Lady Gregory and Coole Park
I mentioned that the Gaelic languages and cultures were being lost until the Irish Revival in a previous blog. Lady Augusta Gregory was one of the leaders of that renaissance. She was Anglo-Irish, as were many within the movement. While the revival itself was cultural, the political scene was robust at the turn of the 20th Century. The claiming of Irish identity through the arts and the renewed pride in Ireland it brought fueled the surge for Home Rule and/or Independence.
Her mother’s roots were in a Gaeltacht area of Galway and her nanny was Irish speaking. Her literary abilities and passions combined with her family’s wealth and influence in Dublin circles as well as her ownership of a country home in the West made her a perfect partner to work with W.B. Yeats in founding the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and in other aspects of the Irish Literary Revival. I have never read or seen any of her plays, but it is reported that she had a flair for comedy which balanced Yeats.
Her marriage to a wealthy Galwegian from Gort, who traveled a great deal, gave her time, money and a beautiful setting to foster not only her own writing but that of Yeats and many struggling authors. Coole Park remains today as a rich example of the “landed gentry” of the Irish west. The home was actually destroyed during the scrimmages between landlords and tenants during turbulent times. However, she was on good terms with their tenants. To her credit, she used her position and privilege to not only listen to the stories of the people but to take them seriously and lift them from peasant folklore to part of the Irish literary treasure-trove.
It is chronicled that a trip to Inisheer, one of the the Aran Islands across Galway Bay was the catalyst for her passion for reviving the Irish language. She organized Irish lessons at the school at Coole, visited the Gort workhouse for more stories and became a prolific writer.
While there is no mansion at Coole Park, the remodeled stable houses memorabilia and a short video that sets the stage for a walk through her extensive formal gardens and forested pathways. A huge beech tree in the walled garden, known as the Autograph tree, has carved initials of an array of Irish literary notables. Sadly, her magnificent library of original Irish literature was lost. However, the estate has the magic of Yeats’s famous “Seven Woods of Coole” and the lake where the “bell beat of the (wild swans) wings” can still be heard in the stillness.
The modern expressway from Limerick to Galway City has a new exit that makes a visit to the grounds easy to access. A few miles away, Yeats maintained a wonderful retreat along a creek that has its own mystical vibration.
I took friends there one day when it was too windy to ferry over to the Aran Islands. They found it delightful. The wee tearoom provides a warm spot on a damp day as well.