In December of 1896, in Paris…

…Sorbonne language student and translator John Millington Synge, 25, is thinking about moving on.

He just had an interesting chat with poet William Butler Yeats, 31, who had sought him out when he learned that there was another Irishman staying at the same hotel, the Corneille, near the Theatre Odeon on the Left Bank.

Synge had told Yeats about his work as a book reviewer, interest in French literature and Breton culture, and his desire to travel. Yeats was impressed. Here was a young Irishman with passion—but heading in the wrong direction.

Yeats told him, ‘Give up Paris and go to the Aran Islands….Live there as one of the people themselves. Express a life that has never found expression’

Although he had grown up in Rathfarnham, south Dublin, Synge knew little about his own culture. He had rarely even heard Irish spoken, had spent his life among the Protestant upper class, travelled through Germany, Italy and France. Maybe it was time to visit his own country and find the roots of his culture. He could pick up the language fairly quickly, and the ‘peasants’ might prove to be interesting.

And his girlfriend had just turned down his proposal of marriage—again. Time to head west.

Where are the Aran islands? Off the coast of Galway.

Where are the Aran islands? Off the coast of Galway.

Aran Islanders in the 1890s

Aran Islanders in the 1890s

 

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