Synge, Yeats and Inis Meáin

I’ve been inspired by Kristin from one of her comments on our blog where she likened some of the scenes on Inis Meáin to the words of Yeats’ poem, Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, and MacKellar’s, My Country, to find some words of the writer, John Millington Synge, to match up with some photos of Inis Meáin.

Strangely, there is another link between WB Yeats and the island of Inis Meáin.

John Millington Synge, an Irish playwright, was the reason we came to this island in the first place last year in June.

 JM Synge (1871-1909)

JM Synge was Jack’s great-great-uncle, who visited and wrote here on the Aran Islands back in the late 1800s/ early 1900s. Synge was advised to come to the Aran Islands by WB Yeats. When Synge was in Paris, looking for writing inspiration, Yeats encouraged him to come to the Aran Islands to write:

“Give up Paris. You will learn nothing by reading Racine. Go to the Aran Islands. Live there as if you were one of the people themselves. Express a life that never before has found expression.”

Synge made a note of his meeting with Yeats in Paris in his diary, 21 December 1896, as it was to become instrumental in his career as a writer.

The people of Inis Meáin treat Synge’s memory and legacy with respect and reverence. As one of the local women told us recently, “He got us“. He didn’t look down on the people here but recorded stories about their lives “faithfully and sympathetically”. Synge’s own observations and way of writing also expresses his respect of the people of the islands. He wrote:

“I have had nothing to say about them that was not wholly in their favour, but I have made this disguise to keep them from ever feeling that a too direct use had been made of their kindness, and friendship, for which I am more grateful than it is easy to say.”

Synge stayed in a thatched cottage on Inis Meáin which today is known as Teach Synge (Synge’s Cottage). This is the way Synge described it in his book:

My room is at one end of the cottage, with a boarded floor and ceiling, and two windows opposite each other. Then there is the kitchen with earth floor and open rafters, and two doors opposite each other opening into the open air, but no windows. Beyond it there are two small rooms of half the width of the kitchen with one window apiece.

The family who owned the cottage, and who looked after Synge when he lived here, still own the cottage today. Visitors from many parts of the word, including some of his descendants, visit the island and this cottage in a type of homage to Synge.

Here are a couple of photos of the cottage as it is today (photos taken, January 2013):

11 Jan 2013 Inis Meain (31)

11 Jan 2013 Inis Meain (32)


Here is a link to the full text of Synge’s book which he finished writing in 1901 and was published in 1907, Man of Aranincluding drawings throughout by Jack Butler Yeats. Some versions of this book includes photographs, taken by Synge. For a look at Synge’s photos of Inis Meáin, see John Millington Synge, Photographer.

Will find a few more quotes from Synge during our stay here and add them to future posts. Thanks for the idea, Kristin:)

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