CELT document E900050

Una Pope-Hennessy: Lady Gregory and Yeats



This is a hitherto unpublished reminiscence by Una Pope-Hennessy (1876–1949). She was an English writer, especially of historical biographies. The daughter of a colonial governor, she married Major-General Ladislaus Richard Pope-Hennessy from Cork in 1910 and later converted to Catholicism. Her introduction to Ireland was through visiting the Coole Estate in County Galway as a teenager. Presented here is her lovely piece of writing about the house, parkland and surrounding area and what she remembered about meeting Lady Gregory, W.B. Yeats, George Moore and John Millington Synge. It is an anglocentric perspective on Irish literary renaissance that offers interesting detail about some of the leading figures. Una was probably writing this as a part of a wider memoir in the years before her death. In 1991 Una's son, the renowned art historian Sir John Pope-Hennessy, quoted from this document in his autobiography, pp.9-10. He regarded Coole and the people there as being a powerful inspiration to his mother and related her subsequent annoyance with Yeats for not using his influence to prevent the house's demolition. He also noted Una's commitment to the Abbey Theatre in its formative years, as is apparent from her own words in the concluding section of the transcribed text.

The document, a twelve-page manuscript in typescript with pencil corrections, is contained in Box 154, folder 1 of the Pope-Hennessy Papers in The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. It was photographed by Dr John Borgonovo in 2009 and has now been typed up in a similar format to the original by Dorothy Convery.

This document is part of ‘“the copyright estate of John Pope-Hennessy.’” It is ‘“transcribed from original held by the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (990023) www.getty.edu/research/tools’.” I wish to thank Michael Mallon, the rights holder, and Tracey Schuster, David Farneth and all the staff at the Getty.

Hiram Morgan

Una Pope-Hennessy

Whole text

Lady Gregory and Yeats

by Una Pope-Hennessy

 1Shortly before Lady Gregory died she wrote and begged me to set down on paper anything I could remember about Coole and old times in Ireland.

I first went to Coole with my brothers when we were all on the verge of growing up. I have never been to Ireland before, and apart from the fact that Coole was one of the most comfortable, homely and to my youthful eyes one of the most beautifully arranged houses I have ever stayed in. There was an enchantment about the approach: first the arrival at Gort, then the swift swaying drive through the bracken to flat land of the park, then the plunge under an avenue of dark ilexes and a sweep round a nubbly patch of grass that used to serve us all as a cricket field.

One of the strange things about the place was that one never saw a map of it or got a clear idea of it in one's mind as one does with most estates. It always remained mysterious, it always was the sort of place in which anything might happen. The seven woods, of which Yeats wrote, wound about the lake and by a river. In those woods we used to canter on ponies. There was a special fat pony called Shamrock on which I have ridden for hours together. There was a lake there which contains a fabulous monster, and we were told that he came out to bask by moonlight among the rocks. Then there was the unseen underground river and the deep pool in which lived immense perch and blind trout. We were made free of everything and trusted completely. We used to row our boats to the far end of the lake and cross the pasture land to visit Kilmacduagh with the pencil-like tower and seven ruined churches.

 2Lady Gregory's hospitality was of a kind that I have never known in England, in fact it was through her that I first got to understand what real Irish hospitality meant. Sometimes I used to go to the kitchen with her in the morning when she was ordering dinner, and no matter how early or how late one visited that kitchen, there was always two, perhaps three, shawled figures taking tea and watching the cook doing her work. “Don't mind me”, said Lady Gregory as she passed them. “Good morning, your Ladyship.” “Good morning. Don't mind me. Just drink your tea and enjoy yourselves.” She smiled at them, and then her welcome very literally and sometimes sat there nearly all day.

The front of the house, which gave on to a large gravel space, had a little porch attached to it, and in front of this porch was a garden seat on which I have seen many strange visitors sitting in close talk with “her ladyship”. Up the avenue would sometimes come a blind piper padding his way along with his stick and stopping every now and again to listen and find out if he was near anyone. Directly he heard voices he began to play his pipes. Lady Gregory always made him welcome and invited him to sing the old songs, and once I heard her ask him whether he had ever heard of Rafferty the tinker-poet about whom she was at the moment writing. I have yet to meet the Irishman who has not heard of the subject of which you are talking, and of course he had met Rafferty and of course he knew many songs  3 which he would like to sing to her ladyship. And then would begin a kind of droning, rhythmic singing or rather intoning which might go on for perhaps an hour or two hours. Then came welcome refreshment, a little tea with whiskey in it, and then since no one is ever in a hurry in Ireland, a happy afternoon spent in the stable yard exchanging gossip with old Murty, the coachman.

The house itself was very plain in appearance and as you went in through a side door of the porch (the door of which opened sideways so that one never penetrated into the hall), you found on the left a breakfast room and on the right the entrance to the kitchen quarters. A low flight of stairs led you up to the library in the centre of which was an enormous table covered with books, magazines and newspaper cuttings. There was no furniture in it except two leather armchairs and a few dining room chairs, and then the books. Quantities of books, stretching right away to the ceiling. On the top shelves lived the classics, of which Sir William Gregory was so fond. On the lower shelves lived the works of modern Irishmen, Lady Gregory's own works, Lady Gregory's bound proofs, and in particular I remember a large edition of Rabelais, whose work both Lady Gregory and Yeats enormously admired.

During the summer Lady Gregory used to entertain the children of Gort. It had always been a question with the  4 priests whether it was quite the right thing for Lady Gregory, a Protestant, to give this treat to little Catholic children. However, it always happened that the children invited for three o'clock were seen by us crouching under bushes and trees thinking that they were out of sight, from about ten o'clock in the morning. It was the one great excitement of their year. Races and games and competitions were most carefully arranged by Lady Gregory and suitable prizes were given to the winners. Even Yeats used to play his part in these festivities by starting the racing children or even helping to feed them at tea.

At that time Yeats was to me a very mysterious figure. His enormous shock of black hair, his large black tie, his black trousers and black coat, large black wideawake and in cool weather his long black cloak made him appear to me very strange stalking slowly along the rides in the woods. At meals we used to sit entranced while he talked to Lady Gregory of leprechauns and fairies and what some old man or old woman had told him. He disappeared after breakfast and used to come down to luncheon often looking disheveled and almost worn out. One day I had the temerity to say to him; “You look as if you have had a very hard morning's work”, and he said to me: “I have. I have written four lines”.

Coole was the first place in which I ever met really  5 literary company. On one visit I found George Moore, A.E. and Yeats. Moore and Yeats were writing a play in collaboration and I remember distinctly that they quarreled about the word “soldier”. George Moore was all for having the word “soldier” put into the play, and Yeats said he would not have his hero called a soldier because a soldier was a man who fought for solde or hire. They got very angry with each other and whether it was over this word or over some other matter that they disagreed, they finally gave up the idea of working together.

One morning Lady Gregory said to me: “We want some rabbits for the house. You know Yeats can't shoot. George Moore was brought up on an estate and knows how to handle a gun. Will you take him out and show him where the rabbits are and beat the bracken? It will do if you get two couple.” George Moore was not an attractive man to look at and he probably looked as unattractive as he ever did in his life when he appeared ready for our expedition. He wore a bowler hat, a change coat, and somebody had lent him some knickerbockers. With these knickerbockers he wore thread stockings and black-laced boots. Anything less like a sportsman it would be hard to conceive. He was given one of Robert's(See note 1 at end of file.) guns to carry and we wandered down the avenue to the warren. When we got to the feeding ground I walked some distance away from him in order to drive the rabbits towards him. One bolted from the bracken and I said:  6 “Rabbit!” and he lifted his gun to his shoulder and there was a click. Another rabbit bolted out and I shouted “Fire!” The same thing happened again. So I walked up to him and said: “That gun must be at half cock.” “Oh yes, it is,” said he, and immediately released the trigger. We then walked on a little further when another rabbit appeared, at which he really did fire, but of course he missed. Then throwing the gun very petulantly on to the ground he said to me: “I won't have anything further to do with the nasty thing.” I said: “What will happen to the gun?” He said: “I don't care.” So I picked it up and, feeling quite disgusted with his want of self-control, left him to meander through the bracken and returned home to tell Lady Gregory what a failure our walk had been. I don't know the date of this but it could not have been very long after Esther Waters was out(See note 2 at end of file.) because going up on the train with him to Dublin a few days later, he kept on telling me what a beautiful book Esther Waters was and how perfect was his new novel The Lake; he would give me both of them and inscribe them if I would promise to read them very carefully.

Sometimes Lady Gregory took a day off from work and we all went on the side car to her favourite place the Burren, some 15 miles from Coole. We used to stop at Kilkee, a little place beside the sea consisting of half a dozen houses and a post  7 office, leaving the car there and then going for a long walk up the limestone hills. There was practically no grass at all at Burren which is a series of rocky terraces, in the cracks of which grow ferns and wild flowers. Well-worn tracks across the rock which Lady Gregory was familiar with, led us to a holy well or a carved figure on a stone, or if we went further afield to the ruined abbey of Corcomroe which had been built in the 9th century by native Irish monks, who for the capitals of their columns had copied the unfolding fronds of bracken, the harebell and other plants in the vicinity. Almost certainly at the holy well we would find an old woman or a young woman or somebody with whom to talk, and Lady Gregory would settle down to a nice comfortable chat while I would wander off to see what I could find in the way of wild flowers.

This limestone country has been described by Paul Bourget in his book Royaume de Pierre. I wondered how he came to know the country so well until the day when Lady Gregory took me to call on Comte de Basterot, an old gentleman who lived on the peninsula of Durus, a little farther along the coast. This gentleman, whose voice I can hear still — it was extraordinarily shrill and he used to welcome Lady Gregory with peals of laughter — lived in this secluded place with a French cook and a French manservant. He also had a flat in Paris and in Rome, but for some unexplained reason he betook himself  8 into this hermitage for four months in the summer, and was visited there by novelists and men of letters. To Lady Gregory he was particularly devoted. Sometimes she used to take her boy with her and he used to call out; “Robert, Robert, how beautiful it is to see you!” and then Robert and I used to poke about while Lady Gregory and the Count exchanged reminiscences.

On the way home we used to pass a tall Elizabethan tower which looked over Galway Bay; an elaborate sort of Peel tower it was, with four stories, a fine fireplace and magnificent views. I have often watched the turf boats sailing in before a westerly wind to the little quay beneath it. The tower belonged to Martin of Tillyra, a rather eccentric man who was also a great friend of Lady Gregory's and who wrote plays. One of his plays The Heather Field was produced in London. I went to many of the rehearsals and sat in the wings with Lady Gregory and Yeats. Sometimes luncheon was completely forgotten and I can see Lady Gregory now, feeding large white peppermint sweets to Yeats who took them in an absent-minded way and crammed them into his mouth as he watched the progress of the rehearsal.

When Yeats was in London he lived in a little alley behind St. Pancras Church, over against a lapidary. The entrance to his rooms was very small and the staircase steep and narrow, and when one got  9 to Yeats' sitting room one found the walls hung with black velvet. In the middle of the room stood the Kelmscott Chaucer on a high reading desk, which I together with many other of his admirers, had subscribed to buy for him. There I have often sat listening to him reading his own poems, and also to Florence Farr intoning traditional Irish songs.

To Lady Gregory is due the credit for founding the Abbey theatre in Dublin. Though she was a woman of vision she had a very realistic side to her too, and of the persons interested in promoting the Theatre was the only one who seemed to have any business instinct or any understanding of the way money might be raised. She was always careful to preserve contact with London and for many years had a small flat at Queen Anne's Mansions from which she operated, going to see her rich friends and influential Lady Haliburton and the Duchess of St Albans.

When it was a question of getting a guarantee fund for the Theatre she came to me and asked me what I could do, so I said that if she and Yeats and Bernard Shaw would appear at my father's house in Old Burlington Street and give an informal talk on the need for an Irish Theatre, I would produce an audience with money who would listen to what they had to say. Amongst that audience was a benevolent Dutchman who had become  10 a naturalized Englishman, Drucker. He had a house in Grosvenor Street and a large collection of modern Dutch pictures, some of which have found their way to the National Gallery. I knew that he was apt to promote forlorn hopes like The New Age and other periodicals of the Left, and so delighted was he with the way the Irish speakers put their case that he offered to put down £1000 if the guarantee fund which Lady Gregory estimated at £4000 could be made up.

The first season in which the Irish players came to London was one in which they played at the (See note 3 at end of file.) theatre in Great Queen Street, and on the night on which The Playboy of the Western World was produced, Synge, Yeats, Lady Gregory and I and Robert dined together. We had the stage box, and Synge, for some reason unknown, went and stood in front of it and looked at the house. Somebody in the gallery roared out at him: “Is that you, Synge? I will have your blood as you go out. I will have your blood.” Synge, who is rather a large man, shrank into himself and sat well at the back of the  11 box for the rest of the evening. The play was an immense success except for a row which went on in the gallery, headed I suppose by the speaker. When everything was over and Lady Gregory and Yeats had gone off, Robert and I were left to bring Synge to Pagani's(See note 4 at end of file.) for supper. We couldn't get him to move, and finally Robert went out into the hall and looked round, and he said: “There isn't anyone there Synge. It is quite safe for you to come down.” And then Synge made him go out into the street and look and see if anyone was there, and he went out and came back with the report that everything was safe, so we got into a cab and drove away to Pagani's where we had a supper party for all the players. Synge recovered himself and made an excellent speech when his health was drunk.

The most successful play that Yeats ever wrote was Kathleen ni Houlihan. I believe that most of it was written in collaboration with Lady Gregory and that a good part of it was written by Lady Gregory. At any rate she knew the play by heart and when many years later the actress who was to play the name part failed at the last moment, Lady Gregory, aged 65, slipped on her hood and shawl and played the part herself in Dublin at a moment's notice. In its way it was as moving as Gaol Gate, one of the few tragedies Lady Gregory attempted and one of the greatest triumphs she achieved. Once she had  12 accustomed people to think that she wrote light comedy like The Rising of the Moon and Workhouse Ward, it was difficult for an audience to believe that she had in her a depth of tragic insight which if she had chosen to exercise it might have made her one of the greatest playwrights who have come out of Ireland. As it was, for some unexplained reason, she always liked making a joke of things. It must have had something to do with the optimism of her nature and her inability to be unhappy for long.

1. Robert Gregory, Lady Augusta's son, subsequently a major of the Royal Flying Corps, died in WW1.

2. Footnote in pencil: “E.W., published 1894 - UB was 19”.

3. The blank left here indicates that Una was unable to remember the name of the theatre. It turns out to have been the Great Queen Street Theatre where performances of the Playboy took place on 12 and 14 of June 1907, see https://www.abbeytheatre.ie/archives/production_detail/213/. It had previously been called The Novelty Theatre and was subsequently the Kingsway Theatre until its closure in 1941.

4. Signor Pagani's at 40-48 Great Portland Street was a restaurant popular with writers, musicians and entertainers.

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Title (uniform): Una Pope-Hennessy: Lady Gregory and Yeats

Author: Una Pope-Hennessy

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Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

Typed in from manuscript by: Dorothy Convery

Prefaced by: Hiram Morgan

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1. First draft.

Extent: 4140 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland — http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2022

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E900050

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

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Manuscript source

  • Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, Box 154, folder 1, 'a twelve-page manuscript in typescript with pencil corrections'.

Secondary sources

  1. Peter Kavanagh, The story of the Abbey Theatre: from its origins in 1899 to the present (New York, 1950).
  2. Elizabeth Coxhead, Lady Gregory: a literary portrait (New York, 1961).
  3. Elizabeth Coxhead, J.M. Synge and Lady Gregory (London, 1962).
  4. Robin Skelton and Ann Saddlemyer (eds), The world of W.B. Yeats (Dublin, 1965).
  5. Donald James Gordon, W. B. Yeats: images of a poet: my permanent or impermanent images (Manchester, 1970).
  6. Augusta Gregory, Our Irish theatre: a chapter of autobiography (Gerrards Cross, 1972).
  7. Augusta Gregory, Seventy years: being the autobiography of Lady Gregory (London, 1976).
  8. Mary Lou Kohlfeldt, Lady Gregory: the woman behind the Irish renaissance (London, 1984).
  9. Jacqueline Genet, The Big House in Ireland: Reality and Representation (New York, 1991).
  10. John Pope-Hennessy, Learning to look: an autobiography (London, 1991).
  11. James Pethica (ed), Lady Gregory's Diaries 1892–1902 (Gerrards Cross, 1996)
  12. Lucy McDiarmid and Maureen Waters (eds), Lady Gregory: Selected Writings (London, 1996).
  13. Adrian Frazier, George Moore, 1852–1933 (New Haven, CT, 2000).
  14. Roy Foster, W.B. Yeats: a Life (2 Vols, Oxford, 1997–2003).
  15. James, ‘Pethica, 'Gregory, (Isabella) Augusta (1852–1932)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004).
  16. Evans Boland (ed), Irish Writers on Writing (San Antonio, TX, 2007).
  17. Patrick Maume, 'Gregory, (Isabella) Augusta (1852–1932)', Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge, 2009).
  18. Judith Hill, Lady Gregory: an Irish life (Cork, 2011).
  19. Roy Foster, Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923 (London, 2014).
  20. James Pethica (ed), Lady Gregory's Early Irish Writings 1883–1893 (Gerrards Cross, 2018).

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Morgan, Hiram, ed. (2021). Una Pope-Hennessy: Lady Gregory and Yeats‍. Cork: Corpus of Electronic Texts.

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  title 	 = {Una Pope-Hennessy: Lady Gregory and Yeats},
  editor 	 = {Hiram Morgan},
  edition 	 = {0},
  publisher 	 = {Corpus of Electronic Texts},
  address 	 = {Cork},
  date 	 = {2021}


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Creation: by Una Pope-Hennessy 1945–1949

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Keywords: prose; reminiscence; 19c; 20c; Una Pope-Hennessy; Lady Gregory; W.B. Yeats; George Moore; John Millington Synge

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  1. 2022-03-03: Minor changes made to footnote display. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  2. 2022-01-27: Minor corrections made to text. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  3. 2021-10-26: TEI header created; file converted to XML. wordcount inserted. File parsed using Exchanger XML. (ed. Beatrix Färber)
  4. 2021-10: Preface and bibliographic detail supplied. (ed. Hiram Morgan)
  5. 2021: Text proofed. (ed. Dorothy Convery)
  6. 2021: Text typed up from manuscript. (data capture Dorothy Convery)

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