‘Such Friends’:  Sir Hugh Lane and the sinking of RMS Lusitania, 1915

When I first met my friend Pat, she told me that her great uncle, Edmund Ireton, had been a passenger on the RMS Lusitania, which was sunk by a German torpedo off the coast of Ireland in 1915. I was interested because my research into the Irish Literary Renaissance had led me to the story of the nephew of Abbey theatre founder Lady Augusta Gregory, Sir Hugh Lane, who also went down with the ship. Along with part of his art collection insured for $4 million.

Picture 384

Sir Hugh Lane (1875-1915)

Pat and I talked then about doing a joint presentation about Hugh and Edmund, and, on the evening of Wednesday, 5th July, 2017, we are going to speak to the Birmingham [UK] Irish Heritage Association at the Irish Centre in Digbeth. All welcome.

Irish center Digbeth

The Irish Centre, Birmingham

In preparation for the big event, I took a day trip last Sunday to see the Lusitania exhibit at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, right on the Albert Dock in beautiful Liverpool. Pat had been a few years ago but, despite our many day trips to Liverpool, less than two hours away by train, I’d never seen this museum. Hey—there’s a lot to do there.

Merseyside-Maritime-Museum-exterior-©-National-Museums-Liv

Merseyside Maritime Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool

And I timed my trip to take in their annual commemoration of the anniversary of the sinking, at 2:10 pm on 7 May, 1915.

The ceremony is held each year near the propeller from the ship, still visibly damaged, which the Maritime Museum has installed nearby.

Lusitania propeller vertical

The Lusitania propeller in Liverpool

Ellie Moffat, the curator of the permanent Lusitania exhibit at the museum, read an excerpt from a letter written by a survivor, Winifred Hull, to her husband, describing in painful detail the moment the ship was hit and her lack of hope that she could survive.

Geoff Pawling, Mrs. Hull’s grandson, then read out other details from her letter, about how helpful the people of Queenstown, Ireland, were, and how horrible to see so many—1,193 men, women and children—corpses piled up.

Very moving.

Hugh Lane was more to Lady Gregory than a nephew. During his childhood he lived in Dorset, but spent many of his summers at her home Coole Park in the west of Ireland. She got him his first job as an art restorer, and he went on to become one of Ireland’s foremost art collectors. His promise of an art gallery for Dublin to house his collection is one of the reasons he earned a knighthood from the British government in 1909.  Remember—Ireland was still part of the UK then.

Any of you who have been to Dublin have seen the ubiquitous signs, ‘Hugh Lane Gallery,’ pointing to the imposing building just north of Parnell Square.

dublin_street_2 w hugh lane sign

A Dublin street

In early 1915, both Augusta and Hugh were in the States, hitting up rich Irish-Americans for money for the gallery. They were hosted in New York City by one of their targets, John Quinn. See how I got him in there?!

Quinn had warned both of them to not return to Ireland on a British ship like the Lusitania, fearing that it would indeed be torpedoed. When I read of his foresight, I was very impressed.

But my further research revealed that the German embassy had taken an ad in New York newspapers warning people to not sail on a British ship through what they considered to be a war zone.

German embassy and Lusitania ad

German embassy ad next to Cunard ad for Lusitania

Lady Gregory, thankfully, listened to Quinn and went home in early April on the USMS St. Paul, a safer American ship.

Hugh Lane boarded the Lusitania in New York on 1st May, 1915, along with Pat’s great uncle Edmund, and 1,958 other passengers; Hugh in first class, Edmund in third.

Hugh also brought with him some of the paintings he’d bought—Rembrandts, Rubens, Titians and Monets—secure in lead cylinders. Divers to the wreckage in 1994 saw cylinders in the hold. Are the paintings worth digging up? In that same year, the Irish government issued an Heritage Protection Order for the site, so there’s little chance we’ll ever find out.

Unfortunately, Hugh Lane’s legacy was one of the longest battles in Irish and British legal history.

Pissed off that the Dublin government hadn’t given him a decent building for his collection, Hugh left his paintings to the National Gallery in London in his will.

Before boarding the Lusitania he had a change of heart and wrote a codicil leaving them to Dublin. But no one witnessed it.

There began the saga, a full employment program for Irish and British lawyers—and a full-time job for Lady Gregory, who died in 1932—that dragged on for 44 years until 1959 when both sides agreed to share the paintings. Doh.

Les parapluies Renoir

Les parapluies by Auguste Renoir, in the Dublin Municipal Gallery, for now

Today, you can see most of the paintings in the Dublin Municipal Gallery, the Hugh Lane [just follow the signs], although some are exchanged every few months for ones that the National Gallery still hold. Like most relationships, it’s complicated, but it works.

If you want to know more about Hugh, and Pat’s uncle Edmond, here is a link to a video of the whole presentation at the Birmingham Irish Centre. The good part starts about 1:50.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

To read about American writers, Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

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‘Such Friends’: John Quinn in 1904

New York City, October 1904

Ohio-born John Quinn, 34, a junior partner in a major law firm, has recently moved out of a comfortable boarding house to his own lodgings on West 87th Street.

His apartment is already cluttered with hundreds of his books and paintings he has begun collecting. He is doing well enough in the law practice to employ a valet.

But what Quinn is most excited about is his upcoming three-week vacation to Europe.

Two years ago, he made his first trip to Ireland, to connect with his Irish roots. Quinn quickly was accepted in to a circle of friends including the poet William Butler Yeats, now 39; the playwright Lady Augusta Gregory, 52; the novelist George Moore, also 52; the poet and painter, ‘AE’ [George Russell], 37; the playwright John Millington Synge, 33; and the founder of the Gaelic League, Douglas Hyde, 44. He’s been helping them with the legalities of their American tours, the American copyright of their works, and the Irish theatre company they are establishing.

On this trip, Quinn plans just a short stop in France, some time in England on the way to Ireland and on the way back, and almost two full weeks in Dublin. This will be the third year in a row that he has visited Ireland, and he hopes to continue to make it an annual occasion.

Over at the New York Evening Mail, on Broadway and Fulton Streets, a new columnist from Chicago is settling in. Franklin Pierce Adams, 23, always writing as FPA, has transferred his new wife and his column about a little bit of everything, now called ‘Always in Good Humour,’ to midtown Manhattan.

mail_and_express_building_01

Mail and Express Building, New York City

Up on West 44th Street, the two-year-old Algonquin Hotel has bought the carriage stables next door to expand its residential services. However, the real revenue is from short term guests.

 

Paris, October 1904

John Quinn is disappointed that he can’t spend more time in France. This morning he managed to see the Chartres cathedral, but he is back in Paris just for the afternoon before leaving for Folkestone.

Two other Americans, siblings Leo, 32, and Gertrude Stein, 30, who moved to 27 rue de Fleurus on the Left Bank the year before, from the Bloomsbury area of London, are enjoying learning about and buying paintings from the dealer Ambroise Vollard, 38. He has managed to get a room full of works by Paul Cezanne, 65, into the second salon d’automne at the Grand Palais. Leo is studying art at Academie Julian, and Gertrude has joined him on his buying trips to Vollard’s gallery on rue Lafitte. They find Cezanne particularly intriguing, but Gertrude is more focused on the writing she is doing late at night.

27-rue-de-fleurus

27 rue de Fleurus, Left Bank, Paris

Across town in Montmartre, Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, 23, is settling in to his new studio and his new life with Fernande Olivier, also 23. After several visits, he has decided to make Paris his home, and his dealer Vollard is finding new buyers for his work.

 

London, October 1904

Arriving late Sunday night, John Quinn checks in to the Carlton Hotel, at the corner of the Haymarket and Pall Mall. He spends the whole day Monday visiting bookstores with a stop at the Leicester Galleries in Leicester Square.

carlton-hotel-1905

Carlton Hotel, London

Up in the Bohemian Bloomsbury section of London, the move is on. Painter Vanessa Stephen, 25, has shipped her nervous sister Virginia, 22, off to their aunt’s while she moves her and their brothers into a three-story walk up in Gordon Square. Their widowed father, editor of The Dictionary of National Biography, Leslie Stephen, 72, died in February. Vanessa feels liberated.

Her aunts and uncles are scandalized that these young people would live on their own in such a neighbourhood.

Vanessa doesn’t care. This past spring, on their way back from Italy, she and Virginia had visited Paris with friends. They smoked cigarettes and talked about art into the wee hours at the Café de Versailles. That’s what they are going to do now in London, in their own home.

 

Dublin, October 1904

After a miserable train trip across England to the port of Holyhead—he had paid for first class, but was put in a bunk bed—John Quinn is thrilled to be back in Ireland. He checks in to the Shelbourne Hotel in St. Stephen’s Green at 6:30 Tuesday morning, and finds a welcoming telegram from AE already waiting for him.

shelbourne-and-lake

Shelbourne hotel and the Stephen’s Green lake, Dublin

After a much-needed two-hour nap, Quinn is visited by his friend Yeats, and they walk over to the nearby studio of painter John Butler Yeats, 65, the poet’s father. Following a leisurely lunch at the Empire Restaurant, the men are joined by Lady Gregory who has brought fresh food from her western Ireland home, Coole Park, on the train with her. Augusta surprises Quinn by announcing that he is going to be the special guest at a reception with the actors of their young theatre company that evening, in gratitude for his generous donations in the past two years.

The Irish National Theatre Society, with its co-directors Yeats, Gregory and Synge, is becoming more stable. Having premiered Synge’s emotional one-act play, Riders to the Sea, this spring, they are getting ready to move in to their own building on Abbey Street. They should be able to start performing there by Christmas.

In addition to starting a national theatre, Lady Gregory has helped other Irish writers and artists as well. Earlier this year, she sent some money to a young writer AE had recommended, James Joyce, 22, so he could take off for Switzerland with his new love, Nora Barnacle, 20, where he had been offered a job teaching English. Lady Gregory wished him well.

For the next two weeks, Quinn’s holiday in Dublin falls in to a pleasing pattern. Breakfast with Willie and a visit to his father’s studio in the morning, lunches with fascinating writers and artists each afternoon, dinner and late night conversation about theatre with Yeats and Lady Gregory, usually at her rooms in the Nassau Hotel. What a life! This is how he would prefer to spend all his days.

 

London, November 1904

W B Yeats has come with John Quinn to London for his last week of vacation. Visiting Yeats’ rooms in the Woburn Buildings in Bloomsbury, Willie introduces Quinn into British culture, and the American appreciates the writers and painters he meets.

wobrun-buildings

Yeats’ rooms in the Woburn Buildings, Bloomsbury, London

Nearby in Gordon Square, the doctor says Virginia is well enough to visit her brothers and sister in their new home for ten days. Before she goes back to their aunt’s, they have dinner with one of their brother’s Cambridge University friends, Leonard Woolf, 23, who is back home on leave from his government job in Ceylon.

Yeats has one last breakfast with Quinn in the Carlton hotel, and then drives him to Waterloo station to see him off on the boat train to Southampton for the trip home to New York City aboard the St. Paul.

 

New York City, November 1904

While John Quinn was away, the New York City subway, under construction for the past four years, has finally opened. Theodore Roosevelt, just turned 46, has been elected to a full term as President, having first taken office three years ago when the sitting President William McKinley, aged 58, had been assassinated. With Roosevelt assured in office for four more years, there is a ‘progressive’ feel in the air.

Roger Fry, 37, editor of England’s Burlington magazine, and recently turned down for the post of Professor of Art at the Slade School, has made a special trip to the States to raise money for his magazine. Friends introduce him to J P Morgan, 67, of the board of trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 5th Avenue at 87th Street, an inveterate collector of art, books, clocks and various objets d’art. Morgan is more impressed with Fry than the Slade School was.

metrop-museum-of-art

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Back home, Quinn misses the cultural life of Europe that he has enjoyed for the past three weeks. Now he is back to the old grind of his law practice. His main client, the National Bank of Commerce, has supreme confidence in his abilities. He is working with and meeting important people. There is work to do.

But his heart is with his friends in Ireland…

johnquinn

John Quinn (1870-1924)

This year I’ll be piecing together my planned biography of John Quinn. Read more about him on the link to your right: ‘I want to tell you about an amazing man.’

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap.

 

 

 

 

In Dublin, in the summer of 1904…

Lady Augusta Gregory, 52, is critically watching the rehearsal of A Pot of Broth, a little comedy she wrote a few years ago with William Butler Yeats, 39, for their theatre.

The actors are doing well. But Yeats is driving them nuts. As one of the theatre’s staff related later,

Lady Gregory was the very opposite to…Yeats in sitting quietly and giving direction in quiet, almost apologetic tones”

Augusta is thinking that, after the rehearsal, she’ll invite everyone over to her room at the nearby Nassau Hotel to re-hash the performances and make suggestions.

Earlier this evening she’d had dinner with Yeats and John Quinn, 34, the handsome Irish-American lawyer from New York. He’s been coming over to Ireland in the summers to uncover his Irish roots, and spending more time with her here in Dublin and at her western Ireland home, Coole Park. Quinn has been talking to one of the other theatre principals, Douglas Hyde, 44, about arranging an American lecture tour to raise funds for Hyde’s Gaelic League..

But tomorrow, Quinn will be off to London and Augusta will head back to Coole. She’s thinking it would be great to bring the theatre over to New York for a tour sometime soon.

Lady Augusta Gregory, c. 1904

Lady Augusta Gregory, c. 1904

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

In Craughwell, County Galway, August 31, 1902…

…everyone is enjoying the Raftery feis.

Poet William Butler Yeats, 37, is there with his father and brother, both painters, to support his friend Lady Augusta Gregory, 50, who has been planning this event for the past two years.

Yeats in 1903

Yeats in 1903

In her research into Irish folklore, Augusta had discovered Raftery, the legendary 18th century blind Gaelic poet. Upset to learn that his grave here in Craughwell was unmarked, she organized a ceremony a few years ago to set up a stone cross. Now that she’s bought a real headstone, a whole festival is being held to celebrate it.

There’s quite a crowd. Have they come to honor Raftery or for the singing, dancing, flute playing and prizes? Yeats has come so as not to disappoint Augusta.

Ever the hostess, Lady Gregory is inviting some of the festival goers over to hers, nearby Coole Park, for some play-reading. Mostly those involved in their Irish theatre project, such as Yeats and Gaelic League president Douglas Hyde, 42. And an American tourist she’s been chatting up, lawyer John Quinn, 32, who is on his first trip to Ireland, searching for his roots.

Raftery's grave

Raftery’s grave

Ninety years later, in August of 1992, I visited Ireland and went to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in Dublin for Irish music and dancing. Met my husband, Tony Dixon. To all Irish-Americans seeking your roots in Ireland, beware…

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

In the west of Ireland, outside Gort, Summer, 1897…

…poet William Butler Yeats, just turned 32, traveling with a friend, visits a mutual acquaintance, amateur playwright Edward Martyn, 38, at the Martyn family home, Tullira.

Tullira today, in private hands

Tullira today, in private hands

Lady Augusta Gregory, 45, a friend of Edward who lives a few miles away, stops by.

Willie and Augusta [OMG! That’s our cats!] have met before in her London apartment where, as wife of an MP, she held salons for the Irish Protestants living there. But this is the first time the two have had a chance to get to know each other.

To continue the conversation, Augusta invites Willie and Edward over to hers, the nearby Coole Park, family home of her late husband, MP Sir William Gregory.

Coole House, which is no longer standing, located in Coole Park which is open to the public.

Coole House, which is no longer standing, located in Coole Park which is open to the public.

As Lady Gregory writes later:

Though I had never been at all interested in theatres, our talk turned on plays…I said it was a pity we had no Irish theatre where such plays [as Martyn’s] could be given. Mr. Yeats said that it had always been a dream of his, but he had of late thought it an impossible one, for it could not at first pay its way, and there was no money to be found for such a thing in Ireland …We went on talking about it, and things seemed to grow possible as we talked, and before the end of the afternoon we had made our plan.”

As Yeats marches around the drawing room dictating, Lady Gregory types, and they draft letters to send to her wealthy and influential friends, asking for money to start their theatre.

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

In Tiffin, Ohio, 145 years ago, on April 24, 1870…

…John Quinn was born, the first son of two Irish immigrants. He grew up in middle-class Fostoria, Ohio, and went to the University of Michigan. While working full-time in a government job in Washington, DC, he went to Georgetown University law school at night. After receiving his law degree, he earned an advanced degree in international relations from Harvard. Not bad for the son of a shanty-Irish baker.

Quinn then moved to New York City, which was to be his home for the rest of his life, so he was there when the Algonquin Round Table wits were in the newspapers every day. He predictably landed a job with a major New York law firm and worked on high profile corporate cases. During a two-year period there were quite a few deaths in his family—parents, sisters, etc.—and he began to explore his Irish roots by going back to ‘the old sod.’ While attending a Gaelic language festival in the west of Ireland, he met Lady Augusta Gregory and other friends of W B Yeats involved in the Irish Literary Renaissance. While helping them found the Abbey Theatre, he started his own law firm in 1906.

John Quinn, 1870-1924

John Quinn, 1870-1924

Quinn became involved in New York’s Tammany Hall politics, but when his candidate didn’t get the nomination at the 1912 Democratic Party convention, he became disgusted with the whole system (go figure). After that he turned his considerable energies to art and literature.

During the first two decades of the 20th century he managed to:

  • Help organize the Armory Show, securing paintings from Roger Fry’s Second Post-Impressionist Exhibit in London, and Leo and Gertrude Stein’s collection at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris,
  • Fight Congress to have the tariff on contemporary art changed,
  • Bail out the Abbey Theatre after they were arrested for performing The Playboy of the Western World in Philadelphia,
  • Have an affair with Lady Gregory and a number of other much younger women,
  • Support Yeats’ father in New York City by buying his paintings,
  • Argue the original case to have excerpts of Ulysses published in the United States,
  • Support James Joyce in Paris by buying his manuscripts of Ulysses as he wrote them,
  • Fund the transatlantic review where Ernest Hemingway worked when he first came to Paris, and
  • Amass an incredible collection of modern art, stashed around his Manhattan apartment, focused primarily on European painters and sculptors.

During that time he kept up a detailed correspondence with all of the above as well as Ezra Pound, Joseph Conrad, Augustus John and other cultural luminaries of the early 20th century. When I did my research, Quinn kept popping up, Zelig-like, in photos such as this one:

James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, and John Quinn in Paris

James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, and John Quinn in Paris

Quite a guy. I get tired just thinking about all he accomplished.

Quinn died of intestinal cancer at the age of 54, and, having no heirs, willed that his art collection be sold off and dispersed among museums and collectors around the world. And it was.

This summer I’m planning to visit the States—including Ohio, where he grew up, and New York City, where his papers are. And [you read it here first], on this date, five years from now, 2020, his 150th birthday, I plan to publish an autobiography of this amazing man.

So happy birthday, John Quinn!