Sir William Gregory
Isabella Augusta Gregory (Persse) was born at Roxborough House in 1852. The twelfth of sixteen children, her mother described her as the plainest of them all and yet she would make the most advantageous marriage of any of her siblings.
By 1880 she was married to Sir William Gregory of neighbouring Coole Park. William was a former member of Parliament for Galway, retired Governor of Ceylon and thirty-five years her senior.
In 1892 Lady Gregory's husband died and she dedicated herself to preserving Coole Park for their son Robert, who was born in 1881. Another Robert Gregory was the first of the family to come to Coole in the 1770s. He bought the estate with the wealth he amassed while working for the East India Company, built a Georgian mansion and planted what became the 'Seven Woods' of Coole.
The Gorta Mór took its toll on the Gregory's and by the 1890s the estate was considerably reduced in size. To make ends meet Lady Gregory turned to writing. She began by editing her husband's autobiography, which was published in 1894. Encouraged by this she turned to collecting Irish folklore. She learned Irish and made a number of trips to the Aran Islands. She was then able to translate the poems and stories recounted to her by the local Irish speakers of Coole and KIltartan.
Meeting William Butler Yeats was a significant event in Lady Gregory's life. He encouraged her to write plays and to draw on the folklore of East Galway for inspiration. Together, with Edward Martyn, they founded the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899. In 1904 it became the well-known Abbey Theatre and her play "Spreading the News" was performed on the opening night. She would write forty plays over her lifetime.
On 23 January 1918, Lady Gregory was once again bereaved. Her beloved son Robert was killed in Italy where he was serving with the Royal Flying Corps during World War One. He is buried in Padua. Yeats wrote his poem An Irish Airman Foresees His Death about Robert, who was survived by his wife Margaret and their three children Richard, Katherine and Anne.
In 1927, Coole Park was sold to the Department of Lands and Agriculture, but Lady Gregory was allowed to live there for an annual rent of £100. Yeats remained a companion to Lady Gregory during her final years when she was dying from cancer. He had briefly returned to Dublin when she passed away on 22 May 1932. She is buried in Bohermore Cemetery.
After Lady Gregory's death the house at Coole Park stood vacant until 1941 when it was demolished.
Text by Marteen Lane - Tour Guide and Cultural Heritage Writer