The end of the affair

Nora Summers (1892-1948) pictured around the time of her affair with Robert Gregory.

Nora Summers (1892-1948) pictured around the time of her affair with Robert Gregory.

Following Margaret’s discovery of her husband Robert in a compromising position with his lover Nora Summers, Nora and her husband Gerald quickly moved out of Mount Vernon, the Gregory holiday home on Clare’s ‘flaggy shore’. But they did not go far. They moved nearby into the bungalow they had previously rented.

Surprisingly during the summer of 1915 the ‘flaggy shore’ was a popular randezvous for a Bohemian London set at the time. Francis Macnamara, who had inherited vast lands in County Clare, was a school friend of Robert Gregory at Harrow. Instead of pursuing further studies he dropped out and became, at least in his eyes, a philosopher/poet in London. He associated with the young artists of the Slade. At 23 years of age he married the beautiful Yvonne Mary Majolier (21 ), from a half Irish/ half French background. Her family fiercely opposed their marriage. They considered Francis to be a waster.*

When not in London the Macnamaras lived in the large, austere, Doolin House, to which their friends were invited for prolonged holidays along the wild Atlantic way. One frequent guest was the larger-than-life artist Augustus John with his liberal domestic arrangements of women and children.**

Nora and Gerald Summers were well regarded by this lively gathering. Both were students at the Slade, and both were from wealthy backgrounds, and were generous with their money. Gerald, like Nora, came from a successful engineering family. He was famous for being the only student to have a car. A Rolls Royce at that! There must have been a loud and a delighted welcome for the Summerses when they appeared, all of which was in stark contrast to the emotional suffering of Margaret, who was so distraught by Robert’s affair that she was taking chloroform to knock herself out.

‘Lost all control’

Robert became obsessed with Nora. As the summer went on and the Summerses showed no intention of leaving their Burren bungalow, Margaret, as she had done earlier that year, tried to make the best of things, even talking confidentially to Nora. She records: ‘Odd how fond I am of her, even though she is so rotten, and has utterly finished my wonderful dream with Robert.’

When Robert and his wife returned to Coole on August 21, for their daughter Catherine’s second birthday, they walked through the woods having a ‘terrible’ row. Robert again announcing that the ‘only thing possible’ was for him to join the armed forces. And ‘to get away’. Margaret wrote: ‘May I never see anything like it again - lost all control - said he must be with Nora.’

Extraordinary scene

On August 23, left again at Coole, as Robert went back to Nora, Margaret at last confided in her mother-in-law Lady Gregory. Margaret said that she wanted to talk to Nora one more time, but Lady Gregory was dead against that. Yet poor Margaret went anyway, only to be confronted by an extraordinary scene. An ‘impossible interview’ took place with the Summerses, during which Nora’s face was ’swollen purple with rage’. Robert lashed out, and hit Gerald. Gerald pleaded to be allowed to go in peace. Then both Gerald and Nora, ‘crawled off in a smashed motor car, to Galway’. Margaret returned to Coole shaken.

‘My son was a cad’

(Margaret’s diary ) August 29 1915, Coole: ‘Aunt Augusta (Lady Gregory ) very upset after night - So I defended Robert…. ‘That I should have lived to know my son was a cad.’ Wish we hadn’t told her….Robert has decided to join the army.’

James Pethica, Lady Gregory’s biographer, writes: ‘The strength of Lady Gregory’s reaction to the news is signalled most emphatically by what happened when she left Coole on October 1 1915, for her final lecture tour of the USA. A trip that would take her far away for four and a half months, during which time Robert would be going off to war, perhaps never to return. That day, Margaret records simply and affectingly, Lady Gregory ‘didn’t want Robert to go to the station to see her off.’***

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