'In Wicklow, West Kerry etc,'

The above book was published in 1910, a year after the death of J. M. Synge. It is a collection of the essays written during his travels through these counties. The essays were originally published in the "Manchester Guardian" and in a quarterly Irish literary magazine, "The Shanachie". The essays are a valuable document on the inhabitants and their social conditions at the turn of the century. It also contains the raw material, fragments of folklore, patterns of speech and proverbs- for some of his plays.

The book itself contains fourteen essays written by Synge. It is divided into three sections :In Wicklow, In West Kerry, In Connemara. Synge was fascinated by the farmers, fishermen and vagrants he met as he travelled. He was sensitive to the natural landscape as he believed it greatly influenced the temperment of its inhabitants. The nomadic life of the vagrants was one he greatly admired, and believed a life spent out-of-doors led to a healthy and long life. Unlike the tramps, the peasants were held to the land and suffered the vagaries of the climate. Synge felt the character of the peasant was shaped by the physical surroundings of the landscape and this often led to depression and a sense of isolation.

The first part of the book, "In Wicklow" consists of seven essays :

Part One

The Vagrants of Wicklow
The Oppression of the Hills
On the Road
The People of the Glens
At a Wicklow Fair :the place and the people
A Landlord's Garden in County Ireland

The traveller characters in Synge's work are always sensitive to their surroundings, of the weather and the locality: mountain herd (Patch Darcy), tinker (Mary Byrne), begger (Martin and Mary Doul). In "The Oppression of the Hills" in part one Synge notes the strong influence of the locality on its inhabitants of Wicklow- "At every season heavy rains fall for often a week at a time, till the thatch drips with water stained to a dull chestnut and the floor in the cottages seem to be going back to the condition of the bogs near it. Then the clouds break , and there is a night of terrific storm from the south-west- all the larches that survive in these places are bowed and twisted towards the point where the sun rises in June-when the winds come down through the narrow glens with the congested whirl and roar of a torrent, breaking at times for sudden moments of silence that keep up the tension of the mind".

In the play "The Shadow of the Glen" the character of Nora is similarly affected by the elements- her oppression as the fog lifts momentarily only to overwhelm again in "the sense of loneliness has no equal". There is a sense of transience for the traveller who has adapted to the changes in his surroundings.

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