhouse. Along with her close friends W B Yeats and Edward Martyn she co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre and The Abbey Theatre in 1904.

Her most famous poem is Donal Og (Young Donal) translated from an 8th Century Irish poem. She is regarded as “the mother of Irish Folklore” and George Bernard Shaw described her as “the greatest living Irishwoman”. She died in 1932, aged 80, having published her autobiography ten years earlier. She is justly regarded as the driving force of the Irish Literary Revival.

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