In these unsettled times cultural and historical life in Galway is thriving.
At Thoor Ballylee itself, while always abiding by government public health guidelines, work on rethatching the cottage, restoring the mill wheel, and other ventures continues apace, to be ready for visitors whenever they arrive. Updates and images follow in subsequent posts.
But there’s no better evidence of a revival than the wealth of films, drama adaptations, exhibitions and writings now available online. Perhaps more than ever before local cultural happenings can make international waves. WB Yeats, himself a pioneer of radio broadcasting and someone who treasured the odd intimacies of long-distance technologies, would no doubt be one of the first to be involved. Here are just a few interesting recent and upcoming events and resources related to Yeats and associated authors like Augusta, Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn. All are strongly connected to south Galway, and most are available in one way or another to audiences or readers online.
The Heather Field by Edward Martyn
Although a founding member of the Irish Literary Theatre, Edward Martyn’s contributions to the theatrical landscape of Ireland are often maligned and unrecognised. His play, The Heather Field (1899), which opened the first season of the Irish Literary Theatre along with Yeats’s The Countless Cathleen in 1899, has not received a staged production since the 1920s. Directed by IRC scholar Martin Kenny, with a cast of NUI Galway students, this rehearsed reading hopes to begin the work of reclaiming the importance of Martyn’s work, and expose it to new audiences. See NUI Galway’s Festival of New Work.
Augusta Gregory, Queen of Coole
Queen of Coole, a documentary chronicling the life of Augusta, Lady Gregory, particularly the major role she played in the foundation and development of the Abbey Theatre, is launched on Tuesday May 25 and can be viewed at https://queenofcoole.com.
The film has been made by MARA Collective – Ananya Rajoo (India), Merve Yillmaz (Turkey), and Hugh Murphy (Galway), who are students of the MA in Creative Practice at NUIG. For more see the Galway Advertiser. The film is part of the university’s Festival of New Work.
New York Gregory Exhibition
Ray Burke writes… “A major New York exhibition ‘All this mine alone’ on the life and works of Galway woman Augusta Gregory of Coole Park – shut down by Covid-19 after only one week – will not re-open to the public…but it can now be viewed online.
Lady Gregory’s earliest writing, An Emigrant’s Notebook, dating from 1883 in her own handwriting but unpublished until 2018, is on display, alongside drafts of some of her plays and her translations of ancient Irish poems, including Donall Og (The Grief of a Girl’s Heart) and Ceann Dubh Dilis, and some of the Patrick Pearse poems that she translated after his execution. Also on display are pages from her journals and diaries, and the typewritten agreement under which her widowed daughter-in-law allowed her to continue living ‘year by year’ in her home at Coole Park, near Gort, ‘so long as she pays all charges and expenses’.
The exhibition’s last display cabinet includes a photograph of Coole Park, roofless and windowless during its demolition in 1941, provided by the Kiltartan Gregory Museum. It also includes lots of correspondence to William Butler Yeats before and after the rising, and Lady Gregory’s final letter to Yeats, written in February 1932, some three months before her death. “Dear Willie”, she wrote, “I don’t feel very well this morning, rather faint once or twice – It may be the time has come for me to slip away”. She added: “I do think I have been of use to the country – and for that in great part I thank you”. The exhibition jointly curated by the writer Colm Tóbín and Professor James Pethica, of Williams Colllege, Massachusetts, who is completing an authorised biography of her for Oxford University Press, can be accessed at: https://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions/all-this-mine-alone.”
Roy Foster on Thoor Ballylee
Reading Ireland spring/summer 2021 focuses on the genre of “Big House” literature. In addition to a wide ranging interview with John Banville, the issue include essays by Roy Foster on W.B. Yeats’s Norman tower at Thoor Ballylee ‘When All Is Ruin Once Again’, Gerard Dawe on Eilís Dillon, Graham Price on David Thompson, Sarah Harsh on Elizabeth Bowen and Adrienne Leavy on Jennifer Johnston. Brian McCabe, Nuala O’ Connor and Adrienne Leavy contribute book reviews, photography is by Robert O’Byrne, and a detailed bibliography of Big House Fiction and related critical studies is included.