Rebellious People In The Plays Of Lady Gregory

From a nation as old as Ireland one would expect to get some great works of writing and literary art, but few have compared to the rebel rallying plays written by Lady Gregory. Once described as "The greatest living Irishwoman" by George Bernard Shaw she played a key role in encouraging the interest in Irish literature in the early 20th century and even arousing Irish rebels from around the land to fight the English from her two most popular plays ‘The Rising of the Moon' and ‘Cathleen Ni Houlihan. ' It is through these two plays and the connections they have between them that Lady Gregory had ". . . Made more rebels in Ireland than a thousand political speeches or a hundred reasoned books. " (Norton, 427)

Lady Gregory

Lady Gregory, who was also known to go by the alias Isabella Augusta, was born on March 15, 1852. The place in which she was born is called Roxborough in the county Galway of western Ireland; it is also in Galway where she would be to marry. She is most considerably known for her collaborations with William Butler Yeats and J. M. Synge and the great works they created together along with aiding in the founding of the Irish National Theater. It is eighty years later that she would die and the literary world of Ireland would mourn. In 1880 Lady Gregory would marry a man named Sir William Henry Gregory, it was through this marriage that she would inherit the name Gregory.

Sir William was a man of notable wealth and had a grand estate at Coole Park; this estate was also renowned for the library which was of the considerable size of which Lady Gregory was particularly pleased because she liked to have so many books accessible to her. It was in 1904 that Lady Gregory would collaborate with William Butler Yeats and J. M. Synge to open up the Abbey theater in 1904. This would prove to be a significant landmark in the literary movement of Ireland and would help to execute "a turning away from sterile compromise towards a re-examination and re-rooting of culture" as Yeats would say. It was in this theater that such great works as ‘The Playboy Of The Western World,' written by Synge, would be put on and would cause riots to uproar because of their controversy. After having a successful life of writing and translating plays and stories, it was on May 22, 1932, that Lady Gregory would meet a bitter end and die. After a long battle with breast cancer, she could carry on no longer and died in a placed called Coole in the county Westmeath of Ireland. Her death was an enormous burden on the literary world, and though there was no special ceremony or any monument to represent the passing of a person of greatness, she will always be remembered as a person of grand significance in Ireland's history.

The Rising of the Moon

The Rising of the moon is a play that Lady Gregory wrote. This play tells the story of a policeman who spends the night by the edge of the sea looking for an escaped criminal. While he sits there, a traveling bard comes along and provides an exciting insight into the situation the policeman is in. This play would bring in much criticism and would be considered offensive and near treasonous as the policeman would be labeled as a coward and a traitor from the English crowds. Set in the night near a wharf the play opens up with three police officers, who are employed by the English government, plastering a wanted poster of a wanted criminal on a barrel. This criminal is told to be wanted for political treason against the English as an Irish rebel; this would come to bring some conflict to the police officer who comes from a background of poor Irish peasantry himself. After not waiting too long a raggedy poor looking man comes to the seen who presents himself as "Jimmy Walsh," a pure traveling bard who is looking to provide songs to the sailors at the docks. It is after this bard arrives that events take place that would make this play famous.

After taking a seat upon a nearby barrel and talking with the traveling bard for a while, the bard offers to sing some songs for the policeman. It is among these songs that the bard would sing an old Irish rebel song which the policeman is familiar with and eventually ends up singing along with. The song brings the policeman a fleet of memories of times past as a poor Irishman who used to sing such rebel songs with heart and joy. This was a controversy among the English audiences as they saw it traitorous for a policeman who was employed by the English government to sing such a rebel ballad with familiarity. Not long after the bard and the policeman are joined in a song, it is revealed that the bard is the convict the policeman is searching for in disguise. Though the bard is the convict the policeman chooses not to arrest him but instead hide him from the other policeman as an act of sympathetic patriotism, this is because even though the policeman is working for the English government, he is still true the land of which he is born; Ireland. It is this act that would cause the most criticism of the play as English audiences were outraged and rebel Irish audiences were stirred with a sense of duty to free Ireland from English oppression.

Cathleen Ni Houlihan

Addressing mainly the 1798 rebellion Cathleen Ni Houlihan is a one-act play that will remain significant in history forever. Depicting a life of poor peasantry in rural Ireland this play presents a family with a young man who is soon to be married and has received a handsome dowry. Though the marriage is arranged there would soon be conflict in the form of a mysterious old woman who would come in to the house and tell stories of how she's roamed nearly all her life because there are strangers occupying her house and she would soon leave by telling the family to leave all they have to meet their friends who are landing at the docks but the only one to go would be the man that is getting married. As the family sits around the house talking and mainly discussing the dowry of sizable proportions that Michael has received, an old woman would come to the door and be let in. This old woman would sit and answer the families various questions in seemingly ambiguous ways.

After a time of talking the old woman would begin to speak of strangers who had invaded her home and set her wandering, she tells tales and sings songs of how many young men have left and died for her and how there would be many more. When it comes time for the old lady to leave she first tells Michael that he should go to greet his friends who have just arrived down at the docks, and in a hypnotic state Michael happily obliges and leaves the family. The old woman in the play is named Cathleen Ni Houlihan, and she is the embodiment of Ireland. The songs she sings and the stories she tells are of the long fight for Ireland's independence against England, and this had a significant effect on the Irish men and women who were to watch this play.

The people of Ireland were having an increase of desire for independence and the words of Lady Gregory and William B. Yeats in this play would be one of the pivoting points in the minds of the Irish People. This was mainly caused by the segment of the play where Cathleen Ni Houlihan tells of the strangers in her house and tells Michael that he should follow her and he leaves behind his family and his newfound wealth. This represents how the English occupied Ireland and so many fought for no other reason than that they were Irish. This play and its mastery of symbolism was at the pinnacle of the cultural revival of Ireland and drove hundreds to aspire to create a political change. The Irish people did not want English rule and were tired of the oppression that came with it, and this play helped to dust off the old pride that came with being Irish and sent hundreds if not thousands of men to fight for freedom.


It would be dishonest to say that Lady Gregory, W. B. Yeats, and Synge were not revolutionists of their time. The plays that they of wrote had such magic of symbolism that they emerged such a strive for greatness and freedom that they will be remembered for years to come. The cultural revival of Ireland was a significant time in history and ‘The Rising of the Moon' and 'Cathleen Ni Houlihan' will always be remembered as plays that gave the Irish people a new desire to be free.

13 January 2020
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