By Peggy Monahan
Recently erected outside the wall encircling the Kiltartan Gregory Museum is a stone slab marking the location of Kiltartan Cross. This would be a name perhaps only known to locals, but for it being included by W.B. Yeats in his poem, ‘An Irish Airman Foresees His Death’, which he penned to commemorate the death of Robert Gregory in 1918.
Kiltartan Cross, immortalized by WB Yeats
The only son of Sir William and Lady Gregory, Robert died in Italy during WWI, and Lady Gregory asked Yeats to celebrate his short life in a poem. In so doing, Yeats also helped to immortalize Kiltartan:
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
The Kiltartan Poetry Book & Kiltartanese
It is likely that Lady Gregory appreciated Yeats connecting Robert to the Kiltartan poor because she considered this relationship with their tenants to be mutually respectful and amicable. She was in the process of writing The Kiltartan Poetry Book when the news reached her of Robert’s untimely death. In the introduction for that book she says, ‘I am glad to remember that through the twelve years of our married life, 1880-92, my husband and his people were able to keep their liking and respect for each other.’ This respect also applied to the language of her tenants. She goes on to say, ‘In translating these poems, I have chosen to do so in the speech of the thatched houses where I have heard and gathered them.’ Thus, ‘Kiltartanese’ also brought Kiltartan to a wider audience, when Lady Gregory began using the local dialect in writing plays for the Abbey.
Interested to learn more about the history of Kiltartan & Lady Gregory? Click here to order Sister de Lourdes Book Today.
Kiltartan, Many Leaves, One Root by Sr. Mary de Lourdes Fahy, R.S.M.
Lady Gregory, An Irish Life by Judith Hill.
The Kiltartan Poetry Book by Lady Gregory.
The Works of W.B. Yeats, Wordsworth Editions Ltd.