Standish James O’Grady: Commentary


W. B. Yeats
George Russell
W. P. Ryan
Dominic Daly
Frank Fay
Ernest Boyd
A. P. Graves
T. W. Rolleston
Louis MacNeice
Harry Levin
Hugh Kenner
Richard Kain
A. N. Jeffares
W. J. McCormack
James Cahalan
Richard Fallis
Cairns & Richards
J. W. Foster
R. F. Foster
Seamus Deane
Jerry C. M. Nolan
Katy Plowright

W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (1955), ‘A Unionist in Politics, a leader-writer on the Daily Express, the most Conservative paper in Ireland, hater of every form of democracy, he had given all his heart to the smaller Irish landowners, to whom he belonged, and with whom his childhood had been spent, and for them he wrote his books, and would soon rage over their failings in certain famous passages that many men would reapeat to themselves like poets’ rhymes. All round us people talked or wrote for victory’s sake, and were hated for their victories - but here was a man whose rage was a swan-song over than that he had held most dear, and to whom every Irish imaginative writer owed a portion of his soul. In [220] his unfinished History of Ireland he had made the old Irish heroes, Finn, and Oisin, and Cuchulain, alive again, taking them, for I think he knew no Gaelic, from the dry pages of O’Curry and his school, and condensing and arranging, as he thought Homer would have arranged and condensed. Lady Gregory has told the same tales […] with greater powers of arrangement and a more original style, but O’Grady was the first, and we had read him in our teens. I think that, had I succeeded, a popular audience could have changed him little, and that his genius would have stayed as it had been shaped by his youth in some provincial society, and that to the end he would have shown his best in occasional thrusts and parries. But I do thing that if, instead of that one admirable little book, The Bog of Stars, we had got all his histories and imaginative works into the hands of our young men, he might have brought the imagination of Ireland nearer to the Image and the honeycomb.’ ( pp.220-21.)

W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (Macmillan 1955). - recounting events of 1899: ‘[[...] Horace Plunkett told Gill to give a public dinner to Edward Martyn and myself. I do not remember who took the chair, or the names of more than [421] half a dozen of the guests. Moore has described it in Ave, but our memories differ. I doubt even his first sentence [...].’ [Here tells of William O'Brien and J. F. Taylor.] ‘Towards the end of the evening, when everybody was more or less drunk, O’Grady spoke. He was very drunk, but neither his voice nor his manner showed it. I had never heard him speak, and at first he reminded me of Cardinal Manning. There was the same simplicity, the same gentleness. He stood between two tables, touching one or the other for support, and said in a low, penetrating voice: “We have now a literary movement, it is not very important; it will be followed by a political movement, that will not be very important; then must come a military movement, that will be important indeed.” [Quoted in Grattan Freyer, Yeats and the Anti-Democratic Tradition, Macmillan 1981, p.26.] Tyrrell, Professor of Greek in Trinity College, known to the scholars for his share in the Tyrrell-Purser edition of Cicero’s Letters, a Unionist, but very drunk, led the applause. Then O’Grady described the Boy Scout Act, which had just passed, urged the landlords of Ireland to avail themselves of the Act and drill the sons of their tenants - “paying but little attention to the age limit” - then, pointing where he supposed England to be, they must bid them “march to the conquest of that decadent nation”. I knew what was in his mind. England was decadent because, democratic and so without fixed principles, it had used Irish landlords, his own ancestors or living relations, as its garrison, and later left them deserted among their enemies. Tyrrell, understanding nothing but the sweetness of that voice, the nobility of that gesture, continued to lead the applause. Moore for all his toil had never style. Taylor had it in flights of oratorical frenzy, but drunk or sober, idle or toiling, this man had it; their torch smoked, their wine had dregs, his element burned or ran pure [... &c.].’ (pp.423-24 [& 425].)

See also Yeats’s letter to O’Grady, ‘Ireland and her destinies hang about you, literally so. Either you will refashion her, moulding her anew after some human or heroic pattern, or we plunge downwards into roaring revolutionary anarchies where no road or path is any longer visible at all. And, dear friend, a word at parting - make haste.’ [Q. source], Note also that Yeats characterised his style in retelling the Irish myths as ‘romanticised Carlylean prose.’ (Dramatis Personae, Autobiographies; sect. 5).

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W. B. Yeats: ‘He could delight us with an extravagance we were too critical to share; a day will come, he said, when Slieve-na-mon will be more famous than Olympus; yet he was no Nationalist as we understood the word, but in rebellion, as he was fond of explaining, against the House of Commons, not against the King. […] Both O’Gradys considered themselves as representing the old Irish land-owning aristocracy; both probably, though that England, because decadent and democratic, had betrayed their order.’ (Essays and Introductions, p.512.) Further: ‘Standish O’Grady had much modern sentiment, his style, like that of John Mitchel forty year before, shaped by Carlyle.’ (ibid., p.513).

W. B. Yeats, “Beautiful lofty things”: ‘Standish O’Grady supporting himself between the tables / Speaking to a drunken audience high nonsensical words’ (Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1955 and edns., p.348.)

W. B. Yeats : Yeats remarked of O’Grady, in ‘Contemporary Prose Writers’, The Bookman (Aug 1895): ‘Multifarious knowledge of Gaelic legend and Gaelic history and a most Gaelic temperament put him in communication with the moods that have been over high purposes from the hour when, in the word put in the mouth of St Dionysius, “The Most High set the borders of the Nations according to the Angels of God”.’ [q.source].

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W. B. Yeats: Yeats contributed a list of the 30 best Irish books in letter to the Dublin Daily Telegraph (27 Feb. 1895), citing several titles by O’Grady - History of Ireland: Heroic Period, and The Coming of Cuchullin, Fin and His Companions, as well as The Bog of Stars (‘passionate and dramatic’) - with comments, The most memorable books in the section Folk Lore and Bardic Tales are Mr. O’Grady’s History of Ireland: Heroic Period, and his Coming of Cuchullin, and his Fin and his Companions. But as he, like the men who cast into their present shape the Icelandic Sagas, retells the old tales in his own way, he should be read together with The History of Early Gaelic Literature, and if possible with the Silva Gadelica [Standish Hayes O’Grady] . However, it will not be to these indispensable and learned books that the imagination will return again and again, but to his description in The Coming of Cuchullin of Cuchullin hunting the ironhorned enchanted deer in his battle fury, or to that chapter in the History where he stands dying against the pillar stone, the others drinking his blood at his feet; or to the account, in Fin and his Companions of the seven old men receiving Fin upon the mountain top and putting the seven pieces of the lark upon his platter, and saying one to another, when he weeps because of their poverty, ‘The young have sorrows that the old know nothing of.’

W. B. Yeats: ‘Mr. O’Grady’s Story of Ireland and his Red Hugh are the only purely artistic and unforensic Irish histories we have, but as they are limited, like every work of art, by the temperament of their writer, and show all events in a kind of blazing torchlight, they should be read with Dr. Joyce’s careful and impartial and colourless volumes.’ (Wade, Letters, pp,246-51; pp.249 and 250). The list was answered by D. F. Hannigan with an alternative list excluding O’Grady [see under Yeats, infra].

W. B. Yeats: quotes Standish James O’Grady’s remarks on the star that seemed to fall in sympathy at the funeral of Parnell in Glasnevin: ‘I state a fact - it was witnessed by thousands…. Only a coincidence possibly, and yet persona not superstitious have maintained that there was some mysterious sympathy between the human soul and the elements [… &c.] (Yeats, pref. notes to King of the Great Clock Tower; quoted in A. N. Jeffares, New Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1984, p.334.)

W. B. Yeats: quotes O’Grady’s statement of the ‘fact’ that ‘the sky was bright with strange lights and flames’ when Parnell’s body was brought home, in “Modern Ireland” (1932-33; rep. in Irish Renaissance, ed., Robin Skelton & David R. Clark, Dolmen, 1965, p.14; quoting O’Grady, ‘Parnell’s Personality’, in The Story of Ireland, 1894, ppp.210-12).

W. B. Yeats: Writing of his only Irish work that actually predates his initial meeting with John O’Leary, the tale, “Michael Clancy, the Great Dhoul, and Death”, Yeats told Standish O’Grady in a letter of 1898 that it was ‘a Connaught folk tale’ which he had come across at about the age of eighteen. (See Mary Helen Thuente, W. B. Yeats and Irish Folklore, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1980,p.5; cited in Ashleigh McDowell, UU Diss, UUC 2011.)

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George Russell: ‘In O’Grady’s writings, the submerged river of national culture rose up again, a shining torrent, and I realised, as I had bathed in that stream, that the greatest spiritual evil one nation could inflict upon another was to cut off from it the story of the national soul.’ (Quoted in Stephen Gwynn, Irish Literature and Drama, 1936, p. 124.)

George Russell, ‘Nationality and Imperialism’ [article-chap.], in Ideals in Ireland, ed., Lady Gregory (1901): ‘When I read O’Grady I was as such a man who suddenly feels ancient memories rushing at him, and knows he was born in a royal house, that he had mixed with the mighty of heaven and earth and had the very noblest of his companions. It was the memory of race which rose up within me as I read, and I felt exalted as one who learns he is among the children of kings.’ (In Ideals in Ireland, ed. Lady Gregory, p.15; quoted in Ulick O’Connor, Celtic Dawn: A Portrait of the Irish Literary Renaissance, London: Black Swan 1985, p.170; cited in Patrick MacBride, UG Diss., UUC 2011; also quoted in Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972, p.30.)

George Russell, letter to W. B. Yeats of [?]19 April 1902: ‘Arising out of the performance of Deirdre and Kathleen, O’Grady this week in A.I.R. tells us we may suceed in “degrading the ideals of Ireland in banishing the soul from the land” [All-Ireland Review, 19 April 1902, p.100]. I think while w cannot say anything where the more literary or dramatic merit of our work is questioned, that a charge like this should be met and answered. I have addressed a vigorous letter to A.I.R. [printed in United Irishman and, as “The Dramatic Treatment of Legend”, in Some Irish Essays (1906) and Imagination and Reveries (1915), pp.22-27] and if O’Grady does not publish it I will send it ot the Freeman, Irish Times and Independent with a letter accusing O’Grady of a mean slander on his Irish contempoeraries and of cowarding in refusing to insert [the] relplyu. He needs to be pulled up and I have done it with a vengeance. I tell him frankly he has forgotten all he ever knew about the Red Branch cycle. I have degraded Concobar forsooth by emphasising the only tale in which he appears in an evil light. Shade of Macha, what a fib! I also inform him that he has lost the power to distinguish between what is heroic in literature and what is not, on account of a quotation he makes from Cuchulain. He confuses the big and gigantic with the herois. I have claiemd for daram that no subject is too great for treatment. He says the Red Branch [cycle] is. I point out Prometheus, greater than Cuchulain. I tell him frankly he is not great [40] enough to issue fiats to other literary men and accuse them of decadence in a muddle of confused and contradictory sentences. If he publishes it and replies I hopoe we will have gorgeous row. Please look up A.I.R. this week. The letter “Ichabod” was written by a hysterical lady who accuses me of practising the Black Art on the audience when I chanted!!! She saw three waves of darkness rolling over the stange and audience and it made her ill. She does not mention this in her letter but has raved about it since. I feel filled with the pride of wickedness, almost a demon. Isn’t it a delightful audience we get in Dublin. If I write another play I’ll work in more magic. If you would like to join the fray you might take up O’G. on the point of keeping legends form the common people. He thinks the crowd should have nothing to do with legends. The aristocratic tendency of O’Grady’s mind lays him open to a crushing rejoinder. Why, it was the common people who preserved the stories and who made the reputation of the aristocracy. I think the crowd would not follow O’Grady in thinking the legendary literature should not be given to them. Kind regards to Lady Gregory. Yours sincerely, Geo. W. Russell.’

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W. P. Ryan, in The Irish Literary Revival (1894), ‘Standish O’Grady … The History of Ireland, The Heroic Period [1878], that fascinating and graphic work, the reading of which made a turning-point in the intellectual history of more than one leader in the present movement. That book alone, in a thinking and reading Ireland, should have made Mr O’Grady famous at once … his unrewarded labours went on in the fields of Irish romance and history. Red Hugh’s Captivity appeared in 1889, and, barring a preface with unfortunate passages, which Mr O’Grady sincerely regrets, and a little West-British bias and colour, is a volume to be cherished … gradually gave himself up more and more to his favourite pursuit, and to the kindred one of journalism, relinquishing the Bar … one volume of a History of Ireland, critical and philosophical … felicitous writing included afterwards The Bog of Stars, first published in special numbers of the Dublin Daily Express, with which paper he has long been connected … His Story of Ireland, issued at the beginning of the present year, caused some disagreeable, some just, and some pointless controversy. Mr O’Grady is more the romanticist than the historian. When he leaves the poetry of the heroic ages for modern periods, with the trail of political passions and class prejudices across them, he, a politician and a man of the classes, is not a sure-footed historian at all times. Even in The Bog of the Stars, he looked at things too often from the Pale standpoint. In the Story of Ireland he wrote much that is wholly unjustifiable./Mr O’Grady deserved some hard knocks for this Story, but it was not easy to look on with patience whenever the punishment was administered by people who were completely ignorant of his higher work, and who were adverse to giving him credit for anything. To understand him we must remember that he has been trained amidst associations both Protestant and anti-popular. (His father was rector of Castletown Berehaven, and he is connected with the family of Lord [138] Guillamore). He is a Daily Express leader-writer and has some English ideas that are alien, to say the least, to Celtic Ireland. He has other peculiar aversions and prejudices. But all these things should not be emphasised over-much. A member of the Society has compared him to a stately tree with some knots and twists, which, however, do not mar either its grace or its stateliness. […] His politics and peculiarities we cannot help; against much in his modern history young readers have to be set on their guard; but his real literature - masterly, graphic, and so strangely rare in our Irish world - a product to win and hold enthusiasm. His kinsman Standish Hayes O’Grady, though not identified with the movement, is a first figure now in the Irish literary world. His Silva Gadelica is one of the best additions made to our Gaelic legendary store since the days of O’Curry’ [138]. Note also that O’Grady gave one of the opening series of lectures to the Irish Literary Society, in the Leinster Hall, 1893 [129; see Daly, op. cit., supra].

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Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde (1974), [on Standish O’Grady’s article, appearing in Rolleston’s Dublin University Review in the August 1885, castigating landlord for failing to provide leadership, ‘The grand opportunity was theirs of harnessing, bitting and bridling this wild, tameless democracy - tameless but tameable, and in its heart desiring to be tamed - of controlling it, and by methods democratic inevitable as belonging to these centuries, but aristocratic too, leading forward this people to higher and ever higher stages.’] O’Grady’s description of democracy, ‘this waste, dark, howling mass of colliding interests, mad about the main chance - the pence-counting shopkeeper, the publican …’. [Cf. Yeat’s ‘greasy till’.] (p.58, and note.] Further, remarks on Standish James O’Grady, his Heroic History described by Vivian Mercier as ‘the fuse which exploded the long-awaited Literary Revival’ (Colby Library Quarterly, ser. IV, Nov. 1958); also George Moore, picture of O’Grady in Ave (London 1911, p.143); Yeats called him a man to whom ‘very imaginative Irish writer owed a portion of his soul.’ (Autobiographies, p. 20). Hyde visits Standish O’Grady, 24 March 1892, and has his palm read by his wife, who considers it the most extraordinary she has seen. [op. cit. 152]. Notes Standish O’Grady’s talk to the Irish Literary Society, 16 Feb. 1893. [161].

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Frank Fay, reviewing the Yeats/Moore Diarmuid and Grania (1901): ‘Mr Standish O’Grady, who repudiates the legend as an ‘utterly untrue chapter of pretended Irish history, written in the decadence of heroic and romantic Irish literature’ will certainly be [?remiss] if he abstains, as he has said he will, from going to see it’ (Robert Hogan, ed., Frank Fay, Towards a National Theatre: Dramatic Criticism, Dolmen 1970, pp.70-71.)

Ernest Boyd gives an account of the occasion ‘when he [O’Grady] made the interesting discovery that his country had a past’ on taking down Sylvester O’Halloran’s three-vol. History of Ireland in the bookshelves of a country house library. (Ireland’s Literary Renaissance, p.27, quoting an article by O’Grady printed in the literary supplement of an issue of The Irish Homestead, 1894; cited in Russell K. Alspach, Irish Poetry from the English Invasion to 1798, Philadelphia [1943] 1959, p.98.)

A. P. Graves calls him ‘true father of the [Irish Lit.] movement’ in To Return to All That (1930), p. 233, ‘his glowing hero tales called them behind him into the field of Celtic romance.’; note that The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed. Seamus Deane (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3: ascribes the remark to Yeats and AE].

T. W. Rolleston, in his address to the Press Club of 1896, calls Standish O’Grady’s History of Ireland ‘a perverse and unfortunate title’ but celebrates the works. See also, John Todhunter, infra.

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Louis MacNeice (The Poetry of W. B. Yeats, 1941), quotes Yeats, ‘really to know the imaginative periods of Irish history’ and remarks that Yeats was ‘introduced [the Irish legends] by Standish O’Grady’, and further: ‘Yeats, however, failed to do justice to ‘the imaginative periods of Irish history’ because he emasculated them, just as Tennyson had emasculated Lancelot and Gawaine … Yeats in old age himself … explains in a footnote [the phrase ‘great bladdered Emer’], ‘The Irish sagas have a hard matter-of-factness … A woman of divine origin was murdered by jealous rivals because she made the deepest hole in the snow with her urine.’ (In Boston Pilot; McNeice, op. cit., p.73.)

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Harry Levin, James Joyce: A Critical Introduction [1944] (London: Faber & Faber 1968 Rev. Edn.): ‘From Standish O’Grady’s apocryphal history of Ireland in the heroic period, we gather occasional glimmerings of Finnegans Wake: “But all around, in surging, tumultuous motion, come and go the gorgeous, unearthly beings that long ago emanated from bardic minds, a most weird and mocking world. Faces rush out of the darkness, and as swiftly retreat again. Heroes expand into giants, and dwindle to goblins, or fling aside the heroic form and gamble as buffooons; gorgeous palaces are blown asunder like a smoke-wreath; buried monarchs reappear …’ (p.131.)

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Hugh Kenner, Dublin's Joyce (London: Chatto & Windus 1955) [discussing parodies in the Cyclops episode of Ulysses including varieties of nationnalisti literaure; Ireland's idyllic past, the Ossianic hero, a journalist version of an Ossianic geste]: ‘The key to the presence of the latter kind of material is simply that the pseudoheroics of books like O'Grady's Cuchulain: An Epic were oriented towards the creation of a national consciousness, and as such were part of the art of politics…. By displaying the relationship of its techniques to those of journalism, Joyce delivers a critique of the entire neo-Celtic movement.’ (p.255.)

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Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972): ‘The romantic historian Standish James O’Grady, father of the revival, pointed out that “In the rest of Europe there is not a single barrow, dolmen, or cist of which the ancient history is recorded; in Ireland there is hardly one of which it is not.”’ (n. source; Kain, op. cit, p.30.)

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A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: A New Life (1988), for account of O’Grady’s influence on Yeats and O’Grady’s own inspiration: ‘[Yeats] later imputed his turning his back on foreign to the effect of reading O’Grady [and] deciding as a result that the race meant more than the individual, and in this spirit began writing … The Wanderings of Oisin, in 1886. O’Grady, like Douglas Hyde, the son of a Church of Ireland rector, had come across books on Irish history and literature in a country house library one wet day and, excited by what he found, wrote a History of Ireland (2 vols, 1878, 1880). This was a genteel but enthusiastic treatment of Irish mythological tales and the heroic deeds of the legendary hero Cuchulain and the Red Branch warrior. O’Grady followed this with a factual history of Ireland and then wrote various noveols dealing with adventures of Cuchulain and Finn as well as historical novels of the tudor peiod in Ireland. An effective journalist, a leader writer on the Dublin Daily Express before becoming proprietor of the Kilkenny Moderator, he founded the All Ireland Review [ed., 1900-1908]. Yeats called him a ‘Fenian Unionist’, and he was certainly a believer in Irish aristocracy – it’s last champion, according to George Russell – but with the proviso that it should be a working aristocracy…. In Toryism and The Tory Democracy (1886), with its proposed coalition of landlords and peasants, he may even have influenced Yeats’s later views.’ [&c].

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W. J. McCormack, From Burke to Beckett (Cork UP 1985; rep. 1994), Chp. 7, ‘Varieties of Celticism’, p.238 [sect. on O’Grady, 231-39], quotes O’Grady, ‘I think I was in my 24th year when something happened which then governed the general trend of my life, and through me that of others. In a country house in the west of Ireland, near the sea, I had to stay indoors one rainy day, and though my appetite for literature was slender enough then, in default of other amusements I spent the time in looking over the books in the library. So I chanced upon O’Halloran’s History of Ireland [sic], in three volumes - the first History of Ireland into which I had ever looked. He wrote, I think, in the second decade of this century, and before the rise of the Vallanc[e]y School.’ (Selected Essays and Passages, ed. Ernest Boyd, Talbot Press [n.d.], p.3; reprinted from a frag. biography called ‘A Wet Day’, The Irish Homestead, Christmas Number, 1899 [var. 1894] p.9]; McCormack notes bibl. V[ivian] H. S. Mercier, ‘Don Quixote as Scholar, The Sources of Standish James O’Grady’s History of Ireland, in Long Room, Vols. 22/23 (Spring/Autumn 1981), pp.19-24; continuing, ‘Returning to Dublin … I lighted on Curry’s Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish and his MSS. Materials of Irish History … I was introduced for the first time to the wonder-world of Irish heroic and romantic literature,. That was indeed a revelation.’ (Cited in J. C. M. Nolan, ‘Standish James O’Grady’s Cultural Nationalism’, Irish Studies Review, Dec. 1999, pp.349-50).

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James Cahalan, Great Hatred, Little Room, The Irish Historical Novel (Syracuse UP/Gill & Macmillan 1983), Yeats, looking for a progenitor in the late 1890s, claimed that O’Grady’s History of Ireland (1878) had ‘started us all’. George Russell (AE) wrote in a eulogy, ‘In O’Grady’s writings the submerged river of national culture rose up again, a shining torrent, and I realised as I bathed in that stream that the greatest spiritual evil one nation could inflict on another was to cut off from it the story of the national soul.’ (Quoted in Hugh [Art] O’Grady Standish James O’Grady, The Man and the Writer: A Memoir, Talbot 1929, pp.64-65.) Note that Cahalan draws upon O’Grady’s letters held the Boston College Special Irish Collection, being copies of originals in the Healy Collection at Colby College, Waterville, Maine [88]. George Moore remarks, in Hail & Farewell, ‘He is very little read, but we all admire him. He is our past’ [83]. Yeats wrote an enthusiastic appraisal of O’Grady in ‘Battles Long Ago’, for The Bookman (London Feb. 1895, p.153), ending with the assertion that O’Grady’s romantic scenes from the life of Cuchullin ‘belong in nothing to our labouring noontide, but wholly to the shadowy morning twilight of time.’

James Cahalan (Great Hatred, Little Room ... &c., 1983): ‘It was O’Grady’s habit to produce his books in tandem, a novel and a history; in the preface to Red Hugh’s Captivity, he makes the point that historians need imagination to enliven their narrative, while the superfluity of historical information immediately pours itself into the form of a narrative. His underlying preference for history as a form of writing was challenged in an incident reported by his son, Hugh Art O’Grady, as retaled by Philip Marcus, ‘Browsing one day in the library of the University Club he discovered the club’s copy of George Petrie’s seminal archaeological study of the round towers of Ireland was uncut; this experience, his son relates, ‘opened his eyes to the mistake he had made. The public were not attracted by a sober treatise. Fiction and romance were the intellectual delicacies…. Accordingly, he wrote the Celtic legends in the guise of a novel.’ (Marcus, Standish O’Grady, Lewisburg: Bucknell UP 1970, p.36) [97]. Note:The Flight of the Eagle (1897) is a thorough revision of Red Hugh’s Captivity with the footnotes removed to an appendix, the story stylistically enlivened, and a more optimistically heroic ending. [ibid., 97.]

James Cahalan (Great Hatred, Little Room... &c., 1983), points out that the text of Ulrick the Ready includes a slap at the scheme of land nationalisation proposed by Michael Davitt, ‘Government by chieftains had its good side too. Order was strongly preserved by a man whose power and wealth, nay, whose existence depended on the maintenance of order … The lord of the soil was resident, and rents were consumed on the spot. Whatever advantages may accrue from the ‘nationalization of the land’ accrued under the rule of the chieftain, for he was the State and owned the land, he as head and representative of the clan. The servile population had no share in the consumption of these rents, as they had no rights in the soil; but so far as the clan regnant was concerned, there was perfect land nationalization. (Ulrick the Ready, p.140; Cahalan, 1983, p.101]. Further: ‘At the end of the century, though Standish O’Grady was still pursuing the mirage of “an Irish Scott” the influence that proved fruitful through George Moore’s The Untilled Field was that of Turgenev.’ (See The Heyday of Sir Walter Scott, Routledge 1961, p.100) [113; check start page, supra].

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Richard Fallis, The Irish Renaissance: An Introduction to Anglo-Irish Literature (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1978): ‘O’Grady believed that Irish history and legend needed to be treated imaginatively [... and his] work provided a model for a way to deal with the Gaelic inheritance of heroic legend, the way of imaginative re-creation.’ (pp.62-63; quoted in Brendan T. Mitchell, MA Dip., UU 2009.)

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David Cairns & Shaun Richards, Writing Ireland, Colonialism, Nationalism and Culture (Manchester UP 1988), frankly acknowledged debt to Ferguson, [41]; ‘father’ of literary revival, compared with Stopford Brooke; Bardic History, Vol. I (1879), contemporary with Land League, [51]; cites E. A. Boyd, ‘there is no doubt that the author of the Bardic History owed his belief in the destiny of the Irish aristocracy to the contagious grandeur of the narratives of that ancient order which he had evoked with the intuitive sympathy of genius’ (Ireland’s Literary Revival 1916, n.p.); O’Grady acknowledged that the ‘blaze of bardic light’ had blinded him to the fact that ‘a literature so noble, and dealing with events so remote, must have originated mainly or altogether in the imagination [… yet] A noble moral tone pervades the whole. Courage, affection, and truth are native to all who live in this world.’ (1879, p.53, 43); ‘why not pass on at once to credible history? (1878, p.22.) Further quotes: ‘The legends represent the imagination of the country; they are that kind of history which a nation desires to possess…. They betray the ambition and ideals of the people, and, in this respect, have a value far beyond the tale of actual events and duly recorded deeds, which are no more history than a skeleton is a man’ (p.22; var. p.23); also compared to ‘the vulgarity of actual things’ (p.22); warriors ‘superhuman in size and beauty … torcs of gold … white linen tunics … loose brattas of crimson silk (p.21) [52; cont.]

Cairns & Richard, Writing Ireland, ... &c., 1988), cont.: takes issue with Froude - his ‘picture of the upright, God-fearing and civilised Englishman contending against a flood of barbarism, is doubly untrue’ (1896, xxx); [Far from being barbarous, the Irish soldiers of the Elizabethan armies] ‘drawn from a warrior caste, were … engaged in the work which they loved, indeed, the only work for which they were fitted’ (p.lvi). [53]. Further quotes: ‘The political and social horizon today in Ireland is, at least for one class, and for the friends and sympathisers of that class, overcast and gloomy in the extreme. Yet dark and story as the outlook is now, it will be yet darker and stormier (1882, p.3); [‘A Pioneer’ [chap.], in History of Ireland, The Heroic Period, Vol. 1: ] ‘An evil time, indeed, will it be for the Gaeil if the ollavs and their wisdom concur to plant among us such shrubs of deadly poison as thyself, O vile and avaricious stranger, without gratitude or nobleness or love for aught save thy miserable accumulation of sorry pelf’ (1882, p.249-50) [53]; also, ‘the wolf of democracy’ (1882, p.29.) [Cont.]

Cairns & Richard, Writing Ireland, ... &c., 1988), cont.: ‘Society is as a matter of fact based still on orders, classes, and degrees [and] the modern Irishman, in spite of all his political rhondomontade, does very deeply respect rank and birth’ (1886 pp.271-2); ‘the Irish nation once lay like soft wax ready to take any impression and conform to any moulding upon which you [the Ascendancy] determined’ (1886, p.226); ‘the Ascendancy … are the rightful natural leaders, defenders, and champions of this People who cannot furnish forth such from their own ranks’ (1897, p.173); ‘something is struggling to birth now, to-day in Ireland, whose gestation needed two thousand years of historic time. If this be not the birth of that mighty one foretold of you by the prophets of our race, it is the first leap of the infant in the womb. Greater things than millions are concerned in this new Irish movement’ (1897, p.173); the Ascendancy’s problem that ‘they could not become frankly and loyally Irish’ (1886, p.247); ‘in this Irish history … lay for you the key of safety had you but known it’ (1886 p.238); ‘For I tell you again and again that all Irish history is on your side, every page redolent of captaincy and soldiership, of strong rule, of allegiance and loyalty to death (1886, p.252.)

Cairns & Richard, Writing Ireland, ... &c., 1988), cont.: ‘Doric states of old Greece [where] the ruling military class dined together’ (1886 p.273); The feudal landlord [who] dined with his people and [made] his ale go round, in days before men had learned to prate about Liberty and Equality’ (1886, pp.272-3); ‘The party must proceed step by step, and first step - the essential preliminary of all others - is not aristocratic or oligarchic, but democratic, popular and national … Not alone to hold society together, but to bind and compact it into a vital whole (1886, pp.131-2); England personified as ‘mad Titan raging amid his huge industries’ (1918, p.321); Ireland without the Ascendancy as ‘gross and materialised’ for such a class is ‘the costly product of centuries, containing elements of mora, personal, intellectual wealth, which this nation will yet sorely need’ (1882, p.51, 52); the Ascendancy are ‘the best class we have, and so far better than the rest that there is none fit to mention as the next best’ (1886, p.216). [Cont.] Note that O’Grady, with Yeats and Hyde, attended the plays at Patrick Pearse’s school, St. Enda’s [110]. (See Bibliography. seq.)

Cairns & Richards (Writing Ireland, ... &c., 1988) - Bibl.: Works, History of Ireland Volume I, Heroic Period (Dublin, E. Ponsonby 1878; Lemma rep. 1970); Early Bardic Literature, Ireland (Dublin: E. Ponsonby 1879; Lemma rep. 1970); Ireland in Crisis (Dublin: E. Ponsonby 1882); Toryism and Tory Democracy (London: Chapman & Hall 1886); ‘Introduction’ to Sir George Carew, Pacata Hibernia Or A History of the Wars in Ireland (London, Downey & Co. 1896); ‘The new Irish Movement’, in Fortnightly Review, no. 67 (February 1897), pp.170-9; also Standish O’Grady, Selected Essays and Passages, intro. EA Boyd (Dublin: Talbot [1918]). Crit., G. J. Watson, Irish Identity & the Literary Revival (London 1979), Standish O’Grady, Selected Essays and Passages, intro. E. A. Boyd (Dublin: Maunsel & Co. [1918]).

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J. W. Foster, Colonial Consequences (1991), ‘In 1880 Standish James O’Grady published Vol. 2 of his History of Ireland … although this high nonsensical work was a good deal laughed at by the more Anglophilic historians of TCD, it more inarguably set in motion the Irish Literary Revival’ [q.p].

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R. F. Foster, The Story of Ireland [Inaugural lecture ... Univ. of Oxford, 1 Dec. 1994] (Clarendon Press 1995): ‘[...] O’Grady’s work was not popular; when he produced his History of Ireland: Heroic Period in 1878 he had to subsidize its publication himself. But it was, in trade terms, a “sleeper”, subsequent volumes of’ early history, and stories based on them were popular with many, and holy books for a few. AE wrote later of O’Grady as a man out walking, who passed a grass-grown rath or dun; sensed the ancient warriors sleeping within, and released them to ride rampantly through the modern Irish consciousness. This was written with after-knowledge of the rhetoric associated with the 1916 Rising, in which Cuchulain was a sort of invisible brigade commander. But O’Grady himself tells a more literal tale about his own awakening, which still has a metaphorical resonance: an ignorant Trinity student, son of a rectory, he was staying in a country house. One day, kept inside by the rain, he took down at random a book and discovered the lost world of heroic Irish pre-history, with its myths, sagas, and heroes larger than life. [“A Wet Day”, in Selected Essays and Passages, Dublin, n.d., p.3.] This is, in essence, the image used by Lady Morgan long before: the secret narrative, suddenly released. The book makes history. [...] Like a true romantic, O’Grady believed the essence of history was revealed in epic poetry; the development of the critical spirit, demanding formal perfection and consistency, had smoothed away the reality of history. He would restore the colour and the vehemence.’ [See longer extract, attached.]

See also the ibid. [excerpted], as ‘The Magic of Its Lovely Dawn: Reading Irish history as Story’ [Carroll Inaugural Lecture], in Times Literary Supplement, 16 Dec. 1994), quoting O’Grady’s warning in 1922 that Irish nationalist politics would end in ‘anarchy and civil war … a shabby sordid Irish Republic, ruled by corrupt politicians and the ignoble rich’, with remarks that this was ‘strategically ignored by W. B. Yeats, Maud Gonne, and others, who plundered a range of atmospheric references.’ (See q.p.; with port. drawing of O’Grady by J[ohn] B. Yeats.)

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Seamus Deane, ‘The Twilight of the Landlords: Standish O’Grady’, [chap. sect. in Strange Country (OUP 1997), pp.83-89; includes a commentary on O’Grady’s response to the destruction of landlordism arising from the depression of 1879-82 and the Land War - viz., his ‘defence of the so-called aristocracy interms that are wider and more hospitable than those of class or creed [by] figuring the heroic past of Ireland as one that is older than any other in Europe … [and] an image of permanent truth that must be recovered for use in the present time’ (p.84). Also traces his use of the word ‘earth’ as a term for the debased condition of the ascendancy: ‘as earthy and dull as the earth itself’; ‘the very clay of the earth is more intelligent than yours’ (Toryism and Tory Democracy, p.241; Deane, p.87; see also ‘earth’ in Parnell’s Other Island, under George Moore, supra). Deane elsewhere speaks of ‘the second-hand Carlylese of Standish O’Grady’. (In ‘Joyce the Irishman’, in The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, ed. Derek Attridge, Cambridge UP 1990, p.51.)

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Jerry C. M. Nolan, ‘Standish James O’Grady’s Cultural Nationalism’, in Irish Studies Review, 7, 3 (Dec. 1999), pp.347-57: Yet, for a decade or so before he finally despaired in 1900 of ever finding living heroes among individual Irish landlords, O’Grady’s imagination had begun to move in new directions: first by researching the subject of the Catholic aristocracy in Tudor Ireland; and then by finding a new public for his tales of Irish heroes. The research into Tudor Ireland was conducted in libraries: he drew on sources like the Annals of the Four Masters, the Historia Hiberniae of Don Philip O’Sullivan, Keating’s History of Ireland, the Calendar of State Papers from 1587, and O’Clery’s Life of Hugh. For O’Grady, the last Irish aristocracy was ‘intensely and fanatically Royalist and Cavalier … worsted they were but they brought their honour with them, and they founded noble or princely families all over the Continent’ [13]. The prospect of a new reading public occurred in the library of the University Club, Dublin, on the occasion when O’Grady discovered that the pages of George Petrie’s pioneering study of Irish round towers had remained uncut. According to his son Art Hugh, O’Grady concluded that only romantic fiction appealed to the public and that all his versions of Irish heroes had, in future, to appear in the guise of novels. The first of O’Grady’s ‘historical novels’ was Red Hugh’s Captivity in 1889. (p.352.) Nolan quotes: ‘It may be the high destiny of Ireland as the missionary nation of the world to conduct Man, through and out of Shadow, called civilisation, and into that blissful harmonic social state which, as Paradise, and the Age of Gold, Millenium, or Tir-na-n-ogue, has so haunted the human imagination at all times. (All Ireland Review, 10 Jan. 1903; here p.353); also notes O’Grady’s growing interest in the idea of ‘company’: ‘It is the humanisation of the company. Has the etymology of this word ever occurred to you? … is derived from con, or cum, with or together, and panis) bread - a friend, a comrade, an associate. So a company was a group or association of friends knit together by common interests and common aims, and all manner of consequent feelings and relations. (All Ireland, 1 April 1905; here p.353.)

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Katy Plowright, ‘A Celtic Resurrection: Perspectives on Yeats Generation in the Fin de Siècle’, in Critical Ireland: New Essays in Literature and Culture, ed. Aaron Kelly & Alan Gillis (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001), p.180-187: ‘[…] Standish O’Grady invoked the image of the silent but deadly Irish revolution in terms which also clearly borrowed from Carlyle’s silently dynamic Irish giant: “The fierce oratory of the incipient revolution is no longer heard, or heard only in muttered curses and the rifle-shot at midnight; but the revolution goes its own way, if silently, then with swifter steps, and breathing fuller strength.” (The Crisis in Ireland, Dublin: E. Ponsonby; London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co. 1882, p.4.) Further: ‘O’Grady imagined revolution advancing upon English prosperity in a potent alignment between the conceptual and personified, haunting the ruling country with the spectre of its failure in its duty to maintain the welfare of its Irish population.’ (p.184.)

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Edna Longley, ‘Not Guilty?’, in The Dublin Review (Autumn 2014): ‘[...] Michael McAteer’s Standish O’Grady, AE and Yeats shows how Standish James O’Grady fused the Irish antiquarian tradition with the Romantic anti-utilitarianism (and anti-egalitarianism) of Thomas Carlyle. McAteer sees O’Grady’s prose epics, beginning with History of Ireland: The Heroic Period (1878), as more influential in kick-starting the Revival than Samuel Ferguson’s poetic versions of Irish legend. This is because O’Grady, angered by the failure of the landlord class to provide leadership, and desperate for heroes, “sought to render the Irish cultural legacy a vehicle of cultural and political renewal”. For Yeats, even as he translated that legacy into less unionist, less Victorian, and more fully imaginative idioms, O’Grady was “the one historian in Ireland who is anything of an artist”. McAteer brings O’Grady up to date by arguing that the seeming contradictions of his messianic historiography - Lady Gregory called O’Grady a “Fenian Unionist” - might cause us to rethink the oppositions that structure “the revisionist-postcolonial debate in Irish Studies”’. (Available online; accessed 24.09.2015.)

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