'THEY. HAVE WON much praise for themselves and raised the dignity of Ireland.' It is not unfitting to begin this story with Lady Gregory's comment on the work of the company known through Europe and America as 'The Abbey Theatre'. The words she uses would be a fitting epitaph not only for the company but for the movement itself of which it was the outcome and to which this book is in small degree a tribute. Further, too, it is to those players that many of my readers, like myself, will have owed their first introduction to the modern Irish dramatists.
It was nearly thirty years ago that I first saw them in London and though I know that I saw four plays in all (of which Riders to the Sea must have been one), my deepest first impression was not made by the tragic genius of Synge but by the passionate nationalism of Yeats and Lady Gregory. It must have been in part at least an audience of Englishmen or Anglo-Irishmen that saw Cathleen ni Houlihan that day with Miss Sara Allgood in the part of Cathleen. A play was a real thing to me in those days as no play, alas, can ever be again, and I remember now recoiling from the wildness and the violence, the Old Woman with her boding, bringing her talk of war and death into the midst of ordinary things (this being before the average Englishman had learnt to accommodate this kind of thought in his mind). There was something as yet terrifying and savage about people who talked familiarly about it in the every-day setting of a homely cottage. The average Anglo-Irishman in the audience, meeting the play as most did for the first time, recoiled vigorously upon his English blood. Then came the quickening all over the stage, the exultation that was the secret of a people 'who believed so much in the soul and so little in anything else that they were never entirely certain that the earth was solid under the footsole':