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Margaret Gregory and the Kiltartan Wonder Book

By Peggy Doherty


One hundred years ago in 1921, violent attacks were being waged by the IRA and the ‘Crown Forces’ as the Irish War of Independence continued. Lady Gregory’s daughter-in-law, Margaret Gregory, found herself at the centre of one of the ‘tit-for’tat’ reprisals waged between the two groups.

On 15th May 1921, a car she was travelling in with four friends was ambushed by the IRA outside Ballyturin House near Gort. She was the sole survivor. Lady Gregory, in England at the time, and after she had recovered from the shock of it, wrote: ‘It is impossible to know how it will affect her outlook and the life of the children and through them, of mine.’ ‘All seems crumbling’, she continued a few days later, ‘yet I will not leave Ireland and will try to hold Coole for a while at least that the darlings may still think of it as home’.

This was only three years after Robert Gregory (Margaret’s husband and Lady Gregory’s only child) died as a pilot during WWI. Robert and Margaret were fellow art students at the Slade in London, and when they became engaged, Lady Gregory gave Robert a sapphire for Margaret’s engagement ring. Lady Gregory described her as “a very charming girl…clever, pretty and very bright and good. She is Welsh, with a Spanish grandmother and a French great-grandmother and has no English blood, and that I am just as glad of.” After their marriage in 1907, and with Robert as the legal owner of Coole, Margaret might have expected to become the mistress of Coole house. In theory, she was, but Lady Gregory, having the right to live there rent-free for the rest of her life, continued as Coole’s mistress. This remained the case, even after Margaret persuaded her to sell it in 1927, with Lady Gregory remaining there until her death in 1932.

The Kiltartan Wonder Book

A lovely token of the collaboration between the two women, however, can be viewed at the Kiltartan Gregory Museum.

In 1910, Margaret presented her mother-in-law with a series of illustrations for a book Lady Gregory had written: The Kiltartan Wonder Book. According to Judith Hill, author of Lady Gregory’s biography, ‘They have a comic book quality which lifts the tales lightly out of their Kiltartan context, broadening their appeal.’

To learn more about their lives, as well as the history of Coole and Kiltartan, you can book a visit to the Kiltartan Gregory Museum, which is now open! We look forward to welcoming you!

Sources consulted:

Lady Gregory, the Woman Behind the Irish Renaissance by Mary Lou Kohfeldt.

Lady Gregory, An Irish Life by Judith Hill.

Lady Gregory’s Journals, 1916-1930, edited by Lennox Robinson.

Donations welcome to our fundraiser via Idonate page here.

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