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Yeats’s Legacies

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Warwick Gould

Essays

Uttering, Mastering it’? Yeats’s Tower, Lady Gregory’s Ballylee, and the Eviction of 18881

James Pethica

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  • 1 Note—If you would like to know whether further information has been discovered since this article w (...)
  • 2 For the personal and political contexts of Yeats’s initial enquiry about Ballylee, see Pethica, ‘“E (...)

1On 2 October 1916, Yeats began the enquiries that would result the following May in his purchase of the medieval tower at Ballylee, a property he had long ‘coveted’ (CL InteLex 3043). Just a week earlier he had made final revisions to ‘Easter, 1916’ at Coole Park, having returned there from France after a turbulent summer during which he proposed for the last time to Maud Gonne and then unsuccessfully courted her daughter Iseult.2 His purchase of the tower—the first property ever owned by the fifty-one-year-old Yeats—marked a significant shift in his relationships with both Gonne and Lady Gregory; but it was above all a conflicted expression of his recommitment to Ireland in the wake of the Rising. Writing to John Quinn in May 1916, he had acknowledged feeling that a ‘world seems to have been swept away’ by the events of Easter week, and that his instinct was to ‘return to Dublin to live, to begin building again’. But he also admitted that he dreaded ‘the temptation to contraversy’ he would face if he returned (CL InteLex 2960). He had known for some months that the lease on the London flat he had rented since 1897 was ending, and that he would be obliged to move. His purchase of Ballylee was thus in part a compromise, giving him an Irish address where he would ‘have a place to keep my pictures and my books’ but where he might be distanced from contemporary Dublin literary and political obligations (CL InteLex 3043).

2In the poems he wrote over the next ten years, Yeats made Ballylee a central symbol. Located in a secluded fold of the Galway countryside, it was close by the ruins of the home of Mary Hynes—a local beauty of pre-Famine times praised in song by the blind nineteenth century Irish poet Antoine Ó Raifteraí (Anthony Raftery) whose verse he and Gregory had collected and celebrated in the late 1890s. For Yeats, it was thus rooted in Irish tradition and closely associated with poetic inspiration. He would represent it, too, as a Shelleyan tower, conducive to visionary study and occult meditation. But most of all Ballylee was, he stressed, an ‘ancient’ place once occupied by men at arms and long witness to ‘tumultuous’ wars. It was hence a ‘[b]efitting’ home and emblem of ‘adversity’ for an ageing man surveying the violence of Irish history, recent and past (VP 419– 20).

  • 3 The Tower (1928): Manuscript Materials, ed. by Richard J. Finneran (Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ (...)
  • 4 Donald Torchiana, w. b. Yeats and Georgian Ireland (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1966), (...)

3This complex but essentially romantic symbolism was the deliberate construction of a man defiantly seeking a redoubt against modernity. In the Tower poems, he would starkly acknowledge the brutalities of the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, and represent Ballylee as an apt location from which to offer a warning ‘trumpet blast’ or last testament to the young of the rising generation.3 Deploring the degraded culture he saw as proliferating in Ireland, Yeats ever-more-assertively held up Anglo-Irish leadership of the late eighteenth century as the ideal embodiment of the country’s heritage, extolling the mastery, cultivation, creativity and ‘pride’ of ‘[t]he people of Burke and of Grattan’ as the qualities from the past that should be emulated (VP 414). Like his final testament and ‘credo’, ‘Under Ben Bulben’, the Tower poems celebrate this Ascendancy (and distinctively Protestant) tradition in scorn and ‘mockery’ of a culture which had in his view now lost its capacity for imagination and for the ‘self-delighting’ reverie he saw as essential to individuality (VP 480, 427). As Donald Torchiana emphasized, ‘aside from [its] Norman men-at-arms, the social landscape [Yeats] dreamed forth’ in his figurations of Ballylee ‘is that of Protestant patriot, flamboyant landlord, half-mounted gentry, wandering Gaelic poets, and peasant beauty in a world that [in fact] came to an end in Ireland about the time Raftery died and Victoria took the throne’.4

  • 5 w. b. Yeats, The Winding Stair (1929): Manuscript Materials, ed. by David R. Clark (Ithaca: Cornell (...)

4Yeats was well aware that in these idealizations he was quite deliberately turning away from current Irish actualities in favour of the ‘abstract joy’ and extravagance of his own ‘Poet’s imaginings’ (VP 427, 415). The poems of The Tower (1928) are indeed often at their best when they are most alert to and self-critical of that extravagance and turning away. Nonetheless, in The Winding Stair (1933) he would further intensify his assertion that it was only Ascendancy leadership that had given Irish culture shape and identity and hence created the nation. The drafts of ‘Blood and the Moon’ open with the proposition that Ballylee’s physical towering above the ordinary cottages ‘clustering round’ it was emblematic of the way that ‘great’ men had risen above ‘coman life’ and the ‘general mind’ by ‘Expressing’ and thereby ‘mastering’ it.5 This proposition remained central to the poem through to its final form. With magisterial indifference to historical actualities, Yeats emphatically declares in ‘Blood and the Moon’ that Ballylee was his ‘ancestral’ home, and that ‘Goldsmith and the Dean, Berkeley and Burke’—the key figures in his pantheon of Anglo-Irish creativity—had in the past themselves actually ascended its winding staircase (VP 480– 81). Earlier, in ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, he asserted that only ‘[t]wo men’ had ever ‘founded’ in the tower as owners and occupants during its many centuries: a ‘manat-arms’ (whom he also described as an ‘ancient bankrupt master’ now remembered only in ‘fabulous’ stories), and Yeats himself (VP 420, 412). It is a mythologizing which categorically erases all but the political and personal histories he was invested in—and also, notably, the people who were actually living in the tower when he purchased it.

5Among some newly-available records from the Gregory estate is a cache of letters written in 1888, when a rent dispute involving the tenants occupying Ballylee escalated into an eviction proceeding. The correspondence includes letters from Sir William Gregory to the tenants, to his land agent, to his lawyer, and to the local parish priest whose mediation he sought; and also to Gregory, written from Ballylee castle by both Patrick Spelman, whose family had lived there since the 1820s, and, most strikingly, by his daughter, Elizabeth Cunningham. This archive gives acute insight into the realities for both Irish tenants and landowners in the period just after the violent Land War of the early 1880s, and restores to view something of the personal and political histories that Yeats so determinedly erased in his assertive construction of a mythic Ballylee.

I

  • 6 Gregory, Holograph Memoirs, Berg Collection, nypl.

6Yeats’s first sight of Ballylee almost certainly came during one of his earliest day visits to Lady Gregory at Coole Park in August 1896, when he was staying nearby at the home of Edward Martyn. As Gregory later recalled, ‘When Yeats first came on a visit to Tillyra he came one day to walk with me from Lissatumna to Ballylee in search of some folk lore—and on the way I asked him—& I had counted much on his answer—what I could do to help that would best help Ireland’.6

Plate 31. Sketches made by Lady Gregory at Ballylee, 14 August 1895. None of the Cunninghams’ daughters is identified as ‘Maud’ on the 1901 Census, so this may have been a nickname or Gregory’s error for ‘Margaret’ (aged about 6 in 1895). Image courtesy Colin Smythe.

  • 7 Arthur Symons, Yeats’s fellow-guest at Tulira in August 1896, wrote in The Savoy (October 1896) tha (...)
  • 8 b. l. Reid, The Man from New York: John Quinn and His Friends (New York: Oxford University Press 19 (...)

7Given his hopes at that time of establishing an Irish order of magical and hermetic study on ‘Castle Rock’ in Lough Key in Roscommon (CW3 204), his depiction of the ‘square ancient-looking house’ which serves as the Temple of the Alchemical Rose in his recently-published story Rosa Alchemica (M2005 184) and, perhaps most importantly, the appeal of the ‘ancient’ Norman tower he had just seen at Tillyra,7 where the ‘monk-like’ Martyn kept his study purposefully distant from the ornate Gothic extravagance of the main house (CW3 289– 90), Yeats may even at this earliest encounter have felt a degree of possessive impulse on seeing Ballylee. We know with certainty that he returned there repeatedly and eagerly over the next three years; and by as early as 1904 he apparently told John Quinn of his ‘dream’ of owning the property.8

  • 9 See CL InteLex 3174, 3176. Yeats’s first written mention of Ballylee may have been his manuscript r (...)

8His first published mention of Ballylee, in the 1899 essay ‘Dust Hath Closed Helen’s Eye’, already attends carefully to the romantic beauty of the tower’s setting—detailing, for instance, the ‘old ashtrees throwing green shadows upon a little river’ and also the ‘great stepping-stones’ he would worry about preserving as negotiations over his purchase proceeded in 1917.9 But the essay begins with quite specific mention of the actual people living in the tower and its neighbouring dwellings: ‘There is the old square castle, Ballylee, inhabited by a farmer and his wife, and a cottage where their daughter and their son-in-law live, and a little mill with an old miller’ (M2005 14). These inhabitants have been given basic identification by Yeats scholars over the years, with the farmer living in the tower being named as Patrick Spelman; the cottage dwellers as James Cunningham and his wife, Elizabeth, neé Spelman; and the ‘old miller’ as Michael McTigue. The 1901 Census of Ireland shows that Spelman was by then 88 years old, and his wife Sarah, neé Carty, 75; James Cunningham was 48 and Elizabeth Cunningham 38; while Michael McTigue was 72, and living at the Ballylee mill with his younger brother, John. Patrick Spelman, James Cunningham and Michael McTigue, the Census additionally confirms, all spoke Irish as well as English. In Yeats’s account, however, they remain nameless figures, of interest and significance principally as sources of the folklore he had visited them to collect. They are mentioned not to establish their individuality but as a background cast that serves to ratify his presence and to heighten the impression of authenticity and specificity in what they tell him.

Plate 32. Possibly Yeats’s first written mention of Ballylee in a manuscript revision of ‘Ballykeele’ to ‘Ballylee’ in the printed text of AE’s poem ‘The Well of All-Healing’, in Lady Gregory’s copy of A Celtic Christmas 1897. Image courtesy John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

  • 10 See Pethica, ‘Yeats, Folklore and Irish Legend’, in The Cambridge Companion to w. b. Yeats, ed. by (...)

9Yeats’s early visits to Ballylee came during the period of intensive folklore gathering he conducted between 1897 and 1901 with Lady Gregory amidst the first enthusiasms of their friendship. Her energy, connections with the local countrypeople, skill in recording what they told her, and, later, her growing competence as an Irish speaker, gave Yeats fuller access to a milieu and a resource he had long craved to know better, but, by then, had increasingly come to realize he was ill-fitted to access or interpret comprehensively alone.10 With her assistance, he was able to feel that his work had ‘come closer to the life of the people’ (Myth 2005 1). This brought him a fresh excitement of discovery, resulting in a series of new folklore essays, a revised and extended edition of The Celtic Twilight (1902), and, after many deferrals, their jointly-edited two-volume collection Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland (1920), a project Yeats first planned in 1898 and described at that time as ‘the big book of folk lore’ (CL2 323).

10But for all his renewed enthusiasm, and his conviction that Lady Gregory had ‘a greater knowledge of the country mind and country speech than anybody I had ever met with’ (VPl 1296), even in this intense new phase of gathering, Yeats remained quite narrowly-focused in his interests as a folklore collector, being as much determined to find proof of his existing convictions as invested in making precise sociological observations or ‘scientific’ assessments of what they heard. As he later admitted in Autobiographies, his primary object was still ‘to find actual experience of the supernatural’ and thereby discover ‘the most violent force in history’ (CW3 299). His essays of the period are predominantly concerned with demonstrating the survival of pre-Christian beliefs and superstitions amongst the peasantry—or as Lady Gregory put it more bluntly, showing that ‘Ireland is Pagan, not Xtian’ (Diaries 151)—and in recording evidence of otherworldy enchantments, and of the visionary or quasi-magical powers of the seers and healers he met. The people he mentions are representative figures, significant because of their aptitudes or experiences, and for the support they provide for Yeats’s beliefs, and not for their individual qualities or for what they reveal, more broadly, about the actualities of Irish rural life. In ‘Dust Hath Closed Helen’s Eye’, for instance, an ‘old weaver’ is mentioned because he can relate stories his mother told him about Mary Hynes, a local beauty of pre-Famine times, and because his son ‘is supposed to go away among the Sidhe’ (Myth 2005 16). The man himself—John Forde, who lived less than a mile from Ballylee, and who was later remembered as the last weaver in the area—is otherwise not of concern.

  • 11 Yeats, ‘Modern Ireland’, Massachusetts Review (Winter 1964), 259; Moore, Ave (London: William Heine (...)

11Recalling Yeats’s enthusiasm for folklore in this period, and especially for the ‘peasant speech’ Yeats celebrated as Lady Gregory’s’ great discovery’, George Moore would a decade later be openly dismissive, accusing Yeats of being merely a voyeur and snob, who cared little for the culture he claimed to be recording and interpreting: ‘I don’t think that one can acquire the dialect by going out to walk with Lady Gregory. She goes into the cottage and listens to the story, takes it down while you wait outside, sitting on a bit of a wall, Yeats, like an old jackdaw, and then filching her manuscript to put style upon it’.11 Moore’s critique zeroes in unerringly on the crucial question of whether in putting ‘style’ on Lady Gregory’s transcriptions of the folk tales she heard, Yeats had made something that was distinctively his own, or whether he was fundamentally distanced from the material and interested in it merely as a source and inspiration. For Moore, Yeats was at heart merely an appropriator who had ‘filched’ both from Gregory and from the countrypeople by taking what was essentially a common cultural resource and publishing it over his own name.

12Moore’s critique was published in Ave, the first volume of his biting memoirs, in 1911—by which time Yeats’s turn away from the romantic forms of his 1890s Nationalism was already clear. Even by the time he published the revised edition of The Celtic Twilight in 1902, Yeats’s folklore writings reflect a growing element of disdain for the Irish countrypeople and an increasing stress on the power and primacy of individual artists rather than on the collective value of anonymous folk-poetry. ‘By the Roadside’, for instance, the closing essay to that volume, asserts that while folk-art is indeed ‘the soil where all great art is rooted’ it is only the creations that ‘a single mind gives unity and design to’ which are of true consequence. Only ‘a few people’, Yeats stresses, ‘favoured by their own characters and by happy circumstance, and only then after much labour, have understanding of imaginative things’ (Myth 2005 91). While the folk-songs he heard by the roadside voiced powerful emotion, then, he claims that it is only the literary and artistic genius of a few pre-eminent makers—those who actually created the songs, and by implication poets such as himself—who embody true creative power. The essay thus directly anticipates his blunt assertion in ‘Blood and the Moon’ that only ‘great’ men could rise above ‘the general mind’ by ‘Expressing’ and thereby ‘mastering’ it.

13By 1903, in his review of Lady Gregory’s Poets and Dreamers, Yeats would dismiss’ the Irish countryman’ more openly as being essentially ‘prosaic’ and of value merely as ‘the clay’ in which the ‘footsteps’ of the higher folk-artists might still be traced (UP2 303). Three decades later, when recalling his early folk-lore gatherings with Lady Gregory, he would refer to the countrypeople as ‘those peasants’ (CW3 299)—a phrase expressive of both his sense of distance from, and his dismissive superiority to, figures he had by then come to think of as merely collective.

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  • 12 In a letter to Eoin MacNeill in May 1899, asking him to mute criticism of the Irish Literary Theatr (...)
  • 13 See Gregory to Yeats, 25 December 1903, Berg, in which Gregory already refers to this favourite dic (...)

14Lady Gregory’s own enthusiasm for folklore, and her work as a collector, have received relatively modest scholarly attention. As a late convert to Irish nationalism, as a Protestant, as the owner of a landed estate, and as a woman, her declared wish to ‘be nearer to the people’ (CW3 299) and her efforts to learn Irish, were in her own lifetime often viewed with suspicion—as embodying patrician forms of condescension and self-interest, or as being, at best, a ‘halfway house’ towards authentic nationalism.12 More recently, the scope of her folklore gatherings, both independently and on Yeats’s behalf, has been more widely acknowledged; but their value has continued to be perceived as limited by the rather programmatic quality of her use of them as part of her declared effort to bring back ‘dignity to Ireland’.13 So too, the ‘Kiltartan’ speech she popularized—the aspect of her work Yeats most praised—has continued to be regarded as artificial, or even as patronizing to the Irish countrypeople, in its reductive and repetitive use of a few core Irish syntactical constructions and verbal patternings. What has not been adequately assessed is how intimate and knowledgeable her contacts with the countrypeople around Coole actually were, and how much ‘nearer to the people’ she truly was than Yeats.

  • 14 See Lady Gregory’s Early Irish Writings, 1883–1893, ed. by James Pethica (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smy (...)

15Gregory’s Irish writings of the 1880s and early 1890s categorically reflect an increasing desire for closer connection with and understanding of the rural culture of her Galway home, and a steadily heightening attention both to her own political and economic situation and to the likely prospects for the landlord class more generally in the wake of the Land War. Her short stories dating from 1890, in particular, centre on moments of discovery and disruption for central characters who seek to be part of, or who want to interpret, the local community.14 Her unpublished diaries of the period in turn show her beginning to act on that desire for greater connection. They show, too, that she was drawn to Ballylee in particular, and was well acquainted with the people living in its immediate vicinity, long before she first took Yeats there in 1896. In the late 1880s, the diaries detail numerous visits to the old tower and its environs. An entry of 5 September 1887, for instance, records that she ‘walked home by Ballylee’, and its thumbnail accounting of all the locals she had seen, and of their news and circumstances, confirms her close familiarity with and interest in an entire local sociology as she moved from cottage to cottage:

  • 15 Diary, entry for 5 September 1887 Berg.

Young Connell has disease of the hip & wants to go to Dublin—The Farrells & Macklins are still fighting—Mrs Hood, in consequence of all my gifts to her wants ‘a lock of scallops’ from Wm—Mrs Howley sits alone in her large kitchen missing her mother very much—The other Noons who are building a new house are now ill with the fever—Mrs Quirk wants more spinning to pay for a bonif—Little Jane Hynes was dusting the dresser—her father has not married again & she keeps the house—Old Brennan, for whose funeral I gave £1 last year is walking about as lively as ever—but thinks he is going blind.15

  • 16 Diary, entry for 17 August 1886, Berg.
  • 17 See Plate 33. Probably by Eleanor Persse, née Gough (1854–1935) who married Lady Gregory’s brother (...)

16By 1886 or earlier, she had begun to develop a particularly close connection with the Brennan family, who lived adjoining the tower at Ballylee. She noted of a visit to them that summer that Old Brennan and family had ‘received me with open arms’.16 A water-colour she saved, probably dating from 1887 or 1888, shows ‘Mr Brennan singing “G[rea]t Coole Demesne”’.17

Plate 33. ‘Mr Brennan singing Great Coole Demesne’, water-colour by ‘e. p.’ (probably Lady Gregory’s sister in-law, Eleanor Persse) circa.1888. Image courtesy the Berg Collection (Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations), New York Public Library.

  • 18 Diary, entry for 6 October 1887, Berg.

17And her diary for 6 October 1887 records that shortly before leaving Coole to spend the winter in Rome, she and Sir William Gregory ‘Drove to Mrs Cahels & walked back by Ballylee, seeing Brennans etc—& giving parting gifts’.18

  • 19 Diary, entries for 25 May to 3 June 1888, Berg. Not being convinced of Cahill’s innocence, however, (...)
  • 20 Diary, entries for 3 June to 12 June 1888, Berg. Forty years later, AG would recall these events as (...)

18She may by this point already have known that both the Brennan family and their neighbours the Cahel (or Cahill) family were staunch Republicans. But if not, she certainly did by May 1888, when she recorded that Thomas Brennan (the son of ‘Old Brennan’) was ‘carried off to Galway Jail on charge of being concerned in a Moonlighting outrage’ along with Michael Cahill, oldest son of that family. Both Cahill’s mother and Brennan’s brother came to Coole to appeal to her for help. Persuaded of Brennan’s innocence, she went to Galway and personally gave the Resident Magistrate in the case’ a good character of the Brennan family’ and a letter that was shown to the solicitors.19 On 3 September 1888 she recorded that Brennan’s brother ‘had stood by the gaol gate [in Galway] to see the prisoners taken in—& Thomas had called out to him “If Lady Gregory is come home go to her to help me”’. And when Thomas Brennan was freed the following week she noted that ‘Brennan came to thank me for his brother’s release—He “hadn’t had a bit of peace since he saw Col[onel] Tynte reading a letter in Court with Coole Park on the head of it”—“Sure Lady Gregory could bring a man from the foot of the gallows & she giving one a character”’.20 Her diary is silent on the verdict for Michael Cahill—who became known locally as ‘Docks’ Cahill because of his frequent court appearances, and who remained a staunch Republican—but her relationship with that family, too, subsequently became much closer, with Michael Cahill’s son Patrick in due course becoming one of her trusted staff at Coole.

19Besides these close personal connections with the families around Ballylee, the tower itself was also a cherished landmark for Lady Gregory well before she met Yeats. Along with the monastic complex and round tower at Kilmacduagh, the ruined Abbey at Corcomroe, and a few other local historic sites, it was a place she routinely took visitors to Coole to see from the mid 1880s on. Her sketchbooks preserve several pen-and-ink drawings she made at Ballylee in August 1895, including two of the tower and one of the mill-wheel.

Plate 34. Ballylee Castle, detail of sketch by Lady Gregory dated 14 August 1895 (see above, Plate 31). Image courtesy Colin Smythe.

20While staying with Gregory in May 1897—just eight weeks before Yeats himself arrived at Coole for his first summer stay—Lady Layard recorded being taken there, and also meeting with the McTigues at Ballylee mill:

  • 21 Enid Layard, journal entry for 24 May 1897, British Library.

[W]e went to see an old castle on the Gregory property—which is inhabited by peasants. A high tower with cabins round it. We also went to a curious old mill hard by dating from the time of the castle. The old miller was a tall fine featured distinguished looking man. He was delighted to see Augusta[,] showed us the mill & then insisted on taking us to see his wife …. She received us with effusion—& they both talked freely & were very amusing.21

Plate 35. The Millwheel and Tower at Ballylee, Sketches by Lady Gregory, n.d. Image courtesy Colin Smythe.

21Lady Layard’s record of the visit makes no direct mention of the Spelmans or the Cunninghams—the inhabitants of the tower and its adjoining cottages. Spelman is indeed mentioned only once in Gregory’s own diaries. But she was well familiar with both these families, too, having been intimately involved in their tenancy of the Ballylee property.

22In Autobiographies, writing after Gregory’s death, Yeats would claim that Lady Gregory’s marriage and her travels with Sir William Gregory ‘to Ceylon, India, London, Rome’ had ‘set her beyond the reach of the bitter struggle between landlord and tenant’ during the Land War. He preferred to see her as having retained an uninterrupted sense of Ireland ‘in its permanent relationships’—namely a fundamentally ‘feudal’ sense of mastery and obligation to her tenants, shaped by a sense of noblesse oblige (CW3 295). His view of Gregory has perforce powerfully inflected later critical attitudes to her politics and her writings. However, the record of the Ballylee eviction of 1888, now available in the rediscovered cache of letters, shows how little he really knew about her earlier life and her personal and political commitments when making that sweeping judgement.

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23In the summer and autumn of 1888, with the events of the Land War still repercussing dangerously, Sir William Gregory reluctantly began legal proceedings against Patrick Spelman, who had not paid rent in two years. Lady Gregory was fully party to the tense exchanges that followed, serving as amanuensis for her husband and also directly assisting his efforts to mobilize support for his actions. The survival of the core correspondence in the case restores to view a crucial and revealing episode on the Coole Park estate—showing the Gregorys attempting to uphold their property rights in a manner that was just and that would maintain their good relations with other tenants on the estate if possible, while also highly aware of their diminished authority, embattled position and questionable future prospects.

  • 22 Sir William Gregory, k.c.m.g: An Autobiography, ed. by Lady Gregory (London: John Murray, 1894), 36 (...)
  • 23 See Lady Gregory’s Early Irish Writings, 1883–1893, 48, 213–28.

24Having received at least two direct assassination threats during what he had termed the ‘landlord shooting season’ in 1880– 1881, and having seen his own agent need to be guarded in public by armed police for some months in 1882,22 Sir William was doubtless aware of the need for caution when reading the first letter in the case that survives. In measured and highly respectful language, pleading her father’s case, Elizabeth Cunningham asserted her family’s longstanding tenancy (‘for over 60 years’) and her own ‘inheritance’ interest in the property, and charged that the arrears of rent were solely caused by sub-tenants not paying her father. But the letter ends with a veiled threat—‘Copy kept for the press’—if Gregory would not reconsider his ‘error’ and refrain from proceeding with an eviction (Document 1). Lady Gregory, too, was by this time also highly alert to the dangers of taking a firm line against tenant non-payments. Her 1883 memoir An Emigrant’s Note Book alludes to several of the Land War murders that had taken place in the Galway region, and she would make the 1889 assassination attempt against Lord Clanricarde’s agent, Edward Shaw Tener, a central incident in her short story ‘Peeler Astore’ written in 1890 or soon after.23

  • 24 National Archives, Dublin; document 2001/108/7/1/2.

25The long-standing tenancy Elizabeth Cunningham stressed is confirmed by numerous sources. Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) lists ‘P. Carrig Esq’ of Ballylee Castle as occupying one of the ‘principal seats’ of the region around Coole Park; while the Gregory estate records detail a 31-year lease agreement signed by Carrick in 1851 for a nineteen-acre parcel including the castle at Ballylee.24 Carrick’s tenancy, which included at least forty additional acres of land nearby, was indeed one of the most substantial on the Coole estate, and the significant social position Samuel Lewis had indicated by terming him ‘Esq’ is confirmed by Slater’s Directory, which in 1881 lists Carrick as being one of the two dozen ‘gentry’ in the region around Gort. At some point soon after 1881, probably following his death, Carrick’s lease of Ballylee had devolved to Patrick Spelman, his nephew, at the same terms of rent.

  • 25 Gregory to Hicks-Beach, 12 November 1886, Bodleian Library.

26Elizabeth Cunningham’s letter acknowledges that her father had sub-let some of his land, but claims that he was only minimally behind in paying his rents. She makes an appeal to old loyalties and to a long-standing personal connection, rather than simply to matters of money, and lays stress on the fact that in proceeding with an eviction Sir William would not merely be doing an injustice to a man who had improved the property at his own expense but would also be cheating her own and her husband’s reliance on coming into the tenancy in due course. As she surely well knew, direct violence against landlords and their agents, though much reduced after the signing of the Kilmainham Treaty in April 1882, had continued intermittently ever since, and landlord-tenant relations had come under new strain with the inception of the Plan of Campaign and its press for the reduction of rents. Indeed, in November 1886 Sir William Gregory had written to Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, alarmed that the ‘harmonious’ conditions at Coole had been roiled by a ‘violent speech’ John Dillon had delivered in Gort. Informing Hicks-Beach that his tenants were in consequence now demanding discounts of 28 per cent on their rents, Gregory regretted he must now ‘take vigorous steps to enforce payment, but I think it right in case there is disturbance to let you see that I am not to blame’.25 Despite its quietly threatening postscript, however, Elizabeth Cunningham’s letter gives no indication that either she or her father knew that, as sitting tenants, they could appeal to a Land Court under the terms of the 1881 Land Act to prevent a landlord from proceeding with an eviction until the Court’s judgement of the case had been made; or that they could apply to the Court for compensation for any improvements they had made to the property. That apparent unfamiliarity would significantly weaken their position as the case unfolded.

27Either in response to the veiled threat, or perhaps anticipating it, Gregory shrewdly applied both to the newly installed Bishop of Galway, Francis McCormack, and to the local parish priest of Gort, Father Jerome Fahey, for counsel. Long diligent in seeking the support of the Catholic clergy and the Galway hierarchy during his career as an m.p., Gregory was well aware that sanction from Fahey, in particular, would be crucial in shaping local opinion and help inoculate him from charges of proceeding capriciously or unfairly. He and Fahey, who was appointed to the parish in 1876, were on excellent terms. They shared a keen enthusiasm for local history and preservation, and had collaborated closely in 1879 and since on restorations of the monastic ruins at nearby Kilmacduagh. Fahey would publish his major scholarly work, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh in 1893, was a founding member of the Galway Archeological and Historical Society along with Lady Gregory in 1900, and subsequently worked with her in promoting the Irish language. After Sir William’s death in 1892, he continued to advise both Lady Gregory, and, later, Robert Gregory, on disputes or tensions with tenants, right up until the finalization of the sale of most of the Coole estate to the Congested Districts Board in 1915, shortly before his own death in 1919.

  • 26 Diary, retrospective entry dated 28 October [1888], Berg.

28As her diary shows, Lady Gregory personally met with both Bishop McCormack and Father Fahey at some point early on in the proceedings to explain the ‘ins and outs’ of the Spelman case to them, and noted that she considered ‘William has acted with justice and moderation’.26 Fahey’s first surviving letter to Sir William regarding the dispute (Document 2) confirms his collegial readiness to back Sir William’s ‘arrangement’ in the case, his cool disposition towards Spelman, and his concern, too, for the sub-tenants—‘poor people’—caught up in the dispute. But the same day as receiving this supportive message, Sir William also heard from Patrick Spelman, in a letter written from ‘Ballylee Castle’, which significantly clarifies the nature of the dispute (Document 3). As his daughter had done, Spelman asserts that his failure to pay the head rent since November 1885 was purely a consequence of not having received payments from his sub-tenants. One of these individuals, he charges, had deliberately tried to ruin him by poisoning his cattle, and both are accused of ‘dark séances’ with Gregory’s agent, Algernon Persse—Lady Gregory’s brother—in seeking to get control of their respective holdings. Persse, he further charges, is prejudiced against him, and had treated him unfairly by refusing to act on his suggestion that the sub-tenants should be pursued independently for their liabilities. The reliability of these charges and complaints is uncertain, but Spelman may indeed have had good grounds for feeling he had been hard done by in not receiving the rent abatements given to other tenants on the estate. His letter emphasizes that both Algernon Persse and Sir William himself had verbally agreed to his proposal that they should take over collection of the sums due from his sub-tenants and credit him accordingly—a proposal he charges was witnessed by Algernon’s brother Alfred, and at the time judged by him ‘very just’. He closes by asking Sir William for arbitration on the case by two prominent local landowners—Walter Shawe-Taylor and James Galbraith—on the grounds that a neutral judgement by men ‘whose knowledge of such matters will guide to a fair arrangement, satisfactory alike to all parties, they having no interest but God and Justice’. It is unclear whether he was aware that Shawe-Taylor was married to Lady Gregory’s older sister Elizabeth, or that Galbraith was also distantly related to her.

29In response, Sir William Gregory evidently asked Algernon Persse to make a careful review of Spelman’s rental payments and his agreements with his sub-tenants—now identified as McTigue and [John] Fahy—and he also sought the legal advice of another local landowner, Andrew Bellew Nolan of New Park, who, as Spelman had noted, was about to replace Persse as agent for the Coole estate. Algernon Persse’s response (Document 4), written from Lady Gregory’s childhood home at Roxborough, confirmed the extent of the arrears, and observed that James Cunningham, Spelman’s son-in-law, had never been formally recognized as a tenant on Spelman’s holdings. Persse recommended replying with a ‘clear statement of the facts of the case’, but counseled Gregory to ‘avoid if possible a public controversy on the subject as Land League ideas of equity might not coincide with ours’ and also urged him ‘not to write anything that that slippery customer Spelman could lay hands on as grounds of an action for libel’.

30Assured of the state of the accounts and the leases, Sir William called Spelman’s sub-tenants, along with James Cunningham, to Coole Park, where he laid out his proposals for a settlement. As he reported to Father Fahey the next day (Document 5), all ‘willingly gave up possession [of their holdings] & said they would abide by my decision’. His letter reflects a strenuous effort to come to an equitable solution. While terminating Spelman’s lease and establishing McTigue, Fahy and Cunningham as direct tenants, with all the legal rights and protections that this entailed, he was careful to ensure that Spelman would retain ‘his house & an acre of land’—the tower at Ballylee and its immediate surroundings—along with an annuity of £8 per year to be paid to him and his wife during their lifetimes by James Cunningham. Gregory’s letter notes that Cunningham had, since his marriage to Spelman’s daughter, in fact been the main source of such rental payments as had been made. McTigue, Fahy and Cunningham, he stressed, were ‘rejoiced’ at these terms; and he alone was the loser in the settlement, since giving up more than £70 that would otherwise have been due to him.

31Spelman’s acceptance of this settlement was, however, brief. On the same day that Sir William reported the agreement to Father Fahey, Andrew Nolan, his incoming land agent, informed him that Spelman had now written ‘in the usual tone’ to protest (Document 6). This letter does not survive. Shrewdly, Sir William in any case chose to reply not to Spelman, but to his daughter, Elizabeth Cunningham, who had evidently written to him to complain. The copy he retained of his letter (Document 7), written in Lady Gregory’s secretarial hand, stresses the generosity of his settlements for the sub-tenants. ‘You are certainly the last person who should complain of this settlement so singularly favourable to your husband’ he concluded, ‘& Spelman knows well that most landlords would in similar circumstances have ejected both him & your husband’. Gregory also reported to Father Fahey regarding the agreement. Fahey entirely approved, but his collegiality did not prevent him from registering serious concern about increasing tensions on another farm Sir William had recently let, and he urged Gregory to empower him to intervene before the ‘strong feeling’ emerging there intensified further (Document 8). Fahey’s opening reference in this letter to ‘our Architect’ alludes to the designs he and Gregory were preparing for the establishment of a new school at Kiltartan. The building was commenced in 1891 on land given by Gregory on a 99-year lease, to a design by Lady Gregory’s brother Frank Persse. The school was in operation until 1960, and the building is now the Kiltartan Gregory Museum.

32On 13 October 1888, Sir William received a reply from Elizabeth Cunningham, addressed from ‘Ballylee Castle’, asking ‘to be excused’ for her intervention in the dispute, and thanking him for his ‘kindness’ in making the settlement (Document 10). But when Algernon Persse went to Ballylee two days later to serve Spelman with the official notice of the transfer of his holding to his son-in-law and to his former sub-tenants, Spelman offered a final round of defiance. He again claimed that Gregory had broken a previous agreement with him, that he was being cheated out of the value of the improvements he had made, that the previous agent—Gregory’s cousin, Charles—would never had allowed his dispossession, and that his own son-in-law had concocted his ‘ruin’ (Document 11). But since he was either unaware that he might appeal to the Land Courts, or unwilling to do so, Spelman had by this point been effectively presented with a fait accompli. Given the ‘gratified’ agreement of Cunningham, McTigue and Fahy, the fact that Sir William had strenuously avoided simply evicting Spelman, and that the land in question remained in the hands of his family and his former sub-tenants under ‘judicial rent’—giving them the full protections established by the 1881 Land Act—Spelman now lacked any convincing grounds for protest or for mobilizing public opinion against the Gregorys.

IV

33The case was thus now settled in legal terms; but a portion of one further letter by Elizabeth Cunningham, written from the tower at Ballylee also survives (Document 12). This remarkable document allows us a brief but sharp insight into her personal circumstances, both during and before the proceedings against her father, and thus of the conditions and situation for her—as a woman, a wife, a daughter, as well as a tenant—on a small Irish holding of the period.

Plate 36. Elizabeth Cunningham (c. 1861– d. 1945) late in life. Image courtesy Private Collection, Ireland.

34While Spelman’s letters in the case reflect considerable strategic artifice, there is nothing in the surviving record to call into question the sincerity of this affecting document, especially given the apologetic tone Elizabeth Cunningham had taken in her previous address to Sir William on 13 October. Her situation was, it seems, a truly invidious one, caught in the middle of the hostility between her father and her husband. As his letters show, Spelman’s suspicion that his son-in-law had been deliberately plotting to deprive him of his holding—‘concocting my ruin’—included a belief that James Cunningham had conspired directly with Sir William’s land agent. For his part, regardless of the validity of Spelman’s charges, Cunningham surely had ample reason to be hostile to his father-in-law, not least since, according to Sir William’s assessment, he had ‘kept down the rent’ for Spelman since marrying his daughter, despite having no tenancy rights on the land.

35But it is Elizabeth Cunningham’s self-testimony, as a woman at a time and in a culture in which she had few possibilities of independent agency, which makes this letter so telling. Married off abruptly in 1883 at the age of 20, without her own wishes being taken into account—‘they did not consult with me until I was ordered out to the chapel to have it done’—she had now been caught between controlling parents who, she says, had ‘kept me since I was a child in fear of them that any thing the[y] ordered me I should do it’, and a husband who had not married her for love, but for the promise—‘by a deed made at [the] marriage’—of succeeding to her father’s holding. Spelman had approved of Cunningham for the arranged marriage simply because he was solvent—‘any man would do… that had the money’—and had then apparently exploited him to sustain a holding that was not his own. Worse yet, for all Sir William’s conviction that James Cunningham’s intention had ‘been honest throughout’ and that he was a man worthy of being helped, Elizabeth Cunningham’s letter instead tells of a man threatening her with violence when he discovered she had intervened on her father’s behalf. She had already had at least two children since the forced marriage, and was either pregnant with or had recently delivered a third by the autumn of 1888. The 1901 Census reports her as by then with eleven children, with the oldest aged 17 and the youngest—delivered when Elizabeth was 37—aged just one year old. According to the Census enumerator’s report, the thirteen members of the family lived in a cottage by the tower with at most four rooms, and possibly as few as two. By 1911 she had had three more children, the last when she was aged 43. If she had had a ‘hard life’ prior to the proceedings of 1888, and was now being harshly blamed by both her parents and by her husband for jeopardizing their respective interests, what followed was surely no easier.

36A final letter to Patrick Spelman from Sir William, sent from the Gregorys’ London residence on 30 October 1888, marks the end of the Ballylee correspondence. The surviving document, a secretarial copy in Lady Gregory’s hand, refuses further arbitration, dismisses Spelman’s continuing accusations, and bluntly advises him ‘to reconcile yourself with Cunningham & to accept the arrangement made with him—Otherwise he will not consider himself bound to make the annual payment [to you] which he is ready to do’ (Document 13). The ‘arrangement’ appears to have held, though what degree of reconciliation, if any, took place between Spelman and his son-in-law is unclear. Patrick Spelman was alive, aged 88, in 1901, and still living in Ballylee Castle with his wife Sarah, then aged 75, while the growing Cunningham family continued to live in the adjoining cottage. When Lady Gregory’s son Robert reached his majority the following year, he assumed full legal ownership of the Coole estate. He would sell all but the core demesne of Coole to the Congested Districts Board in January 1915—a transfer which included the Ballylee properties. This opened the way for Yeats’s purchase of the tower, which was finalized, after many delays, in late May 1917. The Cunningham family stayed in residence there until earlier that month, at which point they were allocated acreage by the Board at Castletown, about a mile away between Ballylee and Coole.

V

  • 27 See Lady Gregory’s Early Irish Writings, 1883–1893, 39–43 and 115–26.
  • 28 Brian Jenkins, Sir William Gregory of Coole (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1986), 292.

37Sir William Gregory’s course of action during the dispute shows him trying throughout to avoid the severe and dangerous step of actually evicting Patrick Spelman, and seeking to engineer a settlement that would be as fair as possible to all concerned. He was by this point proud of his record as a progressive landlord, and the fuller evidence now available of his advocacy of Land Reform in Ireland from the 1860s onwards, and of his conduct on the Coole estate, makes clear that he had good grounds for that pride. Even at the height of the Land War in 1881– 1882, when he quickly intuited that the power of the landlord class was terminally compromised, he remained convinced of the need for legislation that would secure tenants’ rights, and of the inevitability of comprehensive land transfers, despite his recognition that these would significantly weaken his own position and reduce his income.27 And while he objected to the provisions of the compulsory purchase schemes that were formulated later in the decade, he independently offered generous terms to his own tenants for outright purchase of their holdings in 1886, only to be met with refusal.28

  • 29 Sir William Gregory k.c.m.g., 360.
  • 30 Gregory to Fahey, 16 May 1888, Diocesan Records, Galway—my thanks to Sister de Lourdes Fahy, r. s. (...)
  • 31 National Archives, Dublin.

38When editing his unfinished autobiography after his death, Lady Gregory would stress in 1894 that her husband had been ‘glad at the last to think that, having held the estate through the old days of the Famine and the later days of agitation, he had never once evicted a tenant’.29 And in later life she would repeatedly hold up this claim as central to her account of the Coole Park tradition and legacy. When facing the twin threat of Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill and the Plan of Campaign in 1886, Gregory himself defiantly told Father Fahey that ‘so far as I am aware there has never been an ejectment on the Coole estate in the memory of man’ and he asserted to Michael Hicks-Beach, then Chief Secretary for Ireland, that ‘I have been owner of my property for 41 years & have never ejected a tenant’.30 But the Coole Park records do not sustain these claims. Charles Gregory’s receipt books as agent clearly record payment of the substantial legal costs for an ejectment decree in July 1869, while a memorandum of an agreement from May 1880 records the ejection of Patrick Carty from a tenancy on lands adjoining Ballylee.31 Since Patrick Spelman ultimately acceded to the compromise Gregory proposed in 1888, and remained a tenant, albeit on a single acre of land, he was not formally ‘evicted’, although he was indeed legally ‘ejected’ from most of his holding.

  • 32 Galway Vindicator, 21 August 1880, 6.

39Sir William had, however, given a more scrupulously accurate and full account of his record as a landlord at least once, and on an occasion at which Lady Gregory was herself present. When introducing his new bride to the staff and tenants at Coole for the first time, at a dinner on 18 August 1880 for more than a hundred guests—of whom Patrick Spelman, being amongst his principal tenants, was surely one—Gregory made a speech observing that during the century and more that the estate had been in his family’s possession ‘he was not aware that a single capricious eviction had ever taken place on it’. ‘Eviction for non-payment of rent had taken place’, he acknowledged, ‘but very rarely and then almost always in cases when the tenant was incorrigible and had been ruined by drunkenness and other misconduct’.32 This statement squares precisely with the ample evidence of his liberalism, his considerable investment in being a good landlord, and his aversion to authoritarian measures. The speech makes no effort to distinguish between ‘ejectment’ and’ eviction’ but assumes that his hearers well know that his actions in the few cases in question were reluctant, and just. He admits that Coole tenants had indeed on occasion been turned out of their holdings, then, but only in cases of clear cause, with full due process, and when no other course seemed possible. In her later writings, however, Lady Gregory appears to have conveniently forgotten both her husband’s generally careful distinctions between ‘eviction’ and ejectment’, and, more importantly, his qualifying term ‘capricious’, and to have indulged in a degree of myth-making of her own.

VI

  • 33 Gregory to Redmond, 4 April 1903, nli.

40Given that she first introduced Yeats to Ballylee in 1896, Lady Gregory must have been pleased that he so quickly shared her enthusiasm for the ‘old square tower’ and its location. And she was surely amongst the first to be party to the ‘dream’ of owning the property he mentioned to John Quinn in 1904. Indeed, a letter she wrote to John Redmond in Spring 1903, while he was helping prepare what became the Wyndham Land Act, suggests that she may, even at this early point, already have had in mind the specific aim of safeguarding Yeats’s interest in the tower. Voicing her concern that current law gave no protection to ‘old historic buildings’ not considered important enough to be maintained by the Board of Works, she suggested to Redmond that appropriate wording should be added to the forthcoming legislation. ‘There is for instance a fine old castle, Ballylee, on my son’s property—partly inhabited by a tenant, whose house is built on to it’ she told him. ‘Should this tenant (not a very satisfactory one) buy his holding, would he have the power of pulling down this castle by degrees, say to build outhouses?’ A local cromlech, she added, had ‘already been destroyed for building or road mending’.33

  • 34 Gregory to Yeats, 2 June 1917, Berg. Gregory to Quinn, 3 June 1917, Berg.
  • 35 Gregory to Yeats, 13 June 1917, Berg.

41After Robert Gregory sold Ballylee in 1915, she took an active part in facilitating Yeats’s purchase. She personally negotiated with the Congested Districts Board in March 1917 over the price to be paid, when Yeats, in increasing anxiety about the likely cost, gave her ‘full power’ to act for him and agreed to ‘do exactly what you think’ (CL InteLex 3173– 74, 3178). Two months later, with Yeats away in London, she met with the representative of the Board at the tower to receive the legal map that recorded the property boundaries and confirmed his ownership. To mark the occasion, she wrote with some ceremony to Yeats on 2 June 1917, sending him a bunch of grass, thatch from the cottage roof, and a stone from the castle wall ‘as signs & markers of your possession’. She also reported the following day to John Quinn that these items constituted a ‘seisin’—an old legal term denoting the ownership of a feudal fiefdom—thereby indicating both her awareness of Yeats’s key motivations in making the purchase, and her readiness, at this point, to abet them.34 When he neglected to acknowledge the symbolic items she had packed ‘with such care’, she sent Yeats a letter chiding him but showing that she also understood, and wanted to encourage, his interest in the tower as a creative inspiration: ‘I thought you cd at the least have written a poem on them!’35 Over the course of the next two years, she acted repeatedly as Yeats’s agent and helper, overseeing renovation and construction work at Ballylee, and relaying accounts, advice and reports of progress to him in her letters. During the remainder of her life she would be called on again many times to serve as de facto caretaker for the tower and its adjoining cottages.

  • 36 wby to Lady Gregory 16 June 1917 (CL InteLex 3262). Some two weeks earlier, when finalization of th (...)
  • 37 Gregory to Yeats, undated [February 1917], Berg.
  • 38 Gregory to Yeats,? 14 March 1917, Berg.

42As has long been recognized, Yeats’s purchase of Ballylee—the first property he had ever owned—was in part an affirmation of his long partnership with Gregory. He would indeed declare in ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ that ‘an old neighbour’s friendship’ was one key reason that he had ‘chose[n] the house’ (VP 423). Moreover, as he acknowledged to her, this decision to relocate into ‘her’ Galway landscape was a choice which entailed leaving aside a long-harboured ideal of returning to the cherished places of his childhood: ‘If I did not get Ballylee I would probably have built a thatched cottage on a site I chose long ago in Sligo’.36 But his purchase was also, as she well understood, in part a declaration of independence—he would henceforth be staying at Ballylee during his summers, rather than with her at Coole—and in part a gesture of appropriation, since the tower had previously been part of the Gregory estate. Although she dutifully facilitated his acquisition of the property, even her earliest responses to the purchase register elements of unease on her part. She was quick to remind him, for instance, that her son Robert ‘didn’t get one penny for the castle’ when transferring it to the Congested Districts Board.37 And after negotiating the low purchase price for Yeats, she managed to insinuate, simultaneously, that he should feel under obligation to her for this, and that had she sought to reclaim it for herself she could have done so at no cost at all: ‘To take my due, I shd say [Henry] Doran said the low price was allowed by the Board as a compliment to me—& if I wanted it for myself, they wd give it for nothing!’38While she certainly wanted to implicate herself more closely in his ownership of and plans for Ballylee, both practically and creatively, she was thus at the same time resentful and anxious about the element of independence his purchase embodied.

  • 39 For some account of the composition of ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ and Yeats’s relationship with Greg (...)

43The shifting grounds in their relationship already register in ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’, drafted by Yeats at Coole in October 1916 during the period he resolved to make the tower his own.39 He had returned to Coole on 16 September 1916, following a turbulent summer in Normandy, during which he had proposed first to Maud Gonne, and then to her daughter, Iseult, only to be refused by both. Although he acknowledged a degree of guilt to Lady Gregory for his extended absence—‘I had a gloomy night of it, thinking that for the first time for nearly twenty years I am not at Coole at the end of August’ (CL InteLex 3022)—the stay in France had effectively confirmed the primacy of her influence, and the effective eclipse of Maud Gonne’s. His letters to Gregory that summer repeatedly seek counsel on how to proceed in his crisis of uncertainty over whether to commit himself to either Maud or Iseult, and they mark his reliance on her as a ‘refuge’ from his own potential weakness of resolution (CL InteLex 2987, 2996). But in returning to Coole, he was also acutely conscious of the limitations, and indeed constraint, inherent in his relationship with Gregory. The poem acknowledges the beauty and security of Coole, but also recognizes that to stay there would be a passive falling back into habit, with the ‘dry’ autumnal woodland paths under an ‘October twilight’ powerfully conveying his consciousness of age and sterility (VP 322). Yeats’s letter of enquiry about Ballylee to William F. Bailey on 2 October 1916 hence marked a deliberate effort to move beyond the safe but staid habits of his long co-dependency with Gregory.

44Given the sale of all but the core Gregory demesne lands in 1915, and then Yeats’s rapid deployment of Ballylee as a symbol of the Ascendancy traditions for which Coole had hitherto been his prime example, Lady Gregory was inevitably conscious that the estate had been in some sense replaced; much as she was soon aware, when Yeats married, that she, also, had been in some sense replaced. Characteristically, she was careful not to make her resentments at these shifts too obvious. Only a few barbed comments survive in the written record to indicate the strength of her feelings about his haste or his choice in proposing to Georgie Hyde-Lees so quickly after his pursuit of Maud and then Iseult Gonne: Yeats’s acknowledgement in October 1917 that ‘you had hurt me very much by something you said about being married in the clothes I bought to court Iseult in’ is one rare example (CL InteLex 3340). But in a letter to John Quinn in August 1917, after a passage acknowledging the war-time decline in her own income, and the ‘hardship’ being caused at Coole by the fact that the Congested District Board had still not completed their payment for the lands sold in 1915, she for once unburdened herself quite candidly about her opposition to Yeats’s purchase of Ballylee.

45Her complaints begin as a list of pragmatic reasons why his acquisition of a romantic ruin was in her view unwise:

  • 40 Gregory to Quinn, 11 August 1917, Manuscript Division, nypl.

You are quite right about Yeats and Ballylee, he little knows what he is in for. I never encouraged him to buy it, and would have actually opposed it but that it seemed ungracious, being in our neighbourhood. He has a roofless castle and a dilapidated cottage. All I could do, when he had actually entered into negotiations with the Board, was to go and see their chief official and get the price knocked down from £80 to £35. I felt then that if he wants to throw it up, he will only have lost that much. There will be mason and architect, and then painting and woodwork and furnishing. And then, it is too damp a place for him to spend more than a few summer months in; and it must be kept aired and watched in winter time. And then servants and guests and food… he has had little experience of all this. I always say one should keep one’s permanent expenditure as low as possible and then if there is a little money to spare one can travel or help a friend or buy some delightful thing.40

  • 41 Gregory to Yeats, 18 April 1916, Berg.

46The last sentence here hints at her deeper personal grounds for disapproval, and resentment. Having supported and subsidized Yeats through her loans and gifts since 1897—determinedly using her ‘little money to spare’ to help him with furnishings for his London flat, hampers of food and ready cash in the early years of their friendship, and then later giving more costly and discretionary gifts such as the Kelmscott Chaucer she and other friends had presented to him for his fortieth birthday in 1905—she was highly alert to the element of self-indulgence and vanity in his ambitious plans for Ballylee, and to the way that those plans, now that he for the first time had money of his own ‘to spare’, registered so little in the way of residual gratitude on his part or of sensitivity to her situation. She had sent him twenty pounds ‘with pleasure’ in response to his request for a loan in April 1916, but made the significance of that loan clear by adding that financial affairs at Coole were now ‘very bad’ and that she was consequently ‘afraid I must ask you to pay what will cover your food (not your lodging, I don’t want to make by you)’ when he came to stay that summer.41 Just as her own circumstances were becoming significantly reduced, then, and as her own claim to landed status had effectively ended with her son’s sale of most of the Coole estate, Yeats, the long-time recipient of her patronage, was effectively in the process of moving out, and focusing his energies and resources on a project that, as many of his friends readily observed, was rooted in neo-feudal pretension. Almost at the very moment she had asked Yeats to begin to pay his way, he had sidestepped any clear register of obligation for or acknowledgement of her years of support.

  • 42 Gregory to Quinn, 11 August 1911, Manuscript Division, nypl.
  • 43 William M. Murphy, Prodigal Father: The Life of John Butler Yeats (1839–1922) (Ithaca and London: C (...)

47Gregory’s letter to Quinn casts her reasons for disapproving of the purchase of Ballylee as both protective of Yeats’s financial interests and attentive to his future domestic happiness. She was, she stressed, ‘trying to restrain him from spending money on Ballylee at all until whatever wife he finds has seen it; she may not like the place at all or may wish things done differently’.42 The glancing cut here at Yeats’s determination to marry even without having a specific partner in mind—‘whatever wife he finds’—might be easily overlooked. But having been her confidant in a tête á tête at the height of their brief intimacy in New York in 1913—during which Yeats’s use of her money to visit Maud Gonne in Paris in 1898 was one of many long-harboured grievances Gregory angrily voiced, revealing her possessiveness and her limited empathy for Yeats’s emotions or interest in his life beyond her—Quinn was particularly well-placed to have understood the sense of proprietorial loss and sense of replacement informing these surface expressions of pragmatic concern and support.43

VII

  • 44 See Pethica, ‘Yeats’s “Perfect Man”’, Dublin Review 35 (Summer 2009), 18–52.

48Gregory’s financial and practical warnings would in due course, however, prove well-founded in many respects. Whatever ideals of convenient neighbourliness Yeats had anticipated, for instance, were complicated and badly undercut even before he and his new bride, George Yeats, took up a first brief residence in the restored cottage at the tower’s foot, in September 1918. Following a barbed and ugly argument on 17 April 1918 at Coole between Yeats and Margaret Gregory—now the de facto owner of the estate since Robert Gregory’s death that February—the Yeatses abruptly left, recognizing that they were no longer welcome guests, and temporarily took lodgings in Galway city. Lady Gregory arranged for them to rent nearby Ballinamantane House for the summer, but Margaret’s hostility to Yeats remained intense long thereafter.44 Tellingly, he did not stay overnight again at Coole for nearly four years—returning alone, and when Margaret Gregory was absent, in March 1922; and Lady Gregory pointedly turned down his repeated and rather plaintive requests to come and stay in early 1919, presumably being unwilling to challenge Margaret’s new rights of ownership. Yeats did not stay at Coole again together with George until August 1923, and then just for a single night, again during Margaret’s absence. This souring aside, relations between Lady Gregory and George Yeats had also been strained from the outset, with the younger woman conscious of, and shrewdly resistant to, Gregory’s possessive and proprietorial manner towards her husband (Life 2 122– 23). Those strains would always remain, and the ‘old neighbour’s friendship’ Yeats had extolled as one of his reasons for purchasing the tower was a relationship thereafter kept largely separate from his married life: when he came to visit Gregory at Coole he typically came alone.

49The actual restoration of the property was also a far more expensive, protracted and frustrating experience than Yeats had anticipated. He and George spent some ten weeks in the restored cottage in summer 1919, but at this point only the lower floor of the tower was in usable condition despite their heavy round of payments for work over the previous year. He optimistically told his father in May 1917 that making the tower ‘habitable’ would take ‘no great expense’ and actually be ‘an economy’ in comparison to keeping rooms in London (CL InteLex 3241). But by July 1919 he had to acknowledge that it still needed ‘another years work under ones own eyes’ before it would be the ‘fitting monument & symbol’ he wished for (CL InteLex 3632). Even more consequentially, this first extended stay in 1919 would be followed by an unexpected hiatus of more than two and a half years during which the Yeatses did not return to Ballylee at all, as local conditions became more dangerous during the Irish War of Independence. Untended, the part-restored tower was broken into and suffered damage at least twice, leaving Yeats worried about the potential theft of the timber and the ‘very beautiful, very expensive’ slates being stored there for repair of the tower’s roof, and of the ‘£300 worth’ of their furniture and other personal possessions at the property. ‘If we lost these things’ he told Gregory, ‘I could not afford to replace them & would have to give up Ballylee for years’ (CL InteLex 3742, 3835). Increasingly worried about money, he informed her on 30 December 1920 that he was giving serious thought to leaving for Italy and ‘living cheaply’ there for a year as a way to retrench (CL InteLex 3837). The next few months would be the low point in his aspirations for the property. Writing to Olivia Shakespear in November 1921 at the height of his despondency over the two years of conflict that had raged, and at the likelihood of civil war breaking out once the Anglo-Irish Treaty was ratified, Yeats foresaw only ‘bitterness’ and ‘blood & misery’ in Ireland. ‘If that comes’ he told her, ‘we may abandon Ballylee to the owls & the rats, & England too (where passion will rise & I shall find myself with no answer), & live in some far land’ (CL InteLex 4039).

  • 45 Gregory to Yeats, 4 January 1921, Berg.
  • 46 Gregory to Quinn, 2 January 1921, nypl.
  • 47 Lady Gregory’s Journals: Volume 1, ed. by Daniel J. Murphy (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1978), 21 (...)
  • 48 Gregory to Robinson, 14 January 1921, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

50It was also during this period that his long friendship with Gregory came closest to breaking. Disdainful of his apparent disengagement from, or avoidance of, the political turmoil in Ireland, and from the actualities of the violence she was witnessing first-hand, she began sending reports on local Black and Tan atrocities to The Nation in October 1920 as a series of anonymous articles, without telling Yeats she had done so. This was the first time in the more than twenty years of close collaborative exchange between them that she had kept her writings private from him in this way. And when he informed her of his plans to ‘live cheaply’ in Italy, and then two days later added guiltily and unconvincingly that ‘[e]ven if we stay away a year you must not think we are deserting Ireland’, she replied tersely on 4 January 1921, observing merely that this would allow him to ‘escape’ the rains of Ireland.45 But the level of her annoyance at this political and personal apostacy in ‘escaping’ registers clearly in a biting letter she had written to John Quinn just two days earlier, which momentarily unveils her lingering frustrations over Yeats’s marriage, and her sharp resentment of the ‘ease’ she saw him as now enjoying, far beyond the conflict in Ireland, and far beyond her ambit: ‘I don’t know what Yeats means by talking of want of money. His wife has money, though perhaps not so much as he was led to believe, and they live in extreme comfort, and ease’.46 That he should be complaining now about his finances, given that he had so readily and so recently committed ‘almost the whole’ of the money he made on his five-month American lecture tour in 1920 to the reconstruction work at Ballylee, can only have confirmed her own earlier wariness about the project and her sense of Yeats’s self-indulgence (CL InteLex 3736). And most tellingly of all, her letter of 4 January 1921 to Yeats makes no mention that Margaret Gregory had four days earlier resolved to sell or rent Coole Park—a shock that had left Gregory expecting to have to move out, and depressedly reflecting on her advancing age and inutility: ‘what does the last phase matter, except to be in no one’s way’.47 She confided in Quinn, and sought his help in possibly finding an American tenant, and also asked Lennox Robinson for advice as to whether a government agency might purchase the woodlands she loved. However, her letter to Robinson specifically asks him not to mention the matter ‘even to Yeats’.48 Her silence on the matter suggests that she could not now trust Yeats to keep the news private, and, just as damningly, both that she did not expect an empathetic or useful response from him, and that her anxieties were no longer something she was ready to share with him.

  • 49 Gregory to Yeats, 26 February 1922, Berg.

51It was during this hiatus—both from Ballylee and from Gregory’s esteem—that Yeats’s plans and viewpoint began to shift in ways which led to both creative, political and personal repair in the relationship. In April 1921, while, living in Oxford, he started drafting the sequence of poems, initially titled ‘Thoughts on the Present State of the World’, which became ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’. The poems, he told Olivia Shakespear, were at root a ‘lamentation over lost peace & lost hope’ (CL InteLex 3899). They mark the beginnings of a transition from the largely romantic impulses that had informed his purchase of Ballylee, toward the bitter, vatic, disdainful mode that is central to his later representations of the tower. Most importantly, the sequence shows that he was already beginning to question or complicate his aristocratic pretensions in having bought a ‘castle’ and was beginning to recast Ballylee as an emblem of starkness, and as a location appropriate to witnessing and interpreting the violent and embattled actualities unfolding in Ireland. Soon after finishing the poem, he gave instructions for renovation on the tower to be restarted, and resolved to return there ‘with our children’ the following Spring, the continuing violence and political conflict notwithstanding (CL InteLex 3960). Lady Gregory remained sceptical, writing only of his ‘possible return’ even after Yeats alerted her in March 1922 to the date of his departure for Ireland, and even though he had by then made plain his interest in possibly taking a position in the new Free State government and his growing determination to once again take a direct role, political or not, in the reconstruction of the country.49

  • 50 Lady Gregory’s Journals: Volume 1, 337.
  • 51 Ibid., 356.

52In early April 1922, he and George Yeats and their two small children duly took up residence at Ballylee again, spending most of the next five months there. Yeats was finally a close observer of, and vulnerable to, the turmoil of the Civil War. He would also at last see first-hand the troubled conditions Lady Gregory had been defiantly recording and enduring at Coole, including her distress at the burning of her childhood home, Roxborough, that August. He narrowly missed being at Coole on 10 April when she was threatened by a former tenant and responded by showing ‘how easy it would be to shoot me through the unshuttered window’50—an event he later mythologized in ‘Beautiful Lofty Things’. After raiders came to the house on 13 May, he volunteered to come and sleep at Coole, an offer of protection she was ‘glad to accept’.51 Over the next four months he would be a regular visitor, re-establishing the routines of both personal and creative exchange that had sustained their earlier years of friendship. It was during these months and the next five years, as a regular visitor to Coole and Ballylee, that he completed his major Tower poems.

VIII

  • 52 Lady Gregory’s Journals: Volume 2, 164. Ann Saddlemyer notes that the publication of The Tower in F (...)

53The Yeatses came to Ballylee for at least a part of each of the next five summers, though only for brief stays in 1923 and 1924. In 1925 they made two extended stays, but these were to some extent compromised by Yeats’s fear that he might have to sell the property to cover the increasing debts of the Cuala Press (CL InteLex 4711). Much longer visits followed in 1926 and 1927, but that latter year was effectively their final period of residence. Yeats came alone to stay at Coole the following summer, but Ballylee was shut up, and remained so save for occasional inspection visits thereafter. While Yeats’s health was probably the dominant factor in this abandonment, Gregory’s own expectation that she would shortly be obliged to leave Coole following the sale of the property to the Irish Forestry Department certainly played some part. When she told Yeats of this likelihood in January 1927 he replied that, if so, he would act in solidarity by leaving Ballylee, ‘because without me they would not care to come’.52 ‘Blood and the Moon’, the final poem he wrote there in August 1927, quietly registers these looming possibilities. While more assertive than any of the previous ‘tower’ poems in its declaration of Ballylee as a ‘powerful’ symbol, that declaration is then qualified and undercut, with the tower also described as being, like contemporary Ireland, ‘half dead at the top’ (VP 480, 482).

54‘Blood and the Moon’ nonetheless offers Yeats’s most emphatic assertion that Norman and then Ascendancy leadership—ruthless but powerful—had created the Anglo-Irish culture of the late eighteenth century that he most valued:

A bloody, arrogant power
Rose out of the race
Uttering, mastering it,
Rose like these walls from these
Storm-beaten cottages—(
VP 480)

55That essentially hieratic notion of Ballylee has long continued to hold significant sway in the critical literature. But the ‘mastering’ Yeats celebrates was entirely dependent, as far as his own possession of the tower was concerned, first on Lady Gregory’s purchase negotiations on his behalf, and then on the resettlement of its inhabitants—Elizabeth and James Cunningham and their many children—by the Congested Districts Board.

  • 53 Lady Gregory’s Journals: Volume 1, 314–16.

56The Cunningham family would remain in the neighbourhood long after Yeats himself last stayed in Ballylee. Lady Gregory, characteristically, maintained a close connection with them, as she did with many other families who had once been Coole tenants. When Bernard Cunningham, Elizabeth’s youngest son, fired shots at a neighbour in a local dispute, she repeatedly tried to help him—even writing to James MacMahon, the Under-Secretary for Ireland, in an effort to get him out of jail.53 But unlike 1888, when she was able to engineer Thomas Brennan’s release, this time she had no success—a telling index of the decline of landlord class influence in a now much-changed Ireland. Yeats, by contrast mentions the family only fleetingly in his letters—once in 1916 to say he feared Cunningham might demolish the tower for building stone before the purchase was finalized (CL InteLex 3073), and once in 1925, having heard news of the family from Lady Gregory when visiting Coole (CL InteLex 4732). When told by Lord Gough at a chance meeting in Gort in November 1916 that the castle at Ballylee ‘was inhabited by educated people within recent years’ he duly reported this to Lady Gregory in a fashion that suggests some surprise but little or no curiosity, and no apparent memory of having met Patrick Spelman (CL InteLex 3070).

  • 54 Paddy Hehir, interview with Peadar Ó Conaire, Guaire, 9 October 1980, 25; ‘The Tower that enchanted (...)

57Gort locals would indeed in due course amply register and attest to Yeats’s indifference to them when he was at Ballylee. Lady Gregory’s gatekeeper Paddy Hehir recalled that Yeats ‘never bothered with anyone’, while the Fahy family, who lived directly adjoining Ballylee and supplied Yeats with milk and ferried him to Gort and to Loughrea station by pony-and-trap, recalled that ‘he would never speak to them … nothing, not even a thank you’.54

  • 55 World (New York), 22 November 1903, courtesy the Gregory estate, The Naval and Military Club, Londo (...)

58In an interview in New York in November 1903, Yeats declared ‘I don’t think a man has any right to invent his own symbols. Instead they should come from ‘the life and traditions of the people’.55 But in his figurations of Ballylee, the mythologizing of his own utterance, creativity and mastery, eclipsed any concern with the actual life at his door. He was either oblivious to or knew nothing of the significant recent history of the tower, and of Lady Gregory’s involvement in both the eviction of 1888 and in the politics of the Land War more generally. Rather than it being she who was set ‘beyond the reach of the bitter struggle between landlord and tenant’ during the Land War, we need to acknowledge more stringently the extent to which it was, instead, Yeats who was distanced from or unwilling to attend to the actualities of that struggle, and its consequences for the social and political realities of Ireland, during his ownership of Thoor Ballylee.

Annexes

APPENDIX: DOCUMENTS56

Document 1. Elizabeth Cunningham to Sir William Gregory

Ballylee
27 Sept / 88
Sir William

I am very much distressed at the treatment received by my father at your hands yesterday. He is no pauper and wants no charity he is able and willing to pay his own rents but not the rents of others and wants nothing but justice, which it appears you deny him—by giving over or selling to the poisoners of his cattle my inheritance which he improved in in [sic] building alone to the amount of £200—his sub tenants (now sought to be favoured by you) never expended 6d—My father inherits gentlemanly principles beyond the common herd, and should not be so illtreated in his decline of life by you. I therefore beg of you not to induce or foster the cause of any tragedies here—but reconsider your error and continue my kind and good father in the enjoyment of his rights. My father and granduncle were paying £61.2.2 yearly here for over 60 years and now because he owes £20 to be paid by him in two installments £10 Nov and £10 at Xmas his and my interest is to be confiscated.

Heaven forbid Sir William

Your obedient servant
Elizabeth Cunningham

Copy kept for the press if required
[envelope for the above postmarked 29 Sep 88 Gort]

Document 2. Father Jerome Fahey to Sir William Gregory

Gort—4 Oct 88

My dear Sir William Gregory

I was away from home all yesterday: and your esteemed favour therefore remained unacknowledged longer than I could wish.

I well hope that the arrangement to which you are good enough to refer will be productive of peace—much needed at Ballylee. I do not think it probable that the person referred will come to us for sympathy. At least if he intends coming I have heard nothing of it.

As there are so many interests involved I would be glad indeed to know the nature of the arrangement—which shall I hope relieve the poor people of the worry & expense of litigation in future.

I am glad & grateful at having the old capitals at Kilmacduagh relieved of their “ivy crowns”.

I remain dear Sir W. Gregory
Very respectfully yours,
J. Fahey

Tho retaining the Archeological Journal longer than I should, I am taking care of it & will soon return it safely. Tis very interesting. JF

Document 3. Patrick Spelman to Sir Willianm Gregory

Ballylee Castle, Gort 4 October 1888

To, Sir William H. Gregory
K.C.M.G.
Coole Park, Gort

Sir William

In justice to myself and perhaps to you also, I offer the following remarks on your late undigested decision in my case. In doing so I essay to state it partly from the beginning as a prelude to more light on the subject hereafter, as it cannot be possible that you thoroughly understand the injustice and robbery thereby designed to be inflicted on me—

I am the representative of a 66 years family tenancy here, the curtailed holding and rent for the past 40 years being 37 ½ acres at £61.2.2 yearly—but in’83 reduced by a fair rent agreement to £52 and subject to £10 more reduction under the abatement act of 1887 which would make it now £42—and heretofore to your knowledge subject to the undertenancies—

I have paid up to November’85 and my undertenants not paying rent without law, I was unable to pay the head rent, and offered your agent Mr Persse two years ago to take their names and mine on the estate books for individual liabilities, which offer Mr Alfred Persse who was present said to his brother your agent was very just & fair. Your agent promised then to consider it and do so, and yet did not, but subsequently issued a writ against me for the whole rent, including the running Gale for 104 to November’87—and followed in due course by an eviction notice under the’87 Act, which determined the tenancy in August last, at which time I was cited to Coolepark before yourself, your agent Mr Persse and Mr Nolan the incoming agent. I then explained my position, stating that my subtenants owed me £70 in November, one three years and the others one year, which if I was put in a position to collect, or give over to you as an arrear against them, I would myself be responsible for the balance, by being allowed the accrued abatements, given to all other tenants on the property, but not allowed me of 10– 15– 20 and 25 per cent for the past five years, amounting in the aggregate to say £35—in addition I stated my ability to pay one year’s rent for the land in my possession, and you apparently agreed to this, asking me questions as to my family and who would succeed me in my holding, to which latter query I replied my daughter, who was already in possession of part of it—asked other questions as to the undertenants giving possession for the purpose of the new arrangement. I could only answer for my self, and expressed my willingness to do so, on the conditions specified of my continued occupancy at a reasonable rent, which rent you at the time thought could be left for future consideration, and so that day’s proceedings ended you having matured the course of future proceedings. I was again cited to Coole Park on the 26th Sep last for the final regulation and carrying our the arrangement as I thought, on these lines—there appeared to be some dark seances going on in the office when I arrived, by calling in separately my subtenants, who I understand made individual bids of £40 and £50 as fines on their respective lots, and on my interests therein and you and your agents present and future came to the conclusion of so disposing of my personal rights and occupancy and thus breaking your former intention and agreement with me, by accepting these fines, and calling me in offered me, oh mirabili dictu charity and pauperism for life as a solacium for the robbery and confiscation of my inherited rights and interests in my little patrimony—

I have expended £200 on buildings alone here on the assurance of having done so for the whole farm—I am willing and able nay have offered to pay two years rent on my present holding, without a real personal, yet a technical debt on it, to be wiped off if I get justice—

But I verily believe you don’t see the case, with any clear view of its necessary equity to the past, but now to be robbed tenant in favour of the midnight poisoner of £70 worth of my cattle, who never paid you any rent here, but I now give you the alternative of the arbitration of Mr Shaw Taylor and of Mr Galbraith on the case, whose knowledge of such matters will guide to a fair and just arrangement, satisfactory alike to all parties, they having no interest but God and Justice while Mr Persse to your own knowledge was, and is prejudiced against me and [in] favour of his Bullock buyer, yet his only accusation against me was that I cut my winter’s turf on my bog which I had before he was born, and sold two acres of conacre meadow, but in the mean time I hold on firmly & independently to my just rights.

I am Sir William
Respectfully yrs
P. Spelman
Ballylee Castle
Gort—
4
th October 1888

Document 4. Algernon Persse to Sir William Gregory

Roxborough,
Loughrea.
Co. Galway
Oct 6 [1888]

My dear William:

I send you enclosed answers to your enquiries about Spelman’s holding—& as regards your reply to Mrs Cunningham’s letter, as there is a likelyhood of its appearing in print I would suggest that it should contain a short & clear statement of the facts of the case which could be easily taken in by the public—something like the following—I wish to point out to you the inaccuracy of your opinion of my arrangements regarding your father’s holding. They were made equitably according to my convictions between all the parties concerned and my views are supported by Msrs Persse & Nolan &c &c

In the first place I am owed £104 or two years rent to 1 Nov 87 and as I cannot agree with you that your father is at present, or has any hope in the near future of being able to make any payment in liquidation of arrears I deal with your husband who has an interest nearly if not as great as you father’s in the holding as by a deed made at your marriage it is assigned to him at your father’s death. I accept from your husband £30 in cash in liquidation of arrears £104 and let him the holding, the sub-tenants becoming tenants direct to me and their rent being deducted from the judicial rent becomes the rent of the future. And in all this I cannot see any injustice.

I do not profit by the transaction as I only get a percentage of the arrears due—the interest in the holding is preserved to your husband after your father’s death and a house and garden with an annual sum in money is insured to your father and your mother during their lives to be paid by your husband—And the subtenants Fahy & McTigue will get the benefit of any allowance made to the other tenants on the property & not as heretofore have to pay their liabilities in full to the day without any reduction whatever—

Of course it would be wise to avoid if possible a public controversy on the subject as Land League ideas of equity might not coincide with ours & you should be careful not to write anything that that slippery customer Spelman could lay hands on as grounds of an action for libel.

[passage here regarding rentals and tenancies elsewhere on the Coole Park estate omitted from transcription]

We had not as good a cattle fair at Ballinasloe as was expected

Yours sincerely
Algernon Persse

[enclosed]

Replies to queries.

  1. Cunningham was never recognized as a tenant.

  2. Spelman owed £104 or two years rent to 1 Nov 1887. I have no authentic record of how the rent was divided between Cunningham & McTigue. I have heard but forget—

  3. Spelman did not get the allowance on the two gales due 1 May 1885 & 1 Nov 1885 amounting together to £6 – 10—as the gales were not paid in due time—and he did not of course receive any allowances on the two years from 1 Nov 1885 to 1 Nov 1887—as he made no payment whatever on account of the rent accruing due for that time.

  4. It is not quite accurate to state that if Spelman had paid the amount received from McTigue and Fahy there would only be a small amount due by him.

Document 5. Sir William Gregory to Father Jerome Fahey (secretarial copy in Lady Gregory’s hand)

Coole
Oct 8 —1888

My dear Father Fahey I have now got figures from Mr Persse & as you may hear me denounced as unjust & griping by those who are ignorant of the facts of Spelman’s case I am anxious you should know the whole truth.

I can only say that McTigue, Fahy, & Spelman’s son in law Cunningham who are much to be considered as Spelman went away after the decision invoking blessings on me for my generosity by them. Yet one may be generous to several & yet act unjustly by one so now let us see how Spelman has been treated.

Spelman is the only tenant recognized on the holding. Fahy and McTigue are sub tenants of his, & there are arrangements between him & Cunningham as to the settlement of the holding with which I have nothing to do.

On the 1st Nov 1887 Spelman owed two years rent. Another year should be almost due though half of it wd not be received till April.

The sum due to 1st Novr is £104. Of this Spelman offered £10 promising another £10 perhaps in the Spring & desiring me to look to Cunningham for the remainder.

Of course I had no remedy against Cunningham but I had very sincere commiseration for him as he had, if I was rightly informed been the person who had since his marriage with Spelman’s daughter kept down the rent.

Spelman, McTigue, Fahy and Cunningham were ejected by me legally. They all willingly gave up possession & said they would abide by my decision. On the advice of Mr Persse & Mr Nolan I agreed to take McTigue & Fahy as direct tenants at the same rent & without receiving one shilling of fine which Spelman alleges to have been given.

To Cunningham I give the rest of the holding on the payment of £30 in cash in liquidation of the whole of the arrears of £104.

To Spelman is secured his house & an acre of land & Cunningham covenants to pay him £8 per annum during his life & that of Mrs Spelman, & of course he is free from all liabilities so far as I am concerned.

The unfortunate subtenants are of course rejoiced as they will henceforth be treated as the rest of my tenants, for it will be hardly credited that not only was excessive rent levied on Fahy but he had as well as McTigue to pay the uttermost farthing at the time when I was giving large reductions.

Spelman says he did not get these reductions. I reply he would have got them had he paid.

The person in the transaction who really gets off badly is myself, as I only receive £30 out of £104—but I shall not repine if I can help Cunningham on his legs for I really believe his intentions to have been honest throughout.

Believe me
Yrs sincerely
W. H. Gregory

Document 6. Andrew Bellew Nolan to Sir William Gregory

New Park
Loughrea
8
th Oct 88

My Dear Sir William

I enclose Spelman’s letter—it is in the usual tone—nothing in it—I can quite understand your unwillingness to have recourse to extreme measures with this Tenant and if I might make a suggestion, I would place the following final alternative before him—There are four tenants on this farm practically at the present time and if you made all tenants under yourself thus giving Spelman the 10 or 12 acres to himself at his proportion of rent gathering all arrears possible out of him, it might & ought to settle this matter amicably—I have no apprehension that in the future I would not be able to make him pay his rent & in any case the risk would be small, but I would not let him back as sole tenant under any circumstances—He might be made tenant for his life with reversion to Cunningham.

If you should think well of this proposition after consultation with A Persse, it might be well to make it on paper so as to give him time to consult his people—

I am yrs very faithfully,
A. Bellew Nolan

p.s. Since writing enclosed letter I have walked Mrs Carty’s farm—it consists of a strip of land running between Loughrea Road and Bog—part of some fields close to road is worth £1 per acre but there is considerable portion of each field <?set> among bog and I have averaged 6 acres <?> at 15s/– per acre, £4–10/–, and 7 acres at 10/–£3–10–0 making a total for the farm of £8–0–0 the valuation being £7–5–0 and the present rent £10–0–0.

I explained to Mrs Carty it is quite optional on your part to make any reduction, so that if you consider £8 too low there is no need to give it. ABN

Document 7. Sir William Gregory to Mrs Cunningham (secretarial copy in Lady Gregory’s hand)

Coole
Oct 8 1888

Mrs Cunningham

I wish to point out to you the inaccuracy of your opinion of my arrangements regarding you father’s late holding. They were made equitably & most generously according to my view towards all the parties concerned, & I have acted on the advice of Mr Persse & Mr Nolan both of them without any prejudice against your father, both men of much experience.

In the first place I beg of you to remember that I am owed £104 or two years rent of Ballylee till 1st Nov 87 and as I cannot agree with you that your father has any hope at present or in the near future of being able to make any payment in substantial liquidation of these arrears, or of being able to pay accruing rents I have dealt with your husband who has an interest nearly if not as great as your fathers in the holding the whole of which is assigned to him as I understand on your father’s death.

I accept from your husband £30 in cash in liquidation of arrears of £104, the sub tenants becoming direct to me & their rent will be deducted from the judicial rent. I have not taken from these subtenants one shilling by way of fine as stated by your father that I have done nor have I increased their rent.

In all this I see no injustice. The subtenants are satisfied & gratified, your husband whom I naturally supposed you would sympathize with is satisfied & gratified, the interest in the whole holding is preserved to him & his house & garden together with an annual payment of money is ensured to your father & your mother during their lives. This your husband has agreed to but of course if your father resists the settlement I shall not hold your husband to the payment.

The subtenants Fahy and McTigue will henceforth get the benefit of any allowance made to the other tenants & will not as heretofore have to pay their rent in full to the day without any reduction whatever.

You are certainly the last person who should complain of this settlement so singularly favourable to your husband, & Spelman knows well that most landlords would in similar circumstances have ejected both him & your husband.

I remain etc
W. H. Gregory

Document 8. Father Jerome Fahey to Sir William Gregory

Gort 10 Oct 88

My dear Sir William Gregory

Your favour of the 8th did not reach me till yesterday evng; and as I was busy with our Architect I deferred writing till now.

I do not think there will be any diversity of opinion as to the desirability of protecting Fahy and McTigue from the worry to which as subtenants they have been subjected in the past—I am not surprised they should have given marked expression to their appreciation of your arrangement.

My feelings towards Cunningham were not unlike your own—those of genuine sympathy. I have known him for many years, and have always thought him to be industrious & self-respecting. He is I think a man sure to get on. I shall be much disappointed if he do not succeed under his present favourably altered circumstances.

Spelman will of course feel the changes. But he may be more happy—perhaps more fortunate—in his altered circumstances than he had been when things were entirely in his own hands. Altogether I share your pleasing anticipations of the good results which should arise from the arrangement.

But I feel I would be wanting in candour if I did not also say that I look with very serious apprehensions to the outcome of the misunderstanding, present & prospective, as regards the Corker farm. I refer to it again only because I am satisfied that you wish to know what I may think of matters which involve the happiness of your tenants & my parishioners. I regret to say a strong feeling is already manifesting itself regarding the letting; and I am sure the feeling will grow. I earnestly wish you would place the olive branch in my hands and that I could speak of peace—while ever cordial feelings may yet be maintained.

I remain dear Sir W. Gregory
Very respectfully yours,
J. Fahey

Document 9. Father Jerome Fahey to Sir William Gregory

Gort 13 Oct 88

My dear Sir William Gregory

Permit me to thank you for your kind note, and to express my feelings of concern that I give you so much trouble. I sincerely trust with you that a better state of feeling will result from this arrangement you are good enough to propose—

In the renewed acknowledgement of your kindness & courtesy

I remain my dear Sir W Gregory
Yours respectfully
J. Fahey

Document 10. Elizabeth Cunningham to Sir William Gregory

Ballylee Castle
October 13
th/88

Sir William I received your reply and beg to inform you that I am not to blame for the mistake which I have made in interfering in the matter as I was innocent enough to be lead by my mother who gave me the copy of the letter which I sent to you. I now beg to be excused and am truly thankful for your kindness as I now believe were it not matters would have been worse—

I regret having troubled you so much.

I am Sir William
Your obedient servant

Elizabeth Cunningham

Document 11. Patrick Spelman to Sir William Gregory

[15 Oct 1888]
Sir W. H. Gregory
K.C.M.G.—Coole

Sir William

Your agent Mr Persse came here at 6 o’c tonight to give possession of my holding to Cunningham.

I promised to give you that posssession in August last on the condition of being continued in my holding like the others at a fair rent, and I hold to that condition still and to nothing else. I have already fully explained this undertaking & agreement to you. I ask you therefore to reconsider the terms of that agreement with me.

I can hear that you have written to my daughter but that letter was intercepted by Cunningham, and she knows nothing of its contents.

Mr Persse has misled you on the whole proceedings and wants to lower your character as a landlord, but the case will see the light; even to his meanness in drinking whiskey in Cunningham’s stinking bedroom, while concocting my ruin & robbery in selling him my inheritance but it is not effected yet while I am able & willing to pay my own rent, both in the present and in the future by getting Justice
Why deny it to me?
Are you aware of it?

Why would you throw me on the road side and give over my holding to my undertenants who owe me £70 in rent, it is an evil thing to be done by you are my age, the last near flicker of my life. Mr H. Charles Gregory would not allow it, in his agency.

Please don’t go away without correcting this injustice, but yet allow me to live in respect as I have ever done to the present.

I have laid out £200 in buildings alone here, the debt by wit of £104 is liquidated by £70 due of the undertenants £35 the amt of abatement due to me and also the £20 in cash which I offered you in Coole and now again.

I am Sir William respectfully yrs
p. c. Spelman
Ballylee
15 Oct 88

Document 12. Elizabeth Cunningham to Sir William Gregory

Private
Ballylee Castle
October 17/88

Sir William

I took the liberty of writing you a second copy of a letter dictated for me. I suppose you understand what I mean. I beg of you Sir William to excuse my weakness in obeying all parties—but my parents have always kept me since I was a child in fear of them that any thing the[y] ordered me I should do it. So by the letters. Even my marriage they did not consult with me until [sic] I was ordered out to the chapel to have it done, which was the sorest trial that ever I had and regret it up to this day and when I spoke with my father about it he said any man would do him that had the money. Now my parents blame me for been [sic] the means of taking the house from over there heads and taking there portion of living from them.

Heaven knows I never had any thing to say to my father or husband’s settlements and beg of your honor Sir William to throw any letters of him in the fire and not answer them. The first letter or copy you answered me my husband got it in the post and was going [to] have my life for copying any letter to you and said I wanted to ruin his interest. Of course Sir William it would be very impertinent of me to tell you how you would settle your own place. Sir William I have had a hard life between the two parties one balames [sic] me for taking part with the other

[remainder missing]

Document 13. Sir William Gregory to Patrick Spelman (secretarial copy in Lady Gregory’s hand)

3, St George’s Place
Hyde Park Corner,
S.W.

Oct 30—1888

Mr Spelman

I have nothing to add to my reply to Mrs Cunningham’s letter written by your dictation.

I have shown her that the only person who does not derive advantage from the arrangement I have made is myself. With the greater number of landlords you would have been ejected by the sheriff as you were alone responsible for the arrears.

Of course I am not going to submit the management of my estate to the arbitration of anyone.

You have accused me of two things & your statements are untrue—

1st You say I made an arrangement with you.

I made no arrangement.

I advised you as I did yr son in law & Fahy and McTigue to surrender their holdings as a settlement could then be made.

Had you and they not done so I should have been forced to have recourse to the sheriff which I should have much regretted.

2ndly You state I received a considerable sum in fines from Fahy & McTigue. I received nothing from them. I thought they had both been most hardly & unjustly treated by you & I was glad that justice was at length done to them.

There is no need of your continuing this correspondence. I advise you to reconcile yourself with Cunningham & to accept the arrangement made with him—Otherwise he will not consider himself bound to make the annual payment which he is ready to do.

I remain
Yours respectfully
W. H. Gregory

Notes

1 Note—If you would like to know whether further information has been discovered since this article was written, that may help your own research, write to the author at jpethica@ williams.edu. Feedback is always welcomed.

2 For the personal and political contexts of Yeats’s initial enquiry about Ballylee, see Pethica, ‘“Easter, 1916” at its Centennial: Maud Gonne, Augusta Gregory and the Evolution of the Poem’, International Yeats Studies, 1. 1 (2016), 30–53.

3 The Tower (1928): Manuscript Materials, ed. by Richard J. Finneran (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2005), 53, 55, 72.

4 Donald Torchiana, w. b. Yeats and Georgian Ireland (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1966), 303. John Butler Yeats responded with mischievous acuity to his son’s purchase of the tower, writing that ‘the poet’ is ‘always conservative and attached to the legendary’ and ‘obstinately averse to change’ (LTWBY2 328).

5 w. b. Yeats, The Winding Stair (1929): Manuscript Materials, ed. by David R. Clark (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995), 61, 63.

6 Gregory, Holograph Memoirs, Berg Collection, nypl.

7 Arthur Symons, Yeats’s fellow-guest at Tulira in August 1896, wrote in The Savoy (October 1896) that he had discovered there ‘a castle of dreams’, where ‘in the morning, I climb the winding staircase in the tower, creep through the secret passage, and find myself in the vast deserted room above the chapel which is my retiring-room for meditation; or following the winding staircase, come out on the battlements, where I can look widely across Galway, to the hills’. Yeats was also enchanted, and recalled that ‘the square old tower, and the great yard where medieval soldiers had exercised’ had appealed both to his own and to Symons’s ‘sense of romance’ (Mem 100).

8 b. l. Reid, The Man from New York: John Quinn and His Friends (New York: Oxford University Press 1968), 306.

9 See CL InteLex 3174, 3176. Yeats’s first written mention of Ballylee may have been his manuscript revision of ‘Ballykeele’ to ‘Ballylee’ in the printed text of AE’s poem ‘The Well of All-Healing’, as shown in Plate 32.

10 See Pethica, ‘Yeats, Folklore and Irish Legend’, in The Cambridge Companion to w. b. Yeats, ed. by Marjorie Howes and John Kelly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 129–43.

11 Yeats, ‘Modern Ireland’, Massachusetts Review (Winter 1964), 259; Moore, Ave (London: William Heinemann, 1911), 348–49.

12 In a letter to Eoin MacNeill in May 1899, asking him to mute criticism of the Irish Literary Theatre in An Claidheamh Soluis, Douglas Hyde pointed out that Lady Gregory was on the Executive Committee of the Gaelic League and stressed that she and the other participants in the new theatre movement ‘are not enemies to us. They are a halfway house’. Quoted by Gareth Dunleavy in ‘The Pattern of Three Threads: The Hyde-Gregory Friendship’, Lady Gregory: Fifty Years After, ed. by Ann Saddlemyer and Colin Smythe (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1987), 134.

13 See Gregory to Yeats, 25 December 1903, Berg, in which Gregory already refers to this favourite dictum as her ‘old formula’.

14 See Lady Gregory’s Early Irish Writings, 1883–1893, ed. by James Pethica (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, forthcoming 2018).

15 Diary, entry for 5 September 1887 Berg.

16 Diary, entry for 17 August 1886, Berg.

17 See Plate 33. Probably by Eleanor Persse, née Gough (1854–1935) who married Lady Gregory’s brother Algernon (1845–1911) in 1886.

18 Diary, entry for 6 October 1887, Berg.

19 Diary, entries for 25 May to 3 June 1888, Berg. Not being convinced of Cahill’s innocence, however, she was unwilling to write and act in his defense. Though ‘sorry for old Mrs C’ she was ‘not so sorry as I should be had she not asked for tea & medicine in the same breath with denouncing the informer against her son’.

20 Diary, entries for 3 June to 12 June 1888, Berg. Forty years later, AG would recall these events as involving ‘Brennan the Moonlighter’; Lady Gregory’s Journals: Volume 2, ed. by Daniel J. Murphy (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1987), 363.

21 Enid Layard, journal entry for 24 May 1897, British Library.

22 Sir William Gregory, k.c.m.g: An Autobiography, ed. by Lady Gregory (London: John Murray, 1894), 369; Lady Gregory, diary entries for July 1882 (Berg).

23 See Lady Gregory’s Early Irish Writings, 1883–1893, 48, 213–28.

24 National Archives, Dublin; document 2001/108/7/1/2.

25 Gregory to Hicks-Beach, 12 November 1886, Bodleian Library.

26 Diary, retrospective entry dated 28 October [1888], Berg.

27 See Lady Gregory’s Early Irish Writings, 1883–1893, 39–43 and 115–26.

28 Brian Jenkins, Sir William Gregory of Coole (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1986), 292.

29 Sir William Gregory k.c.m.g., 360.

30 Gregory to Fahey, 16 May 1888, Diocesan Records, Galway—my thanks to Sister de Lourdes Fahy, r. s. m., for her help in accessing this correspondence; Gregory to Hicks-Beach 12 November 1886, Bodleian.

31 National Archives, Dublin.

32 Galway Vindicator, 21 August 1880, 6.

33 Gregory to Redmond, 4 April 1903, nli.

34 Gregory to Yeats, 2 June 1917, Berg. Gregory to Quinn, 3 June 1917, Berg.

35 Gregory to Yeats, 13 June 1917, Berg.

36 wby to Lady Gregory 16 June 1917 (CL InteLex 3262). Some two weeks earlier, when finalization of the purchase of Ballylee was imminent, Yeats notably wrote to Graham Mackintosh that Sligo ‘is still the town of my dreams’ (CL InteLex 3250).

37 Gregory to Yeats, undated [February 1917], Berg.

38 Gregory to Yeats,? 14 March 1917, Berg.

39 For some account of the composition of ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ and Yeats’s relationship with Gregory during the period after his return from Normandy in September 1916, see ‘“Easter, 1916” at its Centennial: Maud Gonne, Augusta Gregory and the Evolution of the Poem’, 43–5.

40 Gregory to Quinn, 11 August 1917, Manuscript Division, nypl.

41 Gregory to Yeats, 18 April 1916, Berg.

42 Gregory to Quinn, 11 August 1911, Manuscript Division, nypl.

43 William M. Murphy, Prodigal Father: The Life of John Butler Yeats (1839–1922) (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1978), 404–5.

44 See Pethica, ‘Yeats’s “Perfect Man”’, Dublin Review 35 (Summer 2009), 18–52.

45 Gregory to Yeats, 4 January 1921, Berg.

46 Gregory to Quinn, 2 January 1921, nypl.

47 Lady Gregory’s Journals: Volume 1, ed. by Daniel J. Murphy (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1978), 216.

48 Gregory to Robinson, 14 January 1921, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

49 Gregory to Yeats, 26 February 1922, Berg.

50 Lady Gregory’s Journals: Volume 1, 337.

51 Ibid., 356.

52 Lady Gregory’s Journals: Volume 2, 164. Ann Saddlemyer notes that the publication of The Tower in February 1928 also likely caused some ‘inevitable dissipation of the original magic’ of Ballylee itself, now that its symbolic power had become ‘emblazoned’ in and on the cover of that volume. Saddlemyer also observes a ‘ruthlessness of separation’ in George Yeats’s readiness to ‘rent out the property to strangers’ by 1930; see Becoming George: The Life of Mrs w. b. Yeats (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 406.

53 Lady Gregory’s Journals: Volume 1, 314–16.

54 Paddy Hehir, interview with Peadar Ó Conaire, Guaire, 9 October 1980, 25; ‘The Tower that enchanted Yeats’, New York Times, 1 October 2015, AR18.

55 World (New York), 22 November 1903, courtesy the Gregory estate, The Naval and Military Club, London, and the Bodleian Library.

56 Documents now on deposit at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, courtesy the Gregory estate; The In & Out, Naval and Military Club, London; and the Bodleian Library

Table des illustrations

Légende Plate 31. Sketches made by Lady Gregory at Ballylee, 14 August 1895. None of the Cunninghams’ daughters is identified as ‘Maud’ on the 1901 Census, so this may have been a nickname or Gregory’s error for ‘Margaret’ (aged about 6 in 1895). Image courtesy Colin Smythe.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/5651/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 264k
Légende Plate 32. Possibly Yeats’s first written mention of Ballylee in a manuscript revision of ‘Ballykeele’ to ‘Ballylee’ in the printed text of AE’s poem ‘The Well of All-Healing’, in Lady Gregory’s copy of A Celtic Christmas 1897. Image courtesy John J. Burns Library, Boston College.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/5651/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 284k
Légende Plate 33. ‘Mr Brennan singing Great Coole Demesne’, water-colour by ‘e. p.’ (probably Lady Gregory’s sister in-law, Eleanor Persse) circa.1888. Image courtesy the Berg Collection (Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations), New York Public Library.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/5651/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 208k
Légende Plate 34. Ballylee Castle, detail of sketch by Lady Gregory dated 14 August 1895 (see above, Plate 31). Image courtesy Colin Smythe.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/5651/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 148k
Légende Plate 35. The Millwheel and Tower at Ballylee, Sketches by Lady Gregory, n.d. Image courtesy Colin Smythe.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/5651/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 160k
Légende Plate 36. Elizabeth Cunningham (c. 1861– d. 1945) late in life. Image courtesy Private Collection, Ireland.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/5651/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 171k

Auteur

Teaches at Williams College, Massachusetts. He has published editions of Lady Gregory’s Diaries 1892–1902 (1996), and Last Poems: Manuscript Materials in the Cornell Yeats series (1997). His Lady Gregory’s Early Irish Writings, 1883–1893, the 16th vol. in The Collected Works of Lady Gregory (gen. editor and publisher, Colin Smythe) including ‘An Emigrant’s Note Book’, the Angus Grey Stories, and ‘A Phantom’s Pilgrimage’, will be out this year. He is currently working on the authorized biography of Lady Gregory.

Acheter