On this day, Isabella Augusta Persse was born. She was born into wealth, her family being the wealthy Persse family, the distillers of Persse’s Galway whiskey. She was the 12th of 16 children. She received her education at home, where her future was strongly influenced by the family nanny, Mary Sheridan. Mary, a Catholic, native Irish-speaker, introduced her young charge to the history and legends of the local area of east Galway.
Her life appears to have been rather uneventful until 1880 when she married Sir William Gregory of Coole Park; a widower and former Governor of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He, being a well-educated man with many literary and artistic interests, held a large library and extensive art collection at his home in Coole Park. He also had a house in London, where the couple spent a considerable amount of time, meeting leading literary and artistic figures of the day. They had 1 child, Robert, who was born in 1881.
Her Unionist family political leanings appeared to change around this time; she gradually became more sympathetic towards the Irish National cause. She began a study of the Irish language and began a collection of Irish folklore. Her earliest writings stem from this period.
In 1892, her husband died; leaving her a widow at just 40 years of age. She went into mourning, and returned home to Coole Park. Here, she edited her late husband’s autobiography. She organised Irish lessons at the school at Coole, and began collecting stories from the local area. As well as the publication of some folk material, she also published her re-tellings of Irish myths in a form she termed ‘ Kiltartanese ‘ – her term for English with Gaelic syntax, loosely based on the local dialect.
In 1896, while visiting her neighbour, Edward Martyn at Tulira Castle, she met W. B. Yeats. This meeting eventually led to the founding of the Irish Literary Theatre, the precursor of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. She started to write plays of her own; and for many years after the Abbey’s founding, these were some of the theatre’s most popular productions. Her works include ‘The Rising of the Moon’ (1903); ‘Spreading the News’ (1904); her masterpiece ‘Grania’ (1912); a re-telling of the legend of Diarmuid and Grainne; and ‘McDonough’s Wife’ (1913).
Ill-health forced her to retire from the theatre in 1928. She returned to live at Coole; her home having been a focal point for the writers associated with the Irish Literary Revival.
She organised and nurtured the talent of others, so much so that George Bernard Shaw called Coole ‘the workshop of Ireland’. On a tree in the grounds of Coole, one can still see the carved initials of J. M. Synge, W. B. Yeats, his brother Jack, George W. Russell, George Bernard Shaw and other literary figures. W. B. Yeats wrote 5 poems on his reflections of Coole, having stayed there for a period of time.
In 1932, she passed away at Coole, aged 80 years. George Bernard Shaw had described her as ‘the greatest living Irishwoman’. She was buried in Bohermore Cemetery in Galway city. On her headstone is carved ‘She shall be remembered forever’.
On this day, 15 March, 1852, Lady Augusta Gregory (nee Persse) was born in Roxborough, Co. Galway.

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