George Moore and Edward Martyn unsung heros of the Abbey

Posted: August 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

The Irish National Theatre was created in 1904 as a successor to the Irish Literary Theatre. The Abbey Theatre is their venue. The National Theatre was founded by William Butler Yeats and Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory with help from Edward Martyn, George Moore,  and the Fay brothers. Lady Augusta Gregory and W.B. Yeats saw the creation from birth to success, Edward Martyn helped with the Irish Literary Theatre but did not continue with the pair when they moved on to the National Theatre project, and the Fay brothers left before the real success of the theatre.

The Inception of the Irish National Theatre

During the late nineteenth century various political groups began questioning and even opposing the British rule, challenging all Irish citizens to decide what they stood for—the monarchy or Ireland. As more Irish citizens, primarily located in the southern regions, became more aware of the negative influence the English were having on their homeland a resistance commenced. In realizing that all the forms of art were wholly British, “…the most unpopular [being] music hall frolics which, as a reviewer complained to the United Irishman, ‘sought to make women unthinking dolls’ instead of ‘intelligent comrades’” (Ward 55) people began questioning their options. W.B. Yeats, one of Ireland’s greatest writers, had always dreamt of “…establishing an Irish theatre which would both form a new identity for Irish people and provide the impetus for a new generation of Irish writers” (Ward 55). Though Michael West takes some liberties it can be argued that the character Willy Hayes is not only based on W.G. Fay but also loosely based on W.B. Yeats, portraying an artist who truly believes in his vision and desperately wants to start a national theatre despite all the set backs he encounters. His love for Eva St. John, based on the Daughters of Erin’s founder Maud Gonne, is also an ode to Yeats who was genuinely in love with Gonne though his love was unrequited. Nevertheless, after watching a performance of The Red Hugh which was put on by the Daughters of Erin Yeats said “…his head [was] on fire, wanting to hear his own plays spoken with a Dublin Accent” (Ward 56). Spurring Yeats to write Kathleen ni Houlihan which was staged during 1902 in St. Theresa’s Hall by the Irish National Theatre Company (Ward 56). The show was a hit, packing the theatre each night with spectators from all ranges of class as well as locations. “The impetus provided by the Inghinidhe na hEireann led to the creation of a professional theatre group, out of which came the Abbey Theatre” (Ward 57). Though the Abbey Theatre could not have been acquired without the aid of Annie Horniman or Lady Gregory it is impossible to exclude the influence that Gonne and the Daughters of Erin had on the creation of Irish theatre, having some even make careers out of acting. The Abbey theatre as well as the Irish National Theatre Company greatly shaped Irish theatre changing the way citizen’s viewed and connected with art, while creating a sense of nationalistic pride by finally producing plays for the Irish by the Irish.
-Shana Pereira

Credit to

George Moore (1852-1933)

George Augustus Moore (1852-1933) was born at Moore Hall, County Mayo, the eldest son of a Nationalist MP, landowner and racehorse trainer. His education was hampered by poor health and a disinclination to study, and he was eventually expelled for “idleness and general worthlessness”. His love of literature was inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott and early exposure to Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret. His father’s death when he was eighteen gave him sufficient funds to enjoy a bohemian life in Paris, and he immersed himself in the new aesthetic doctrines of Impressionism and Naturalism.

After failing as an artist, Moore returned to England and turned his hand to literature. His first novel, A Modern Lover (1885), owed a clear debt to Zola and established Moore as an exciting new voice. Unfortunately, it was so exciting that the novel was actually banned by the all-powerful circulating libraries. Its successor, A Mummer’s Wife (1885), caused further controversy with its frank portrayal of a woman’s sexuality, and was also banned. This marked the beginning of a war of attrition with the libraries: Moore lambasted them in his pamphlet Literature at Nurse for stocking popular romantic fiction whilst ignoring serious fiction. A Drama in Muslin (1886) and A Mere Accident (1887) also proved popular with the reading public, but not with Mrs Grundy. Moore is perhaps best known for Esther Waters (1894), a moving story of a single mother whose love for her child helps her triumph over adversity.

At the turn of the century Moore moved back to Ireland, partly in protest against the Boer War. He worked with W B Yeats and Lady Gregory in the Irish Literary Revival and in founding the Abbey Theatre. Moore made a concerted effort to define himself as an Irish writer, revising some of his earlier fiction. However, he returned to London in 1911 after relations with his compatriots became strained. During the remaining 23 years of his life he became recognised as a Grand Old Man of Literature, although still retained his power to shock, especially with The Brook Kerith (1916), a novelisation of the Gospels.

Moore never married, but he had a long-standing affair with John Oliver Hobbes (Mrs Craigie), who he met when she was going through a divorce. He was also rumoured to be the father of the publisher and art patron Nancy Cunard, having been romantically linked with her mother, Lady Maud Cunard.

Moore died in London in 1933 after contracting uraeria. He left a fortune of £80,000, and his ashes were interred in the view of the ruins of his ancestral home, Moore Hall, destroyed during the Irish Civil War.

George Moore’s short story Albert Nobbs has recently been made into a major film, starring Glenn Close (2011)


Edward Martyn, (born Jan. 30, 1859, Tulira, County Galway, Ire.—died Dec. 5, 1923, Tulira), Irish dramatist who with William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory formed the Irish Literary Theatre (1899), which was part of the nationalist revival of interest in Ireland’s Gaelic literary history.

Martyn’s admiration of the craftsmanship and intellectualism of Ibsen caused him to emulate continental drama and to advocate its production.

During its three-year existence, the Irish Literary Theatre presented plays by Yeats, George Moore, and Martyn (The Heather Field and Maeve; both 1899), among others, in order to develop a Celtic and Irish school of dramatic literature. After the theatre closed, Martyn broke with the mainstream of Irish Revivalism, which led to the Abbey Theatre, because of personal conflicts and his dislike of “peasant plays” and “Celtic twilight romanticism.” In 1914 Martyn helped found the Irish Theatre in Dublin to produce “nonpeasant” plays, Irish-language plays, and great continental dramas. The aims of both theatres were successfully realized in the Gate Theatre (established 1928).

In addition to his dramatic writing and related activities, Martyn was an ardent Catholic and nationalist. He established the Palestrina Choir in Dublin, was president of Sinn Fein from 1904 to 1908, and promoted various educational movements.

  • Martyn used his great wealth to benefit Irish culture. His activities and sponsorships included:

    funding and direction of St. Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea

  • co-founder and endowing of the Feis Ceoil
  • president of Na hAisteoirí, the Irish-language drama group
  • sponsored and guided An Túr Gloine, Ireland’s first stained-glass workshop

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