Ray Burke on the Coole Park Library auction and scattering – The Irish Times


90 years ago, an identically worded paragraph in the Irish press and the Galway Observer newspapers recorded the dispersal of one of Galway and Ireland’s priceless treasures.

‘The whole of Lady Gregory’s library, comprising thousands of volumes, literary, fiction, art and science, and religion, has been sold for less than £50,’ the two newspapers reported after the library’s stock numbered more than a thousand lots of valuable furniture. , paintings, prints and marble busts which were sold at a two-day auction of the contents of Coole Park, Gort, Co Galway, in mid-August 1932.

The library had been assembled over the previous century and a half by Lady Gregory and her husband and by her father, grandfather and great-grandfather. It contained hundreds of classics from ancient Ireland, England, Greece, Rome, and the Middle and Far East. It had been built by Robert Gregory (1727-1810), confidant of politicians Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox and host to travel writer Arthur Young. He had bought Coole Park in 1768 after making his fortune as a director of the East India Company.

“I will be sorry to leave all these volumes among which I have lived”, wrote Lady Gregory shortly before her death. “They felt the pressure of my fingers. They have been my friends. Of the successive generations who possessed them, I think it was from one alone that they were dumb.

Lady Gregory considered the library to be “the very heart of the house”, but she was its legal owner for only 10 years, between the death of her husband Sir William in 1892 and the coming of age of their son single, Robert. , in 1902. She was chatelaine of the house from 1902 until her own death, but she had a difficult relationship with Robert’s widow, Margaret, who became the legal owner after her death in the First World War.

As a member of the landed gentry before becoming a co-founder of the Abbey Theatre, patron and collaborator of William Butler Yeats and a prominent actor in the Irish cultural revival, Lady Gregory wanted Coole Park to remain in the ownership of the Gregory family at through his only grandson, Richard.

But Richard’s mother, Margaret, was determined to sell Coole Park and return to England with her three children. She only allowed Lady Gregory to continue to live there “year by year…as long as she pays all the charges and expenses”. On hearing that Margaret coveted the priceless contents of the library, Lady Gregory’s friend and surgeon, Oliver St John Gogarty, remarked with characteristic causticity that the library was the very last thing Margaret should ask for.

Margaret, nevertheless, got what she wanted. The auction invited bids for “the entire contents” of Coole Park “after all heirlooms, including pictures and books, have been removed”, according to the Connacht Tribune’s front page announcement.

The auction took place just two months after Lady Gregory was buried in Galway City’s ‘New Cemetery’ in late May 1932. The newly elected President of the Executive Council, Éamon de Valera, was pictured at her funeral, where The mourners also included William Butler Yeats and other prominent Abbey Theater directors and actors.

“Along the twenty-one mile road [from Coole Park] in Galway, farmers and traders stopped work as the cortage passed,” the Connacht Tribune reported. “His former servants and employees were important…after the hearse came many of his ‘poor beloveds of Kiltartan,'” he added.

William Butler Yeats collapsed and wept on the platform at Gort station when told on his arrival on the morning of 23 May that Lady Gregory had died overnight. He called her “my greatest friend” and he stayed in Coole Park with her coffin before she was transferred to Galway.

“They came as swallows and as swallows went / And yet a woman’s mighty character / Could keep a swallow to her first intention,” Yeats wrote of the many artists and writers Lady Gregory had welcomed to Cool Park. “Where’s the brush that could show anything/of all that pride and humility,” he asked of Mancini’s portrait of Lady Gregory which now hangs in Dublin’s Municipal Art Gallery, donated by his nephew Hugh Lane.

Lady Gregory told Yeats in her last letter that she had had a full and largely happy life and that their friendship had made her last years “fruitful in work, in service”. She added: ‘I think I have been useful to the country – and for that I thank you in large part.’


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