“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, February 26, 1921, Dublin

Irish poet, playwright and Abbey Theatre co-founder William Butler Yeats, 55, is hoping that this production will bring in additional audience members who are moved by stories of the heroes of the ongoing Irish rebellion against British rule.

The Revolutionist is the most overtly political play that Yeats and his co-founder and theatre director, Lady Augusta Gregory, 68, have put on at the Abbey. Its author, former Lord Mayor of Cork, the late Terence MacSwiney, is considered a martyr for Ireland since his death last October, after 74 days of hunger strike in the British Brixton Prison.

The Cork Dramatic Society with founder Terence MacSwiney, front row center

Yeats is sure that his countrymen will recognize MacSwiney in the character of the play’s hero.

The Abbey premiered The Revolutionist just two days ago, and today is the first Saturday matinee. It’s been a success and is repeating next weekend.

One of the actors, Barry Fitzgerald, 32, has been a big hit at the Abbey the past few years, while continuing to work full-time as a Dublin civil servant.

Yeats thinks that the play is pretty light on plot and structure, but is very poetic. He is thinking of repeating The Revolutionist in the fall, following it up with a new version of his own The King’s Threshold, which deals with a hunger strike.

Across the River Liffey, in St. Stephen’s Green, revolutionary Maud Gonne, 54, Yeats’ former lover, is writing to their mutual New York friend, attorney and supporter of the arts John Quinn, 50:

Maud Gonne

My dear Friend

…Here we are having a very strenuous and trying time, but the heroism and courage of everyone makes one proud of being Irish. The English may batter us to pieces but they will never succeed in breaking our spirit…Iseult (Mrs. Stuart) [Gonne’s daughter, 26]…is staying with me. Her baby will be born next month. Luckily her nerves are pretty good, for Dublin is a terrible place just now. Hardly a night passes that one is not woke up by the sound of firing. Often there are people killed, but often it is only the crown forces firing to keep up their courage. One night last week there was such a terrible fusillade just outside our house, that we all got up thinking something terrible was happening. That morning, when curfew regulations permitted us to go out, we only found the bodies of a cat and dog riddled with bullets.”

Gonne also asks Quinn if he can find an agent for her, as she would like to have her political articles printed in American publications. She needs the money.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the book, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volume I—1920 is available on Amazon in print or e-book format. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

This summer I will be talking about the Literary 1920s in Dublin, London, Paris and New York in the Osher Lifelong Learning programs at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

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 in both print and e-book versions.