by Isabella Augusta Persse

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The Play

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 881

Grania meets Finn on the eve of their wedding. She tells Finn that she chose to marry him because she longs for the good life at Almhuin, Finn’s home and the center of his soldier-community, famous for poets, heroes, and comradeship. Finn tells her that the man she will admire most in Almhuin is his kinsman, Diarmuid; then he asks if she has ever loved any man. Grania says there was a man once, a visitor to Tara, but she only saw him briefly and never heard his name. They are interrupted by Diarmuid’s arrival with jewels and gifts for the wedding. Grania immediately recognizes Diarmuid as the man she had seen at Tara. Shocked, she shrinks back. Finn calls her forth and places a crown on her head, but, looking at Diarmuid, she feels the crown too heavy. She is suddenly tired and begs Finn to postpone their wedding. He refuses, and she withdraws.

Finn confides in Diarmuid that he finds himself falling in love with Grania. He wonders if love is appropriate at his age and looks to Diarmuid for reassurance. Finn says he fears love, because it unseats other loyalties. Diarmuid swears his loyalty to Finn but asks to be excused from attending the wedding and sent instead to fight the king of Foreign. Finn reluctantly agrees but orders Diarmuid to rest until dawn. Covering himself with a cloak, Finn watches over Diarmuid.

Grania enters, mistakes Finn for Diarmuid, and confesses she can no longer bear to marry Finn, for she knows her heart belongs to Diarmuid. As Finn reveals both his identity and his anger, Diarmuid wakes. Grania chooses a life in the wilderness alone, but Diarmuid vows to go with her and protect her, while respecting her as Finn’s queen (that is, he will not have sexual intercourse with her). As proof of his faithfulness to Finn, Diarmuid pledges to send an unbroken cake of bread every full moon for as long as he and Grania are together.

When the second act begins, Grania and Diarmuid have been living in the woods, fugitives from Finn’s wrath, for seven years; for the past month they have been living as husband and wife. Grania chides him, “It was not love that brought you to wed me in the end,” but rather jealousy of the king of Foreign, who had found Grania gathering rushes and was about to carry her off when Diarmuid appeared, chased him off, and then kissed Grania. She lingers over the memory: “It was a long, long kiss.”

Their month-long intimacy has led them to new longings—Diarmuid for an isolated home and an end to their fugitive life, Grania for company and the respect of others. They argue, and Diarmuid flings her from him. Finn appears, disguised as a beggar hired to discover why no cake of bread was delivered to Finn on the full moon. Grania breaks a loaf in pieces and fiercely tells the “beggar” that she is proud and pleased about the broken vow, and that she still turns her back on Finn. The “beggar” goads Diarmuid, chiding him for living on hares and killing birds when the army of the king of Foreign is invading Ireland. Diarmuid straps on his sword and goes out with the “beggar” to fight, abandoning Grania despite her plea for him to stay.

Act 3 begins on the afternoon of the same day as Finn, having doffed his disguise, discovers Grania alone. Finn and Grania unleash on each other the bitterness and longing of seven years. In a duel of tongues, in which words are...

(This entire section contains 881 words.)

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their weapons, they end in a draw. He confesses to the vulnerability of his age and his love for her, and she describes the loneliness and hardship of her life with Diarmuid, who until this month gave her no more than duty. They reach a moment of mutual respect just as Diarmuid’s body is brought it.

Finn thinks Diarmuid is dead and steps aside as Grania bends over him and commands his spirit to come back, keening and wailing her love. Diarmuid regains consciousness but ignores Grania and speaks only to Finn. As the two men recall their former affection and loyalty, Grania’s cries and exclamations fail to penetrate the closed circle of their reunion. Finn forgives Diarmuid who, laughing in his moment of death, declares, “It would be a very foolish thing, any woman at all to have leave to come between yourself and myself.”

Finn orders the army to mourn Diarmuid as a fallen hero, and Grania realizes that Diarmuid never loved her at all, that all his love was for Finn and the brotherhood of Almhuin; she was no more to him than the shadow of a flight of birds. She swears to return to Almhuin with Finn, there to stand between Finn and the ghost of Diarmuid. The play ends as Grania takes her crown from Finn, places it on her own head, and faces the mocking laughter of the army and of Diarmuid’s ghost, declaring, “I am no way daunted or afraid.” Transformed by the vision of her exclusion from the hearts of the two men, she achieves the dignity and loneliness of soul which befit a mythic queen.

Dramatic Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 524

Grania is a play in which two dramatic devices predominate: characterization and the use of poetic language quite outside common English usage. These devices make possible the staging of a three-act play with only three speaking roles, little in the way of plot, a minimum of suspense (the legend and its outcome were known to Lady Gregory’s audience), and relatively little action, which is nevertheless tense with dramatic conflict and stirring to the ear.

Each of the three characters is multidimensional and is transformed by the course of the action, though it is certainly Grania who changes most. In order to give her characters room to grow, Lady Gregory sets them up as models of simplicity at the start of act 1. Finn, far older and more courageous than Grania, is respectful of the power of love and jealousy but holds both at a distance. Grania, all innocence and directness, expects never to know what love is but to live in domestic harmony with Finn. Diarmuid, whose soldier-spirit is dauntless, has but one emotion: loyalty to Finn. Lady Gregory develops and exposes the complexity of her characters by introducing a rapid series of tests, inner conflicts, doubts, and disappointments for each one. Finn’s vulnerability and self-doubt countermine his courage; Diarmuid’s passion and jealousy undercut his loyalty; and Grania’s innocence disappears as her self-determination grows. Every moment of the play reveals some new disillusionment, risk, or conflict that spirals among the three principals, influencing each, so that all three are constantly changing and contributing to the changes which take place in the other two.

Love triangles are common fare in dramatic literature, and depth of characterization alone would not account for the respect this play has garnered since its publication in 1912. Its distinctiveness comes from Lady Gregory’s depiction of character through a poetic language that is exclusively hers. She wrote in a language she developed from listening to Irish people speak English, a dialect she called “Kiltartan.” It employs an altered syntax, heavily rhythmic and larded with imagery, which conveys a flavor of Irish speech without using the odd and often clumsy phonetic spellings usually used to denote dialects of English. For example, in act 2, when Grania begins to be discontented with Diarmuid, she tells him, “it is hard to nourish pride in a house having two in it only.” In act 3, Finn predicts Grania will return with him to Almhuin in words that evoke the very sound and color of remorse:I tell you, my love that was allotted and foreshadowed before the making of the world will drag you in spite of yourself, as the moon above drags the waves, and they grumbling through the pebbles as they come, and making their own little moaning of discontent.

A few minutes further into their argument Grania observes, “I have a great wrong done to you, surely, but it brings me no nearer to you now.” The entire play is as tightly crafted as a poem, offering page after page of dialogue which resonates with mellifluous and hypnotizing rhythms unlike anything else in English except Lady Gregory’s own other works.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 85

Sources for Further Study

Coxhead, Elizabeth. Lady Gregory: A Literary Portrait. 2d ed. London: Secker & Warburg, 1966.

Kohfeldt, Mary Lou. Lady Gregory: The Woman Behind the Irish Renaissance. New York: Atheneum, 1985.

Malone, Andrew E. “The Folk Dramatists.” In The Irish Drama. Reprint. New York: B. Blom, 1965.

Mikhail, E. K. Lady Gregory: Annotated Bibliography of Criticism. Troy, New York: Wilson, 1982.

Mikhail, E. K. Lady Gregory: Interviews and Recollections. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1977.

Saddlemyer, Ann. In Defense of Lady Gregory, Playwright. London: Oxford University Press,


Critical Essays