Lady Gregory 1852 - 1932
Ninety years ago this week, Augusta Lady Gregory died at age 80 at her beloved Coole surrounded by her daughter-in-law Margaret and two grand-daughters, Anne and Catherine. Before losing consciousness, Lady Gregory asked for The Lord’s Prayer to be read, and Catherine, the younger of the two grand-daughters – the only one able to speak – recited it. In the early hours of Sunday, 23rd May 1932, Augusta Lady Gregory passed away, succumbing to the breast cancer that she had endured for almost ten years.
She had sensed that her time was coming to an end a few months previously, and had written a letter to her old friend, W.B. Yeats – one that was never posted, and one that he never read. She said:
I don’t feel very well this morning, rather faint once or twice. It may be the time has come for me to slip away – & at that may be as well – for my strength has been ebbing of late, & I don’t want to become a burden & give trouble. I have had a full life & except for the grief of parting with those who are gone, a happy one. I do think I have been of use to the country – & for that in great part, I thank you.
I thank you also for these last months you have spent with me. Your presence made them pass quickly and happily in spite of bodily pain, as your friendship has made my last years – from first to last fruitful in work, in service. All blessings to you in the years to come!
Yeats had been summoned to Coole, along with her family and Guy Gough (Margaret’s husband), but he was in Dublin and was not there when she died. He arrived later that day and received an account of her passing. He learned that three days previously, with the help of her servants, his dear friend had made a slow and painful tour of the main rooms of the house for the last time. He was told that she had also given instructions to one of her staff, John Diviney, that the weekly distribution of flowers and vegetables should be carried out to those whom she regularly gave provisions.
Yeats would feel Lady Gregory’s death profoundly. When he arrived at Gort train station on the day she died, Catherine met him, and later said that they sat in silence for the journey to Coole. “He wasn’t in a state where he could talk to anyone. He was sobbing.” Yeats himself wrote: “I have lost one who has been to me for nearly forty years my strength and my conscience,” and later said that he thought he saw her arm at the edge of a door, moving slowly up and down, waving goodbye.
Lady Gregory's Funeral
Lady Gregory’s funeral – an account of which is found in Sr. de Lourdes book, Kiltartan – Many Leaves, One Root, tells us:
“That day and next morning old tenants came to have a last look at Lady Gregory…
On Wednesday, the hearse, followed by a long line of cars moved past mourners who lined the Coole avenue. The Kiltartan children stood in respectful silence outside the school. Along the route to Galway, farmers and shopkeepers ceased their work while the cortege passed by and in Galway a representative gathering awaited the arrival of the remains.”
Lady Gregory's Final Resting Place
Her remains did not go to the Gregory tomb, which was once part of the Coole estate – but to Bohermore cemetery in Galway. She had decided in 1927 when her home at Coole and what remained of the estate were sold to The Forestry Department, to close the Gregory vault. At the time of her sister Arabella’s death, Lady Gregory chose Bohermore cemetery, saying: “It is a beautiful burying place, lying high, the sun shining on it, on the silver sea.” According to Sr. de Lourdes: “Her old employees were prominent in the cortege.
Lady Gregory : She Shall be remembered forever
Following the hearse came numbers of her ‘beloved poor of Kiltartan.’ She had arranged that four members of her staff – Peter Glynn of Crowe Street, Paddy Hehir, Lawrence Dooley and John Diviney should carry her coffin to and from the hearse.“ The ceremony at the grave in Bohermore cemetery was conducted by Rev. Arnold Harvey and witnessed by a group which included among others, WB Yeats and Lennox Robinson, as well as representatives of Eamon de Valera, the Abbey Players, The Taidhbhearc, Galway County Council and the Galway Chamber of Commerce. Along with the dates of her life, a line from the play “Cathleen ni Houlihan” – changed from “They shall be remembered forever” to “She shall be remembered forever” – was inscribed on her gravestone. That evening, back at Coole, Michael O’Beirne of the Forestry Department, planted a tree outside Coole Park in a tribute to her great love of nature – a gesture that was repeated by local people in her memory.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.
Kiltartan: Many Leaves, One Root by Sr. de Lourdes Fahy, R.S.M.
Lady Gregory, An Irish Life by Judith Hill.
Lady Gregory, A Literary Portrait by Elizabeth Coxhead.
Lady Gregory, The Woman Behind the Irish Renaissance by Mary Lou Kohfeldt.
“Yeats was Conflicted about Death of Close Friend Lady Gregory” by Marese
McDonagh, The Irish Times, 31 July 2012.