By Peggy Doherty
The Breakfast Room in Coole House saw the footfall of many famous guests. W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Sean O’Casey, John Millington Synge, and many more would have passed through a doorway over which stood a curious collection of porcelain figurines.
Clay People Long Famous
These figurines, or ‘Clay People Long Famous’ as Lady Gregory referred to them, were purchased by her in what she called ‘the Little Streets and Old Towns of England’. The Kiltartan Gregory museum displays a number of these figurines now, some of which were donated by Jane Murray Brown, a great-granddaughter of Lady Gregory, and others loaned to the museum by the Irish Literary Scholar, Dr. James Pethica.
Two, in particular,* come to life in an article written by Lady Gregory:
‘It happened that one day coming home from a journey, I had to spend some hours waiting for a train in a little town. (Much of my collection I gathered during stray hours in unexpected places.) Wandering through the streets, I saw in the window of a drinking house two pottery figures, companions, that had been made during the “union of hearts” which was soon so disastrously broken – Gladstone wearing a shamrock-dotted waist-coat—Parnell waving a green flag on which was painted the Union Jack. I could not but buy these records of a broken alliance, believing that they would go to enrich the collection of one of my friends. But in my despite, as it were, they stayed here with me and one by one other figurines were added to them, some by gift, some bought for a few shillings until now I might hold a history class with all of them as my school books. They have quite overflowed the ledges and chimney-piece of the breakfast room where the first two were placed and the ranks still increase. The twelve illustrations shown in this article are of well-known figures in English and European history and are particularly interesting as truly characteristic of the people they represent. Of course, the colours, clear and primitive, add much to the quaint charm of these most naïve porcelains.
‘Being of poorer workmanship than that which has come into use of later years, I placed these two combatants Parnell and Gladstone, in a place of slight honour on a shelf over the doorway; yet these two in their dispute of a decade or so brought about a change in law and custom, more weighty than the measure of religious freedom won by O’Connell. Their duel was in parliamentary tactics. The skill and experience on Gladstone’s side, the single intention and deadly earnest on Parnell’s kept the battle at white heat.’
An excerpt from Clay People Long Famous, Collected in Little Streets and Old Towns of England, by Lady Gregory.
*‘Gladstone and Parnell’ were donated by Dr James Pethica.
In 1996 - Twenty-five years ago - the Kiltartan Gregory Museum and Picnic Park were officially opened by President Mary Robinson, with Lady Gregory’s grandchildren, Catherine and Anne (“Me and Nu“) in attendance. Since then, the museum has attracted thousands of visitors, due to the hard work and dedication of the Kiltartan Gregory Cultural Society and its volunteers.
The attractive adjoining Picnic Park, featuring a copper beech tree planted by “Me and Nu“, has been a venue for celebratory picnics, music, lectures, launches and leisure activities over the years. In the past year, it became a place for families to walk, kick a ball or have a coffee at one of the picnic tables. A specially inscribed stone seat to the memory of Geoffrey O'Byrne White, great-grandnephew of Lady Gregory also features.
Now a quarter of a century on, the car park is in much need of re-surfacing, the toilets need repair, and because of temporary closure in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, the Society is in great need of your help.
Thanks to the generous donations of Cllr. Geraldine Donohue , Cllr. Joe Byrne and Cllr. Gerry Finnerty, we are halfway towards achieving our fundraising goal! Thank you for your support by clicking on the image or on this link that brings you to to our Idonate page to donate once off or why not set up a monthly donation.
We look forward to welcoming you back to Kiltartan Cross in the brighter days of summer when hopefully the COVID clouds depart.