A look back at 25 years of the Kiltartan Gregory Museum

 Racegoers Lauren Byrne, right, and Jean Browne from Galway take a selfie during day one of the Galway Races Summer Festival at Ballybrit Racecourse in Galway. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Racegoers Lauren Byrne, right, and Jean Browne from Galway take a selfie during day one of the Galway Races Summer Festival at Ballybrit Racecourse in Galway. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

In 1990 – exactly 100 years after Sir William Gregory granted a 99-year lease on a section of land at Kiltartan Cross on which to build a schoolhouse – the Kiltartan Gregory Cultural Society was founded. Its aim was to restore the derelict red-brick schoolhouse, the very one commissioned by Sir William Gregory, and to preserve the history of Kiltartan for future generations. The next six years were spent doing just that.

The Indian-design schoolhouse was officially opened as the Kiltartan Gregory Museum on August 8 1996, and dedicated to the memory of Lady Gregory. The then-President Mary Robinson presided at the launch, describing it as a ‘very special place’, and indeed, in the intervening 25 years, it has remained a special place. Through the generosity of benefactors, it now houses a considerable collection of artefacts from Coole House and personal items of the Gregory family.

In attendance on that day were Lady Gregory’s grand-daughters, Anne Gregory de Winton and Catherine Gregory Kennedy, as well as Catherine’s son, Ben Kennedy. The London Publisher of the works of Lady Gregory, Colin Smythe, also attended. Anne and Catherine, then in their 80s, helped to mark the occasion by planting a Copper Beech tree, which still stands in the adjacent Millennium Picnic Park today.

Visitors to the museum

There is something for everyone in this ‘gem’ of a museum. It is a repository for original artefacts, first editions, Abbey Theatre material, folklore and memorabilia relating to Lady Gregory, William and Robert Gregory and Coole House. In addition, a separate room is a preserved early 20th century classroom, to which past pupils can return and revisit their childhood memories. Also, visitors who wish to trace their roots can find valuable genealogical information here.

Over the years, American students along with their professors have visited, as well as local school children who partake in projects in conjunction with the museum. Other regular visitors have included descendants of the Gregory and Persse families; Irish Literary scholar and Professor of English and Theatre at Williams College, James Pethica; American lawyer and Yeats scholar, Joe Hassett, and members of the O Shaughnessy Clan.

A Space for Performances, Film-Making, Launches and Lectures

The museum has provided a space for dramatic performances, launches, lectures, music, film-making, and documentary-recording over its 25 years.

In recent years the Society hosted the Young Poet Laureate for London 2014-2015, Aisling Fahey, at the museum, when she gave a poetry-reading to an appreciative audience.

In 2016 actress Derbhle Crotty recorded an episode of the RTE documentary Fire in the Blood, at the museum, which was based on the role Lady Gregory played in the Celtic Revival.

In 2019, Steve Dolan launched one in the series of his booklets, Gort 1793, which was produced by the Irish Workhouse Centre Portumna, at the museum to whom he donated all proceeds.

Galway Poems of WB Yeats was launched by the Society to mark Yeats’s 150th birthday in 2015. To continue Yeats’ birthday celebrations that year, thirty young harpists performed for invited guests in Kiltartan Church as part of ‘The Harp and Moon Festival’ and a picnic was held in the Millennium Picnic Park. Attendees wore dress appropriate to the poet’s birth year, 1865, and members of Gaillimh Theas Comhaltas, Coole Music and The Wild Swan Theatre Group entertained the gathering.

To celebrate the 21st anniversary in 2017, Millennium Park was again the venue for a celebratory picnic with Comhaltas members and Coole Music providing the entertainment. Lady Gregory (aka Ellen Keane ) and W.B. Yeats (aka Donal Connolly ) paid a surprise visit.

Help from past pupils

Past pupils have contributed enormously to the restoration and upkeep of the museum over the years, with a roll of honour being kept at the museum to commemorate their generosity.

Two very successful reunions of past pupils were held in 1997 and 2000. The first, which was held to celebrate the schoolhouse becoming a museum, was so successful, that a second one was held a few years later.

Fund-raising events, such as treasure hunts and golf classics were among the many events organised by past pupils. A past pupil and founding member of the museum, Sr. de Lourdes Fahy, wrote and published a history of Kiltartan, Many Leaves, One Root, the proceeds of which continue to support the upkeep and maintenance of the museum.

In 2014 thanks to a LEADER Grant and a local contribution through Gort Lions Club, the long hidden Gregory Monument was unveiled, revealing the burial place of Sir William Gregory, his father Robert and mother Elizabeth O’Hara.

Anniversary celebrations

This year to celebrate its 25th anniversary, several events are taking place to mark the event. A series of lectures have been recorded and are available for viewing online for the summer months.

The first two lectures are by Sr. de Lourdes Fahy: “Lady Gregory’s Diaspora: Ireland Reaches Out“ and “Lady Gregory: A Local Habitation and a Name“.

The third lecture, “Lady Gregory and Her Family Connections” is by her great grand-niece, Margaret Farrell, who is also the great-grand-daughter of Frank Persse, the architect of the schoolhouse. They can be accessed through the museum’s website www.kiltartangregorymuseum.org, and while they are free to view, donations are very much welcome.

A sponsored walk from Kiltartan Cross to Thoor Ballylee will take place on the anniversary of the official opening, Sunday, August 8. This walk, which will depart the Kiltartan Gregory Museum at 11am, will re-trace the footsteps of W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and the blind poet Raftery, who often walked this scenic country road between Coole Park and Ballylee.

Sponsorship cards can be collected in advance at the Kiltartan Gregory Museum, downloaded from the website (www.kiltartangregorymuseum.org ) or a donation can be made when registering on the day. Refreshments will be available at Thoor Ballylee before walkers embark on the return journey to the museum.

A 25th Anniversary Group has been set up, “Kiltartan: 25 Years A-Growing” to encourage future generations to continue the proud work of those who founded the museum. For anyone wishing to join the Kiltartan family of supporters, a €25 donation would be extremely welcome.

Another feature of the celebrations, will see a stone plaque to mark “Kiltartan Cross” erected.

Gratitude to volunteers

To quote Lady Gregory: “Kiltartan my own village it has done everything for me.”

Likewise, the Kiltartan Gregory Cultural Society can look back with gratitude and pride over the past 25 years, recognising the enormous contributions made by its supporters to ensure its success and sustainability into the future. From the volunteers who have kept the Museum alive, the patrons who have supported it, the people who have donated memorabilia, and to those who continue to give donations, we are sincerely grateful.

Sr. de Lourdes Fahy’s 1991 article in Guaire Magazine, “To School Through Kiltartan” is the story of her school days at the schoolhouse. Her dream for the successful restoration and future for what is now the Kiltartan Gregory Museum has been realised and we wish it every success in the years ahead.

The Kiltartan Gregory Cultural Society wishes to acknowledge the passing in 2021 of three of its founding members: Tom Nolan, Peadar Burke, and PJ Baldwin.

At dheis Dé go raibh siad.

 

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