Irish poet William Butler Yeats, 57, is having dinner with his doctor—and friend—fellow writer and fellow appointed Senator in the new Irish Free State, Oliver St. John Gogarty, 44.
107 Piccadilly, London
Gogarty is re-telling the story of his recent kidnapping in Dublin by anti-government Republicans who had publicly stated they were going to be targeting Senators.
The good doctor was sitting in the bath in his Chapelizod home when the armed gunmen broke in and led him outside at gunpoint. As they forced him into a car, one pushed a revolver into his back and said,
Isn’t it a good thing to die in a flash, Senator?”
Not wanting to die in any way, Gogarty told them that he urgently needed to relieve his bowels and scampered into the woods. And then jumped into the freezing cold River Liffey and swam away.
As he crawled ashore and headed to the police barracks in the Phoenix Park, Gogarty vowed that he would donate two swans to the Liffey in gratitude.
And he vowed he would move his medical practice and his family to London.
Oliver St. John Gogarty
This month, the same rebels burned to the ground Renvyle, Gogarty’s house in Connemara in the west of Ireland. And even a patriot like Senator Horace Plunkett, 68, is not safe—his house Kilteragh, in Foxrock, County Dublin, was reduced to ruins also.
Firemen hosing what’s left of Kilteragh
Yeats has been following the turmoil back home from the comfort of his club here. The London Times’ headline a few weeks ago read,
Irish Rebel Outrages. Many Houses Burned. Kidnapped Senator.”
The anti-Treaty forces also burned Moore Hall, the family home of Yeats’ former friend, playwright and novelist George Moore, about to turn 71. They were enacting revenge on George’s brother, a former British army officer and current Free State Senator, not knowing the house belongs to George the writer, not his more political brother.
George Moore’s letter to the editor in The Morning Post
Yeats and Moore were among those who founded the Abbey Theatre at the beginning of the century. Despite the ongoing Civil War, the Abbey keeps performing in the heart of Dublin. They are staging Cathleen ni Houlihan, by Yeats and co-founder Lady Augusta Gregory, 70, featuring the new actor Barry Fitzgerald, 34, on a double bill with The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet by Yeats’ fellow Dub, George Bernard Shaw, 66.
Yeats is enjoying his new role as a Senator, representing a small independent political party, and serving on committees dealing with issues related to arts and culture. Leinster House is a short walk from the Yeats home in Merrion Square.
He’s given two speeches so far but feels that he can serve his country better from here in London, putting pressure on old friends like Winston Churchill, 48, former Secretary of State for the Colonies, to ease up on some of the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty that was negotiated last year. Also, he finds it easier to write here.
Gogarty is urging Willie to get his family out of harm’s way in Ireland and bring them to England. The shock of the fighting in Dublin could affect his young daughter’s kidneys.
Yeats has been thinking about re-locating his wife and two children to Holyhead, Wales, where he could conveniently commute to Dublin via the ferry. His mother-in-law wants them to move closer to her in Cheshire, England.
But Yeats’ wife Georgie, 30, says no. She thinks this ridiculous war is going to be over soon. The government has already offered amnesty to those fighting, which will cool things down a bit.
Willie has just received a heartfelt letter from her, shaming him for appearing to abandon his needy country at this time. Their daughter Anne, about to turn 4, has recently recovered from scarlet fever and is doing much better now. (Yeats admits that whenever one of the kids gets sick, he moves out of the house to his Kildare Street club. To make things easier for Georgie, of course.)
Her letter convinces him. Willie responds immediately, thanking her for putting pressure on him. There will be no more talk of abandoning Ireland. He’ll come home.
Yeats family home in Merrion Square
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available at Thoor Ballylee in County Galway, and as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA. They are also on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Later this month I will be talking about the literary 1920s in Paris and New York City in the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.