Yeats and his Circle


Lady Gregory, 1852-1932

Born Agusta Persse, of the Protestant landed class, she was introduced to Irish myth and history, and taught some Gaelic by Mary Sheridan, who was nurse to her family. At the age of twenty-eight she married Sir William Gregory, aged sixty-three, who owned Coole Park. Twelve years later he died, and as a widow she devoted herself to making Coole a place where writers could gather. In collaboration with Yeats she wrote Cathleen Ní Houlihan and The Pot of Broth; her own output included numerous folk tales, that were taken from the songs and stories of travelling men and beggars at Coole, or from the cottagers in the Kiltartin district. She died in May 1932, aged eighty.


Maud Gonne (Madame Gonne McBride), 1866-1953

Yeats was twenty-three when he met Maud Gonne at the family house in Bedford Park, London. He had never seen in a living woman so great beauty. Until 1903, when she married John McBride, Yeats had hoped he would marry her and repeatedly proposed marriage to her. Her sole purpose in life was concentrated in the attainment of an Irish nation. She came from the same Anglo-Irish stock as Constance Gore-Booth, and she also rejected all that that social group stood for. No poet has celebrated a woman's beauty to the extent Yeats did in his lyric verse about Maud Gonne. From his second book to Last Poems, she became the Rose, Helen of Troy the Ledaean Body, Cathleen Ní Houlihan, Pallas Athene and Deirdre.


George Russell, 1867-1935

An Ulsterman, a fellow student of Yeats's, at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin in 1884. Later became a painter, a poet, an active supporter of the Irish Literary Renaissance; editor from 1910 of The Irish Statesman, a prolifie essayist, and, an effective and practical civil servant in the Department of agriculture. He was Yeats's oldest friend, to whom he dedicated his prose romance, The Secret Rose in 1897. Mrs Yeats spoke of him as "the nearest to a saint you or I will ever meet". He died of cancer. Yeats attended his funeral in Dublin.


John O'Leary, 1830-1907

Born in Co. Tiperary, O'Leary became a medical student at Trinity College, where he joined the revolutionary Fenian Brotherhood. In 1863, after a trial, being convicted of treason and felony he was sentenced to twenty years penal servitude in England, but was released in 1870 on condition he did not return to Ireland for fifteen years. On his return after his exile, he met Yeats and a wonderful friendship grew between the two. He was President of the Supreme Council of the I.R.B. until his death, on St. Patrick's Day 1907.


Arthur Symons, 1865-1945

Poet, playwright and critic, he introduced Yeats to the French Symbolist school. A most important influence on Yeats in the nineties, helping on Yeats's use of symbolism, already started in The Wanderings of Oisin. A member of the Rhymers Club; visited the Aran Islands and Coole Park with Yeats 1896.


JM Synge

J. M. Synge, 1871-1909

Synge, born in Co. Dublin, was one of Yeats's nearest friends from 1896 until his early death from cancer in 1909. When they met in Paris in the 1890's, Yeats advised Synge to leave and go the Aran Islands. Synge took his advice, so totally altering the direction of his life. The discovery by Synge of the tough peasantry and their violent lives was to influence Yeats vitally. The "Crazy Jane" poems and many of the Last Poems later indicate this influence of Synge's thought on Yeats's verse.