Century of Endeavour

Dermot McManus in the 1960s

(c) Roy Johnston 1999

(comments to rjtechne@iol.ie)

I have found among JJ's papers some McManus correspondence. There was a letter dated 9 June 1965, as follows, which JJ had answered on June 15:

Ground floor flat, 6 Springfield Avenue, Harrogate, Yorkshire.

Dear Joe / I am sure you will be surprised to hear from me after such a long time. Since I saw you last, I got married again, and have now been in exile here for 8 years or so, while I get treatment for my sever bronchial asthma.

I am sending you with this a copy of a lecture which I gave a few months ago to a well-known literary society here, for you, like me, have lived through those stirring and very stimulating times and know all or most of the people I mention.

I hope to get to Dublin in July for a few weeks. Any chance of seeing you then?

God bless you both, my beloved old friends / Dermot MacManus.

I have managed to scan in the typescript, and I give it in full below. JJ wrote back to him, indicating that he was sending a copy to TR Henn in Cambridge, the Yeats scholar, and among the originators of the Yeats summer school in Sligo, which had then just begun. Henn wrote back to JJ undertaking to write to MacManus; '...seems an excellent piece of work..'. He indicated that he would be in Dublin in July '...for Sligo etc..'. I have not discovered if Henn delivered, and if the MacManus paper got published. MacManus replied to JJ, at some length, as follows; I give it in full as it has many insights, and he enclosed a further typescript relating to the historical background of his family estate at Killeaden:

17 June 1965 / Dear Joe / I was really delighted to get your letter and to hear of Clare. It has filled me with the bitter-sweet yearnings for those 'golden days' as Walter Starkie calls them. And I am so pleased, more than I can say, that you approve of my lecture - in spite of the fact that from sheer carelessness I spelt both Oedipus and Colonus (?) wrong! I could write so much more of those old times with first-hand stories of people in them that I sometimes feel tempted to collaborate with Starkie in a proper 'short history' of the revival. I am in close touch with him now and he has been as generous as you about my lecture. But in Los Angeles he is so far away.

The BBC recently did talks on both Gogarty and AE, but they were just journalese and they never bothered to contact those who knew them, and about them, such as Starkie, McLysaght, you and myself and a very few others.

Do you remember RA Anderson of IAWS? I liked him so much, I remember once dining at his flat and reciting Kipling's ballads afterwards. A proof of a good dinner!

I am very interested in what you say of Dr Henn and I enclose two copies for you. Use them as you wish. Both Kevin O'Shiel, late of the Land Commission, and Tom Wall, Librarian of the Folklore Commission, have suggested I should get it published, but I don't know how. I suppose the Irish Times would be the best medium, but I don't know anyone in it now.

My brother in London recently sold our old family home to the Land Commission and I am trying to get the historic parts saved for the nation. To this end I have drawn up a rough history of it. Here is a copy of it, in case it may be of interest.

Did I ever give you my Irish fairy-book The Middle Kingdom, for if not I will send it yo you at once.

We must meet somehow. If and when you go to North Mayo you must meet my elder sister, the retired Guys Hospital Matron. She lives near Pontoon and is the Queen of the County from Ballina to Tuam!

A thousand blessings on you both / Dermot.


1890 - 1935
DA MacManus

The Irish Literary Revival was a movement of remarkable virility which burst upon the country and later on the world with a wealth of inspiration and ability in prose, poetry and drama. It began in the late nineteenth century and continued to blossom throughout the early decades of the twentieth century. It has left a remarkable tradition not only of excellence but also of comradeship and unity of purpose.

Nothing evolves out of nothing. Everything is the result of its own past, and the Irish Literary Revival could not have been possible but for the historical events of the preceding centuries. No doubt Ireland had always been rather turbulent, yet she found time while resisting invaders and waging almost constant internecine war to evolve in pagan tines and bring through to Christianity an advanced and beautiful culture, with fine craftsmanship and a great literature of story, song and ballad. When she accepted Christianity, which she did with astonishing alacrity, she quickly merged her pagan culture into the Christian tradition. Later, as invasions and foreign settlements succeeded one another, the Irish literary background became more tenuous for the printing presses of Irish script almost disappeared and tradition was kept alive largely by word of mouth. Ballad, story and song were told and sung by the honoured bards and shanachies who travelled the country and found eager audiences in both cottage and hall, for up to the last decade of the 17th century all the settlers spoke Irish and loved to hear the historic tales.

After the Williamite war at the end of the 17th century the new landowners rarely knew Irish and thus much of the spirit and tradition of the great Gaelic literature faded away. However, a generation or two later most of these settlers had lost all sense of being English and they identified themselves with the country of their birth and upbringing. Their nurses were Celts and they often married Celts so that without realizing it they drank in the Celtic tradition while often knowing little or nothing of the Gaelic tales and literature. Trinity College in Dublin, founded by Queen Elizabeth, gave the new gentry a first class protestant education in English but in no sense could it be called an English education. The Anglo-Irish were by this time truly Irish in outlook and they evolved their own virile literature, the sub-conscious Irish tradition giving a peculiar piquancy to it. It was a true blend of the two nations into a fresh whole. This literature used the Saxon language and had the Saxon social background, but it was permeated throughout by the salt of the Celt with its touch of revolt and turbulence. Dean Swift with hie biting shafts and vivid imagery brought a vibrant element into English literature, as indeed did Sheridan and Goldsmith. Swift's clarion call to 'burn everything English except her coal' shows where his heart lay and was widely quoted during the troubled early decades of the present century. The Anglo-Irish literature of the 18th century had clearly the germs of revolt which came to fruition in the great Irish Literary Revival 150 years later.

Around the beginning of the 19th century Anglo-lrish writers, largely I think from the influence of the Napoleonic wars, became much quieter and less unorthodox in spite of 1798 and French influence. The rollicking tales of Charles Lever and Charles Lover show this, but even so the sense of Irish Ireland was still alive an Maria Edgeworth's books make clear. For many years I lived near Edgeworthstown in County Longford and knew her descendent, Mrs Montague, who then still lived in the old house. It was interesting to find that the country people had kept a warm feeling for the Edgeworths, based largely on the tradition of Maria's sympathies which had come down to them by word of mouth.

In the middle and towards the end of the 19th century the Irish tradition fell upon very evil days for the Industrial Revolution in England began to turn the minds of the landowners and city gentry to material things. At the same time the long drawn out years of the great famine and its later minor recurrences depopulated the country and the survivors in their struggle for mere existence had little time or energy for anything cultural. Besides, the Board of Education through the national schools and the many charities through their soup kitchens did their best to destroy both the Irish language and Irish thought. The Board even banned from schools and colleges the poetry of Sir Walter Scott, fearing to let the Irish read his lines:-

'Breathes there a man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land.'

All the same there were always writers here and there to keep flying the flag of Irish feeling. Such a one was Thomas Davis, a Protestant and a product of Trinity College, Dublin, who wrote 'A people without a language of its own is only half a nation. A nation should guard its language more than its territories - 'tis a surer barrier than fortress or river.'

This lamentable state of affairs continued until in the late 1880's a very remarkable scion of an old Anglo-lrish family went to Trinity College. He was Dr Douglas Hyde, who by his own inspiration gave birth to that outstanding period of literary creation which started as a Gaelic Renaissance but which in a few years became the much wider movement now called the Irish Literary Revival. Douglas Hyde was fortunately contemporary with a group of most gifted men but it is doubtful if they could have worked together along such similar and such inspired paths without his genius, for with a golden key he opened wide the door to the store of national tradition and culture which had lain hidden for so long.

Hyde, the son of a Church of Ireland clergyman in Connacht, was trained by his father as a classical scholar and he also grew up a fluent Irish speaker. In addition to the intensity of his faith in Ireland he had such a warm personality that few could fail to be attracted to him. It has been said that he never had an enemy, only opponents, and there is a lot of truth in this for even those who resisted most bitterly all he stood for, still praised him as a man and often as a friend.

After his experience as a student in Trinity where he found everyone ashamed to admit to any knowledge of Gaelic, Hyde saw the need to instill into Irishmen that Irish was an essential part of their nationality. To quote him:- 'The Gaelic movement need be hostile to no one. Educate and preach is all it says. Create the desire to preserve the language and the language will be preserved. It does not require the assistance of any political party.' And on these lines he founded the Gaelic League which he wisely insisted on keeping both non~political and non-sectarian. In conjunction with Edward Martyn, a wealthy Irish landowner who became deeply interested in the revival of Irish national culture, Hyde created the Irish Literary Theatre from which the famous Abbey Theatre eventually grew.

The contemporary Irish writer, Susan Mitchell, said of him: 'Those who know The Love Songs of Connacht will not need to be told that here was the soul of a poet. We know what Ireland owes to Hyde's fiery spirit, his immense courage, his scholarship, his genius for organisation, his sincerity, his eloquence and the kindness of his heart.'

Hyde toured the country forming branches of the Gaelic League everywhere. He was an old family friend of ours and my aunt, L MacManus, the Irish romantic historical novelist, founded in Mayo the second branch of the League. I myself was a close friend of his from 1920, when I was invalided out of the army for wounds and returned to Ireland, until his death. The Gaelic League revived not only the speaking of Irish but also the ancient culture of songs, music, crafts and the traditional tales of the heroes. The whole country rose to welcome this reawakening of the national spirit and thus was created a wide and eager audience for the great writers who appeared at the same time. Hyde not only created this audience but also did invaluable work of a scholarly kind, as well as translating the best of the Irish tales and romances into English. It was this which gave such inspiration to other writers who knew no, or little, Irish.

It should be understood that the Irish Literary Revival was only partly in the Irish Language. By far the largest and most important part was in English though, of course, inspired by the Irish tradition. It had many facets: prose, poetry, drama, music, painting dancing and craftsmanship of many kinds. William Allinghnm, who overlapped into Hyde's time, showed in his poems how the Celtic ideals of fairy-lore still lived in spite of Anglicisation. Who can fail to appreciate this from these delightful lines:

'Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men.'

It is important to realise that this cultural revival had nothing whatever to do with politics and did not arise put of them. All the past political movements had been interested only in material things and at the most had given the merest lip-service to cultural principles. At that time, too, owing to the sordid squabbles amongst the politicians over the Parnell affair, many intellectuals had become disgusted with politics and so more readily turned to Hyde's national but firmly non-political movement.

One of the first and certainly the greatest of the intellectuals to seize upon and develop what Hyde had opened up was William Butler Yeats. He knew little Irish but the translations from the Gaelic by Hyde and others were sufficient for him. He and Hyde worked together and around these two collected an inspired group, some to become famous and some hardly to be known outside the country. Such men and women as Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, AE - or George Russell, Oliver St John Gogarty, Lady Gregory, James Stephens, JM Synge, Catherine Tynan, Susan Mitchell, Padraic Colum, Lord Dunsany, and Joseph Hone, to mention at random a few only of those prominent in the earlier days, show what a galaxy of talent was collected.

Let me briefly comment on some of the leading writers. First, Yeats, the giant who towered above all, and his friend AE. Yeats and AE were at school together and both were influenced by the Gaelic tradition which Hyde had opened up and they worked in close harmony all their lives. Each was deeply mystic and felt entirely at home in the world of the Shee, the Irish fairies.

It is Yeats' earlier work with its splendid imagery and pure spontaneous emotion which is most inspired by the Gaelic soul. Everyone knows his poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree and his play The Countess Cathleen, but to my mind some of his most fascinating work is little known. I am thinking particularly of his queer mystic play for dancers The Hawk's Well and his poem The Seven Woods of Coole.

The latter stirs me intensely until I feel the mysterious witch-haunted presence of these woods around me. The story of the birth of The Hawk's Well is fascinating. Yeats was living in Oxford during the first war when someone at a party described with amusement a little Japanese to be found at the London Zoo every afternoon hopping about with feet together and arms flapping in front of a cage of hawks. When approached by keepers and police he explained he was trying to evolve a dance from the movements of the hawks. He refused to stop and as he was breaking no law they could do nothing and merely put him down as mildly insane.

This story fired Yeats' imagination. He went up to London to see for himself and sure enough he found the little Japanese busy at the cage. The result of this was The Hawk's Well, a short play in which Yeats interwove the ancient traditions of Ireland and Japan. It was not designed to be produced on a stage but in a large drawing-room. Under Yeats' direction it was played once in London and once in Oxford, the Japanese creating the dancing part on each occasion. In the middle twenties it was put on by the Dublin Drama League in a Dublin drawing-room. It was supervised by Yeats, produced by Lennox Robinson, and Madame Cogley did the dance. I have rarely been more moved than I was that night. I doubt if it has ever been produced since. If so more's the pity.

Volumes have been written, and no doubt many more will be, about Yeats, though even today I suspect few people fully realise his greatness. Suffice it to say now that he was a divinely gifted artist and perfectionist in poetry who worked hard and would sometimes ponder for days and even weeks till he found the right word. As well as this his prose is fascinating and inspiring, while in discussion one would be astonished at his clarity of mind, his objective thinking, and logical outlook. He was a fearless thinker and, curiously enough, a clever but upright politician. To crown his abilities were his wit and humour and the quiet way in which he could laugh at human foibles.

As Donagh MacDonagh, an Irish poet of today, has said in his anthology, 'Yeats was a great gentleman'. I knew him well. Indeed during the last years of his life I was one of his closest friends and when he was in Dublin I used to dine with him tete-a-tete once a week when we would sit up talking until the small hours. In his later life Yeats collaborated with Sri Purohit Swami, an Indian intellectual and holy man, in producing an English version of the Upanishads, Yeats putting into exquisite English the Swami's translation. I was closely associated with both Yeats and the Swami at that time and it was a very enviable and privileged experience.

Now let me turn to gentle, wise and kindly AE, George Russell, who was above all a true mystic and highly psychic, even more than Yeats. He was deeply attracted to Theosophy, to Hinduism and to every approach to the occult. He was about to leave school when Hyde began to bring back the long lost treasures of Irish myth and fairy-lore and he welcomed it all with joy for it was a thing which he understood, something that was real to him.

He was a painter of great ability, his work conveying a deep and often moving spirit of poetry and mystery. One of my most precious possessions is a picture of his which he, himself, chose for me. I went to his house and he brought out all he had, criticising each objectively and with charming modesty and sincerity. Some of his smaller pictures were queerly occult, usually showing a burning whin-bush on a hillside and rising out of the leaping flames a beautiful life-size fairy figure, with in the background the startled and shrinking form of a peasant boy or girl looking on in awed wonder. I may say here that in Irish folk-lore and in the true folk-lore of nearly all countries the fairy folk vary in size from that of a ten year old child to full human height or a little more.

AE was not only a poet, writer and painter but also a delightful conversationalist and a charming host, and in addition a surprisingly capable organiser. For many years he worked under Sir Horace Plunkett in the Irish Co-operative Organisation and on his cycle visited every parish in Ireland as did his colleague the late Sir Patrick Hannon. After Sir Horace left he became head of the Organisation and took over the offices in 84 Merrion Square. At one time Yeats lived two doors away in No 82. A delightful and quite true story is told of how one afternoon the two great men decided to visit each other and they set off at the same time. But AE strolled along with his hands in his coat pockets looking down in deep reverie as was his wont - his thoughts far away with the earth folk - while Yeats walked with his hands clasped behind him, his head thrown back as he gazed into the heavens, he also deep in thought but of a loftier and more Olympian kind. And so, unseeing, they passed each other.

While AE was in charge of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society in 84 Merrion Square he also published and edited a liberal and literary weekly paper, the Irish Statesman. Every Friday, at 5pm, there was a tea party in the office, presided over charmingly by Susan Mitchell and limited to the staff, contributors and visiting alumni from all over the world. As a contributor and reviewer from 1920 till it ceased publication in 1926 I was at these receptions and there met many prominent and interesting people from other countries.

James Stephens must have a high place of honour in the Literary Revival. He will probably be best remembered by his classic The Crock of Gold. In this he displayed all his great personal qualities, his wit, his deep sense of mysticism, his knowledge of Irish folk-lore and his human yearnings. One reads the tale as a charming fairy story, yet it is a great deal more for it is in fact an allegory and I think it is amongst the very best in the English Language.

He once explained to me in detail all he meant in it. His deep insight into the very bowels of human nature, female as well as male, is shown in his wonderful passage on the Three Absolutes, who are the Alembics between woman and her God, yet greater even than they is the God-given and selfless power of motherhood.

In the middle Twenties Stephens often used to spend an evening in my flat in Dublin and sometimes O'Casey would come as well, and we would talk far into the night. To hear Stephens, sitting in an arm chair with his legs tucked under him like an old-time tailor or a timeless leprechaun, declaiming his poems in a resonant Irish accent, was a sheer delight, especially when he chose The Main Deep describing a square mile of sea in the middle of the ocean, far from land or men.

In another poem The County Mayo he describes my home, Killeaden. Perhaps his best known poem is The Snare, which is fraught with poignancy. I once asked him which he considered his best book and to my surprise he said The Demi-Gods adding that he wrote it to pay his rent in Paris. When in Paris after the war I had unexpected confirmation of this from a restaurateur in the Quartier Latin.

I knew O'Casey well in the days before he wrote The Plough and the Stars and so achieved fame. He was a natural writer and a son of the people. When he came to my flat he would always keep his cloth cap on and he wore a scarf round his neck instead of a collar. He would also insist on a stool as his seat, saying he was not used to chairs with backs. Stephens once asked him why for a change from the setting of Dublin slums he did not write a play sited in the respectable suburb of Rathmines. He replied vehemently, and I am sure wisely, that he knew nothing about suburban life. He only knew the slums and he wrote of the people and the behaviours which he saw around him day by day. Alas, after he had achieved success and, worse still, had been feted as a nine-days wonder by the socialites and lion-hunters of London, most of whom were, I suspect, very insincere, he departed from that wise decision and wrote 'The Silver Tassie'. On its unanimous rejection by the directors of the Abbey Theatre he became deeply offended and still is. The fact remains that since he abandoned his proper Dublin milieu he never wrote a play which could compare with his first epics.

Lennox Robinson was another of our stalwarts and a most lovable one, too. He once stopped a crowded bus in which he was riding in a Dublin suburb while he opened a window and helped a common cabbage-white butterfly to escape, explaining to his astonished fellow passengers that its time was precious as it only had a day or so of life before it, while the humans had years! He helped me a great deal in my writing and we had arranged a great celebration for the publication of my book on Irish Fairy-lore The Middle Kingdom, but alas, he died just before it came out.

For many years he did invaluable work as a director and producer with the Abbey Theatre and wrote a number of delightful comedies for it, one of which, A Drama in Inish, he wrote while staying with me in the country.

It was typical of Dublin that a large and important part of the intellectual life of the city was carried on by coteries, some meeting in the better public houses where groups of like-minded men would at selected times exchange ideas. Other similar gatherings took place in well-known hotels while the lords of the movement held 'at homes' in their houses and it was an honour and an intellectual feast to be given the freedom of them. The United Arts Club was another centre which was very much alive and stimulating.

Oliver St John Gogarty was well known for most of his life both as a throat specialist and as an outstanding wit. He came of old Anglo-Irish stock and was a product of Trinity College. He was a real intellectual with a quick and clear mind and he threw himself into the Revival in its early days. Re was prominent in some of the hotel coteries and frequented the 'at homes' and in later years gave his own 'at home'. I have never known a better talker and the poems he would improvise were quite astonishing in their excellence, yet he would not bother to put them into writing until many years later and then only after persuasion by Yeats.

He was made a Senator when the Irish Free State was established and during the subsequent civil war he was kidnapped by the rebels one night and taken to an empty house near the Liffey where he was told he would be shot the next morning. In the night he broke away from his guards and reached the river at the bottom of the garden. He plunged into it in the darkness and as he swam under a hail of bullets he swore he would present the River Liffey with a pair of swans if he reached the far bank safely. He did so and a few years later, attended by the Prime Minister of Ireland and by Yeats and other friends, he duly released onto the river the two swans which he had brought from the Thames. This combination of courage and romance was typical of the man. However, as Dublin rarely pays respect to its great ones, it was not long before, an amusing but greatly defamatory ballad was in circulation.

It was not till the 'thirties that Gogarty, under pressure from Yeats, began to put his thoughts into writing and to publish both poetry and prose. His best known book is, I think, When I was going down Sackville Street. I appear as a character in it but under another name. This book unfortunately involved him in a libel action which cost him so much money that lie left the country and settled in USA, where he remained, but for short annual visits home, until he died.

Another important writer in the early days of the Revival was my aunt, who wrote Irish historical novels and plays and frequently contributed to the Revival periodicals which sprang into life during that time. She was a close friend of Dr Hyde as well as of Lady Gregory and of Seumas O'Sullivan, the founder and editor of the Dublin Magazine. Her imaginative story The Professor in Erin had much influence on its appearance and helped the Gaelic Revival in many ways.

Alas, she disapproved of Yeats, mostly because of his emphasis more on the pagan heroes than an the Christian saints and so she doubted his religious orthodoxy! Joseph Hone was another prominent figure in the Revival, but his work was often too scholarly to have a wide effect. His works on the philosophy of Bishop Berkley, the Irish contemporary of Swift, and on Hegel are outstanding. His life of Yeats is excellent for they were close friends.

Joyce, who wrote largely from Paris, is, all the same, a product of the movement and his Ulysses, though it shocked many, is a remarkable psychological study. But I, personally, think that his later efforts where he almost invents a new language have nothing in common with the land of his birth.

A writer who still lives and flourishes must be given his due place in the latter years of the Revival. He is Dr Walter Starkie who had great influence before he left the country in the late 'thirties. He and I were in Trinity College together in 1920 and we have been close friends ever since. He played the violin brilliantly and also studied the Romance languages. As well as this he spoke Romany, the tongue of the gypsies, fluently. He was prominent in the Dublin Drama League and after the first night of Yeats' Oedipus in Colunus he gave a supper party in his house in the Trinity Botanic Gardens to the leading members of the cast, to the Directors of the Abbey and to supporters of the literary life of the city. We each had in our place a card with a sprig of real Greek myrtle and our description in Greek. Yeats was, of course, Sophocles and FG McCormick, who played the part, was Oedipus. I remember that I was Strategos, and I have that card by me as I write. Anent this occasion Yeats said 'McCormick has now established himself in the minds of our audience as a great tragedian. He has certainly magnificent moments'. It was a very memorable occasion. A few years later Starkie published his astonishing book Raggle-Taggle which is an account of his wanderings across Hungary and Roumania as a gypsy fiddler. He is, without doubt, the leading authority on gypsies and their lore alive today.

Of our poets I must mention my old friend Padraic Colum. He still lives, but in America for our damp climate is too much for him. He wrote many poems and a number of plays and books, and of his poems the best known is, I am sure, An Old Woman of the Roads in which he word-paints with poignancy a scene that was commonplace at the turn of the century in the poorer and wilder parts of Ireland.

Fred Higgins was another inspired poet of the people from whom great work would surely have come but for his early death. Already he had proved himself in the eyes of masters such as Yeats and AE. Like ins he was a Mayo man and so we had much in common in our mutual friendship.

The spirit of the Revival found a powerful medium of expression in drama and plays were written in Irish by Hyde and others some of which were translated into English by Lady Gregory. Yeats and others wrote in English. But there was no suitable place in which to stage them. This problem was solved for our writers by Miss Horniman, a well-to-do lady from Manchester who was deeply interested in the folk drama of all countries. She came to our rescue, and, working closely with Yeats and Lady Gregory she provided us with our theatre - the now famous Abbey Theatre in Abbey Street, Dublin.

The building had been a morgue and its sombre decoration of black and maroon edged with gold reminded one of the fact as did the hollow boom of the gong which warns of the curtain's rising. The Abbey was an instant success among the intellectuals, though many of the bourgeoisie regarded it with some doubt. Although today some of the early plays may seem trivial and simple, yet they broke new ground and brought the everyday life of the country people before the world. They were folk plays in the finest sense of the word. As well as this Yeats and some of his contemporaries brought to the stage plays of old mythology and of high romance which are still featured in the Abbey's repertoire. Yeats' greatest play was The Countess Cathleen, a tale of noble thought and deep mysticism - a tragic yet uplifting story. He once said: 'If I had not made magic my constant study... The Countess Cathleen would never have come to exist.'

In 1899 Yeats met Synge in Paris and interested him in the new Irish movement. Synge, like so many others who came to the front, was of old Anglo-Irish stock - of West Galway - and at Yeats' suggestion he returned to the west and as a result he produced his great masterpieces. The two best are, I think, his tragedy of the Aran Islands fishermen The Riders to the Sea and his comedy - farce indeed, The Playboy of the Western World. Synge knew his Gaelic West intimately, too much so perhaps, for The Playboy caused a riot at the Abbey when it was put on. There is always in Ireland a touchy puritan group ready to cause trouble. It did so over The Playboy as it did over The Plough and the Stars many years later.

I was at the first night of 'The Plough and the Stars'. We were all spell-bound. The Abbey players were in their heyday and the production by Lennox Robinson could not have been bettered. No one could have imagined a riot, but it came on the fourth night. The cause of this outbreak was rather complicated for in addition to the puritan element there were the more fanatical members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood who professed to be outraged that their flag should be brought into a public house after a parade especially as the local prostitute was in a corner of the bar. There was also some personal animosity against O'Casey himself as he had left the IRB a year or two previously. Between all the feelings it was not too difficult to organise an uproar, though it was never repeated.

There had previously been the same sort of trouble in Cork with Juno and the Paycock, by the Irish Players under Arthur Sinclair. In this play a leading character, Mary Boyle, is pregnant while still unmarried but there was such a fuss that between the two acts the pregnancy mysteriously changed to consumption without a word of explanation to the bewildered audience and so a lot of the poignancy was lost! Afterwards a "secret marriage" was put into the script. But to return to the Abbey in its early days.

At first the Abbey was a real labour of love, both actors and dramatists asking little or nothing beyond their bare expenses. Even in later years the pay of the cast was desperately small, yet those highly talented players stood by their beloved theatre and the Irish art to which they were devoted. Many of them never left it, despite tempting offers of the flesh-pots of London and New York, till years had passed and the theatre was safe. When, later, some of the old cast did leave they quickly became famous, for instance Barry Fitzgerald, Arthur Shields, Maire O'Neill, her sister Sarah Allgood, and Maureen Delaney. Two of the best, FG MacCormick and his wife Eileen Crowe, never left. The former died in harness and the latter is still there. The spirit of comradeship amongst all those associated with the Abbey and the Dublin Drama League was wonderful.

The later playwrights as shown by Sean O'Casey with his famous trilogy kept the standard high. Denis Johnston, a product of the Abbey, has written very imaginative plays and is a dramatist of great ability. His plays were not at first accepted by the Abbey - Lady Gregory disapproved - hence the title for his first play The Old Lady Says No.

An effort was made in the early 'thirties to carry on the dramatic tradition on a wider basis than the Abbey and so began the Dublin Gate Theatre. The intention was to produce not only foreign plays but also new Irish ones of an imaginative and often rather an experimental kind. Those chiefly responsible for this venture were the well known Irish actor, Miceal MacLiammoir, and his friend Hilton Edwards, both with the active support of Lord Glenavy and Lord and Lady Longford. In spite of inevitable financial weakness the Gate did extremely good work and was steered successfully for a number of years, largely owing to the comradeship of all concerned and the selfless devotion with which they gave their services, often for little or nothing, reminiscent of the Abbey in its early days. However, outside stresses were too much for it and the recent untimely death of Lord Longford was a final disaster.

Amongst other writers of the highest quality thrown up by the Revival must be mentioned Frank O'Connor, Sean O'Faolain and Liam O'Flaherty. O'Faolain and Walter Starkie were thought so highly of by Yeats that he made both Directors of the Abbey.

Daring the early period of the Revival certain successful and very capable Irish writers went to London where they did all, or most of their best work. Sometimes they are linked up with the Irish Revival, but wrongly, I think. George Bernard Shaw comes to mind at once, but I cannot see what connection he had with the Revival, or even with the heart of Ireland at that time. In fact he made much more impression in England than he did in Ireland. In England he was looked upon as a great and fearless thinker when in fact - in our view - he put forward neither new ideas nor fresh solutions for old ones. His arguments are too often false and even trite but they sound impressive from the excellence of his language and his craftsmanship in presenting them. He also made full use of the flutter caused by boldly touching upon topics which were then considered highly risqué in polite London circles. He was a brilliant craftsman, nearly as good as Barrie, and he re-inforced this by his outstanding wit and, when he wished, succinct dialogue.

Another exile was George Moore of an ancient Norman family in Mayo. After many years in the Irish literary life in Dublin he went to London and turned bitterly against his country, outraging his Irish friends whom he handled roughly in his brilliantly written Ave, Salve, Vale. His brother, Col. Maurice Moore, an old Regular soldier of the Connacht Rangers, on the other hand threw himself strongly into the national movement. AE's assistant, Susan Mitchell, wrote George's Life, beginning her book 'George Henry Moore, a frank and honest Irish gentleman, had two sons, George and Maurice. To the former he bequeathed his frankness, to the latter his honour'. Need one say more! None the less, George Moore reached great heights in literary excellence in works such as his novel Ester Waters.

In conclusion I would like to mention some of our artists who, while not in most cases writers were most definitely inspired by the ideals of the Revival. The best known beyond our shores are, I suppose, Sir William Orpen, Sir John Lavery and Jack B Yeats, the brother of the poet. Sir Gerald Kelly also developed under the Revival's aegis, so I feel we can claim him even though he is a PPRA in London. There are others who also deserve mention, such as Dermod O'Brien, a cousin of Lord Inchiquinn and for many years President of the Royal Irish Academy, Leo Whelan the portrait painter, who has yet to be fully appreciated, Grace and Paul Henry, AE, Patrick Tuohy, Lady Glenavy, Lila Vanston the sculptress, Jerome Connor the sculptor, KM Boyd the watercolour artist, several of whose works are in the Royal collection and Sarah Purser who also started the stained glass industry. Many of these people are probably just names to you, but they will live in Ireland and one day some of them may find a much wider public.

But alas, in the past ten years the old spirit of intellectual revolt, of experiment, of creation done with pride in the past seems to have almost died overlaid in bed by the inert mass of materialism, of petty bourgeois smugness, of unaccustomed affluence. At the moment, while we have much to look back upon with pride we seem to have little to look forward to but the vandalism ~ spiritual, ethical, artistic and material - which seems to be inevitably our pathetic lot. Will we ever again be worthy enough to produce another Hyde and another Yeats? I wonder - and hope.

KILLEADEN and ANTHONY RAFTERY (Raftery 1784 - 1835).

Dermot MacManus 1965

About 1350 AD or not long after, a group of Franciscan monks settled on the banks of the river Gwestion in County Mayo at the spot where centuries before a hermit - some say St Aiden - lived in a small stone cell. There they built their church, enclosing the cell in the churchyard, and dedicated it to St Aiden - hence Kill Eaden. Their parish of Killeaden still exists and includes the town of Kiltimagh; a later development.

In due course the two or three monks in charge of the farm built a house near a delightful spring which had been famous far back into pagan times. This monks' farm-house is today the site of the front portion of the present Killeaden House, perhaps partly the building itself. The monks, lovers of God's beautiful creations as they were, planted widely throughout the centuries ornamental trees such as beech, oak and fir, a few of which still survive.

At the end of the seventeenth century these monks were exterminated by the Williamites, the church was destroyed and the land given to a branch of the Knoxes, a powerful Anglo-Irish (Cromwellian) family round Sligo. These Knoxes built the present stables and either they or the Taafes built a back extension to the house, but separated from it by a yard. My grandfather many years later joined these two parts into one whole building. The Knoxes had intended to build a new and larger house but the last of them died before anything was done.

The Taafes, an old Norman-Iris Catholic family, bought the place about 1780 or a little later. The first Taafe, Patrick, built the Garden House in the big orchard. He was a great duellist and after killing a man in a duel had to flee as the County Sheriff, Dominic Browne, wanted to hang him for it. But shortly after this Patrick was himself killed in a quarrel and his son, Frank, succeeded him.

Before fleeing, Patrick buried all his valuables somewhere in the estate and his cache has never been found though his son was reputed to have often wandered about at night, trying without success to meat his father's ghost.

Patrick was a small man but Frank was tall, broad-shouldered and well-built and an outdoor sportsman. He kept a pack of hounds - one of his kennels still exists - and also drank and swore vigorously.

Raftery was one of his tenants and the bard often used to sing and tell his stories under the old trees in front of the house to Frank's great delight. As well, Raftery would hold his own ceilidhes under the great beeches in the orchard or under the old oak tree at the foot of Lis Ard, which is one of the largest and best preserved forts in Mayo and reputedly a great fairy centre. This was certainly Raftery's view.

Raftery never forgot those earlier happy days and his intense homesickness later inspired his famous 'Song of Mayo', locally and more accurately called the 'Song of Killeaden'. In wet weather Frank would allow him to go up to the granary in the evenings and there hold his court for the people of the estate and the surrounding country. They were always intensely proud of him and this pride was still a strong living thing when I was young at the turn of the century. A spirit of true and brave love for Ireland and of resistance to the invader ran through most of Raftery's songs and talk which is all the more to his credit as those were dangerous times, indeed, for patriots.

Raftery was lithe and spare in build and not very tall but he was wonderfully strong and a good wrestler in his manhood, blind and all as he was. He always wore a long frieze coat and corduroy breeches. He played the fiddle but not too well, perhaps because his fiddle was a bad one. He was born in Killeaden in 1784 and died in Craughwell, County Galway, in 1835. He lost his sight from smallpox when he was only nine years old. He always had a great liking for Frank Taafe at the Big House and this lasted all his life. Frank, for his part, also had a warm spot for Raftery in spite of his, Frank's, roughness and heavy drinking. The story of Raftery's marriage to Hilaria was a fable invented by Donn Byrne, the novelist.

We owe to three people nearly all that is known of Raftery today, as but for them his work would have disappeared with the language and only a vague memory would have remained. These three are, first Dr. Douglas Hyde, the founder of the Gaelic League and later first President of Ireland; then Lady Gregory, Hyde's close friend who lived in County Galway where Raftery spent his later life. The third was my aunt, Miss L MacManus, the Irish historical novelist who, born and bred in Killeaden, was brought up steeped in his tradition.

Dr. Hyde was a family friend of ours and he stayed at Killeaden a number of times while he collected all he could about Anthony Raftery, chiefly in Irish for all knew it then. Lady Gregory, also a friend of my aunt's, stayed at Killeaden House to get stories and accounts in English. My aunt was constantly working on the subject herself, both on her own and in conjunction with her two friends. Nearly all this work was in due course published.

My grandfather's head herd, Thady Conlon, was a fount of information regarding Raftery and 'both Dr. Hyde and Lady Gregory had long sessions with him. As a small boy I remember the old man as I listened enraptured to his stories of humans, of fairies and of Raftery.

My family bought Killeaden early in the last century from the executors of Frank Taafe who was, it appears, connected with us on the distaff side, and years later my grandfather and grandmother, retiring from planting in Demarara, took it over from my great-grandfather and settled there to bring up their family. Tales are still told of how they were for Years troubled by the ghost of Frank Taafe, still restless and rough as in his life and presumed by the countryside to be in search of his father's treasure. Many years previously my great-grandfather, having heard shocking tales of other landlords, one day collected all his tenants on the slopes of Lis Ard and there solemnly promised that from that day on we would never 'Quench a fire on a hearth', a promise which my family has always kept to the full.

Today the great oak and three pollard beeches planted by the monks in front of the house and under which Raftery so often played and sang are still there, also a tall strong white thorn nearby which, according to old Thady Conlon, Raftery loved greatly as a gentle, or Fairy-loved, tree. A massive ash close to the house was recently blown down in a great gale but miraculously a shoot from its root sprang up and is growing strongly to carry on the tradition. The huge beeches in the orchard as well as the oak below Lis Ard still survive and all these trees are today the only living things that knew and sheltered Raftery.

It was in Killeaden House that Miss MacManus formed the second branch in all Ireland of the Gaelic League. It was there also that she wrote all her famous Irish historical novels, 'The Silk of the Kine', 'The Professor in Erin', 'In Sarsfield's Days' and all the rest. One, 'Within the Four Seas of Fola' consists entirely of local tales and lore. As well as this, nearly all the stories in 'The Middle Kingdom' come from Killeaden and its neighbourhood.

Truly, the brave old place holds an honourable position in Irish history. Its future lies in our hands.

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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 1999