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Lady Gregory

Cuchulain of Muirthemne
The story of the men of the Red Branch of Ulster

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“I think this book is the best that has come out of Ireland in my time. Perhaps I should say that it is the best book that has ever come out of Ireland; for the stories which it tells are a chief part of Ireland’s gift to the imagination of the world — and it tells them perfectly for the first time.”

William Butler Yeats

These tales show Chuchulain to be no lesser hero, both in terms of deeds and literary value, than Beowulf, Siegfried, or Achilles — and it may not be far-fetched to see his influence on Howard’s stories of Conan. For anyone with an interest in gripping and well-told adventures of mythological heroes, a book that must not be missed.

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About the Author

Isabella Augusta Persse was born 1852 as the youngest daughter of an Anglo-Irish gentry family in the County Galway in western Ireland. In 1880 she married Sir William Henry Gregory, 30 years her senior, a well-educated man with literary and artistic interests, an estate in County Galway and a house in London, and a large library, and with whom she traveled to Ceylon (where he had been governor), India, Spain, Italy and Egypt (where she had an affair with the English poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, whose anti-colonist views she shared). When in London, the couple held weekly salons that were frequented by many leading authors and artists.

While Lady Gregory had been writing pamphlets, short stories and poetry during the time of her marriage, she is better known for her achievements as a playwright, folklorist and theatre manager after Sir William Gregory had died in 1892 — as she later wrote, “If I had not married I should not have learned the quick enrichment of sentences that one gets in conversation; had I not been widowed I should not have found the detachment of mind, the leisure for observation necessary to give insight into character, to express and interpret it. Loneliness made me rich — ‘full,’ as Bacon says.”

In the 1890s Lady Gregory, increasingly interested in Irish literature and mythology, became one of the leading figures of the Irish Literary Revival; in 1896 she met William Butler Yeats, which resulted in a long and fruitful collaboration. In 1899 she was a co-founder of the Irish Literary Theatre, and, after it had to close, of the Abbey Theatre. For both companies she wrote numerous plays, and she remained an active director of the Abbey Theatre, which still exists today, until her retirement due to ill health in 1928. Coole Park, her late husband’s estate in Galway, remained her home; she spent her time in Dublin staying in hotels.

In addition to her work for the theater Lady Gregory produced a number of collections of “Kiltartanese” versions of Irish myths, among them Cuchulain of Muirthemne, published in 1902. Kiltartanese was her term for her own poetic version of English with Gaelic syntax, as it was spoken in Kiltartan, the barony in which Coole Park was situated.

After her retirement her home at Coole Park remained a focal point for the writers associated with the Irish Literary Revival. In 1932 Lady Gregory succumbed to breast cancer, dying at home. The house was demolished in 1941, but Coole Park remains as a nature reserve, open to the public. On a tree there can still be seen the carved initials of Lady Gregory’s friends and collaborators, among them Yeats, John Millington Synge, George Moore, Seán O’Casey, Katharine Tynan, Violet Martin and George Bernard Shaw, who once had called her “the greatest living Irishwoman.”

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