[Lady Isabella Augusta Persse Gregory, 1859-1932]
Isabella Augusta Persse was born in the west of Ireland.
Her family was educated, wealthy, and Protestant living in a land that was
largely uneducated, poverty-ridden, and Roman Catholic. She took a
strong interest in the Irish language, stimulated in part by a nurse who often
spoke the language to her when she was a child.
She met Sir William Gregory when she was on
a family trip to the continent. The families were neighbors in Ireland, but only
slightly acquainted. They were married the following year, when she was
twenty-eight and he was sixty-three. Lady Gregory led a relatively conventional
life until Sir William Gregory died in 1892. According to the laws of that time,
the estate passed to her son. In the process of finishing Sir William's memoirs, she used some
of her spare time to learn Irish well enough to talk with the old cottagers in
the hills, where she went to gather folklore and old songs. Although W. B. Yeats
and others had collected volumes of Irish stories and poems, they did not know
Irish well enough to authenticate what they heard.
She was already an accomplished writer when she met W.
B. Yeats in 1894. Their meeting was of immense importance for the history of
drama for they decided to combine their complementary talents and abilities to
create the Irish Literary Theatre. Dedicated to producing plays by Irish playwrights on
Irish themes, the Irish Literary Theater became an immediate success. The group's first plays, Yeats' The Countess
Cathleen and Martyn's The Heather Field, were performed on May 8 and
9, 1899, at the Ancient Concert Rooms in Dublin.
The greatest problem the Theatre faced was finding more plays, so Lady Gregory tried
her own hand at being a playwright. She collaborated with Yeats on The Pot of Broth
in 1902, the year she wrote her own first plays, The Jackdaw and A
Losing Game. Her first performed play was Twenty-Five, which was
produced in 1903. In 1904, the group rented the historic Abbey Theater. Her
plays became quite popular and were successful even in later revivals:
Spreading the News (1904)
In 1918, her son, a World War I pilot, was shot down
over Italy. The years that followed were years of struggle, managing the Abbey Theater,
directing its affairs, and developing new
playwrights, among them Sean O'Casey. During the Irish Civil War (1920-1922),
she was physically threatened and her family home, Roxborough, was
burned. In 1926, she discovered that she had cancer. She made arrangements to
sell her home, Coole Park, to the government with the agreement that she could
remain there for life. She died in 1932.
Kincora and The White Cockade (1905)
Hyacinth Haley, The Doctor in Spite of Himself, The
Gaol Gate, and The Canavans (all 1906).
Cuchulain of Muirthemne,
Fighting Men, 1904