Sketch Book: Spiddal to Gorumna and Lettermullen, 1905.

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Jack B. Yeats (1871–1957).


Sketch Book: Spiddal to Gorumna and Lettermullen, 1905.




Pencil, ink and watercolor.

Provenance: Signed inscription to Maurice Craig.

One of Dublin bookseller Eamonn DeBúrca’s clients had a story to tell and an expensive book to sell. The more I heard, the more I knew I wanted it.

In 1905, the Manchester Guardian hired two unlikely Gaelic speaking, Anglo-Irish reporters to “report on distress” in Ireland. They were recommended by their friend, future Poet Laureate John Masefield. The thirty-four-year-old reporters, Jack B. Yeats and John Millington Synge, would become famous in the future, but at the time they were little known and in need of the work. They traveled for a month by horse cart and hooker through Galway and Mayo, producing twelve articles on the poor Irish-speaking region.

Yeats’s sketches pick up much of the details of their travels: scanty fields, white cottages, hookers against the sky, and shawled women. This sketchbook begins in Spiddal and extends westward to Gorumna and Lettermullen. The grocery/pub interior labeled as “Sabina’s” is probably the Hotel of the Isles in Lettermullen, run by Sabina MacDonogh and, as reported by Synge, may also be the pub near the quay, where he and Yeats spent the evening “talking and drinking and telling stories in Irish.”

This sketchbook is one of a handful in private hands that has not been broken up and was given by the artist to architectural historian Maurice Craig in April 1945 as a wedding gift. Craig records that “Jack Yeats threw a dozen or so little sketchbooks on his sofa and invited us to choose one each as a present … he wrote in both books and slipped them in the covers which he kept for such occasions.”


Anthony Mourek