15 March 1852: Lady Gregory was born on this day. Isabella Augusta Persse was an Irish dramatist, folklorist and theatre manager. With William Butler Yeats and Edward Martyn she co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre and the Abbey Theatre, and wrote numerous short works for both companies. Lady Gregory produced a number of books of retellings of stories taken from Irish Mythology.
On 4 March 1880 she married Sir William Henry Gregory at St Matthias church in Dublin .As the wife of a knight, she became entitled to be called "Lady Gregory". Their home at Coole Park, County Galway served as an important meeting place for leading Revival figures, and her early work as a member of the board of the Abbey was at least as important for the theatre's development as her creative writings. Sir William, who was 35 years her elder, had just retired from his position as Governor of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), having previously served several terms as Member of Parliament for County Galway.
He was a well-educated man with many literary and artistic interests, and the house at Coole Park housed a large library and extensive art collection, both of which Lady Gregory was eager to explore. He also had a house in London, where the couple spent a considerable amount of time, holding weekly salons frequented by many leading literary and artistic figures of the day. However Sir William died in 1892 and she never remarried. Their only child, Robert Gregory was born in 1881. He was killed in World War One.
During her time on the board of the Abbey Theatre before and after the War, Coole Park remained her home and she spent her time in Dublin staying in a number of hotels. At the time of the 1911 national census for example, she was staying in a hotel at 16 South Frederick Street. In these, she ate frugally, often on food she brought with her from home. She frequently used her hotel rooms to interview would-be Abbey dramatists and to entertain the company after opening nights of new plays. However in that same year she led a very successful Tour of the Abbey to the USA. She spent many of her days working on her translations in the National Library of Ireland. She gained a reputation as being a somewhat conservative figure and was universally known as ‘the Old Lady’.
She is best remembered today for her work in reviving the idea of Celtic Literature as expressed in the old tales and sagas and for her collaboration with William Butler Yeats in making the Abbey Theatre in Dublin the focal point of the ‘Celtic Revival’. They were close companions for years and Yeats came to rely on her a lot to get things done.
She died at home in Coole Park aged 80 from breast cancer and is buried in the New Cemetery in Bohermore, Co Galway. The entire contents of Coole Park were auctioned three months after her death and the house demolished in 1941.
Her plays fell out of favour after her death and are now rarely performed. Many of the diaries and journals she kept for most of her adult life have been published, providing a rich source of information on Irish literary history during the first three decades of the 20th century. Though her book Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland are still in print.
Lady Gregory's motto was taken from Aristotle: "To think like a wise man, but to express oneself like the common people.''