Resting simply in its display case now, the hands of time stopped, this little gold watch was likely the object of much excitement on the day it was purchased in New York in December 1911!
Lady Gregory was celebrating two months of a successful – if contentious -- tour of The Playboy of the Western World with the Abbey Theatre in America. Her chaperon and supporter during this time was the well-known Irish-American lawyer, John Quinn, whom she first met at a Feis Ceoil honouring the deceased poet Anthony Raftery in Killeeneen, Co. Galway in 1902. In the intervening years, Quinn had become a steadfast passionate supporter of the Abbey and the Irish Literary Revival. His friendship with Lady Gregory also grew over this time, as did their mutual admiration of one another. For a short period in December 1911, it blossomed further.
The little gold watch is a memory of that time. One can imagine them out Christmas shopping, looking in the window of Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue and then going inside. In giving it to her, Quinn was showing his great affection for the woman he so admired – it mattered not that she was 18 years his senior. Lady Gregory’s reaction to it and its price tag is evident in a letter she writes to her son Robert on Christmas day, 1911: “Quinn has given me a very small and simple gold watch bracelet. I like it, though it does look the $180 I saw on the ticket when I tried it on!”
Lady Gregory returned to Ireland in March 1912, and her letters to him for a few months afterwards reveal her love for him. Eventually, though, through distance and time, the emotion ebbed, but their friendship remained.
She was only to visit America with the Abbey on two more occasions, and met Quinn for the last time in 1915. They remained friends, continuing to write to one another until Quinn’s death in 1924. Upon hearing this, Lady Gregory wrote: “A great blow yesterday. A cable from N.Y. ‘John Quinn died this morning.’… America will seem very distant now without that warm ready sympathy and interest…So my day and night have been sad and I am heavyhearted.” The watch and its engraving, ‘To AG from JQ Christmas 1911’, was to be her only tangible connection to him from then on.
It was with great thanks that the Kiltartan Gregory museum received the watch from Lady Gregory’s great-grandson, William de Winton in 2004, when he officially opened the Autumn Gathering. When the Kiltartan Gregory museum re-opens, it is just one of the many items belonging to Lady Gregory and Coole House available for viewing.
Lady Gregory, An Irish Life by Judith Hill.
Lady Gregory, the Woman Behind the Irish Renaissance by Mary Lou Kohfeldt.
Lady Gregory, A Literary Portrait, by Elizabeth Coxhead.
‘Dear John Quinn’ by Daniel J. Murphy in Lady Gregory, Fifty Years After, edited by Ann Saddlemyer and Colin Smythe.
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