Ervine, St. John G. (St. John Greer) (1883-1971) by Sullivan, Robert

St. John Ervine 1883-1971 John Greer Irvine (usually St. John Ervine) was born in the working-class area of East Belfast, in what was to become Northern Ireland, not far from the shipyard that built the . His father died the year of his birth and although bright enough to pursue a university career (by choice Trinity College, Dublin), Irvine left school at 15 and became an insurance clerk, at first in Belfast, then in London where he moved in 1901. After a short time there, he fell among Fabians and eventually became involved in theatre. He met Yeats in London, a meeting that no doubt led to his play being performed at the Abbey in 1911. He became the Abbey manager in 1915 but was not popular, mainly because of his severe criticism of the quality of plays being produced. He joined the Dublin Fusiliers because (by some accounts) he was disgusted at the cheering and jeering at Casement’s execution. He was wounded in Flanders and lost one of his legs. At this time Irvine was a strenuous advocate of Home Rule, despising Carson and his followers. He wrote a novel, that was partly a response to the Easter Rising and with avowed sentiments such as the following from his earlier : This notion of a Romantic Ireland was soon to be for Irvine, however, and his vehement attacks on Carson and Ulster Unionism became transmorgified into a defiant defense of Ulsterdom. Thus, he could write in his : And in a letter to Shaw he condemned Ireland as a country of This from a man who, during his managership at the Abbey in 1915, had a member of the Castle administration (the site of British power) banned from the theatre because of the latter’s objections to the nature of the play . Titanic Mixed Marriage Changing Winds (1917) Sir Edward Carson and the Ulster Movement (1915) … and when Protestants and Catholics, Orangemen and Ancient Hibernians put their hands together, and the four beautiful fields of Cathleen ni Houlihan become one pasture, there will be no poisonous vapours left in Ireland [Carson and his followers] to obscure the destiny of Irishmen. dead and gone Craigavon: Ulsterman (1949) the Ulster people were not, and are not, willing to turn away from a prominent partnership in a galaxy of nations to an introspective, obscurantist, Gaelic-speaking acricultural republic. bleating Celtic Twilighters, sex-starved Daughters of the Gael, gangsters and gombeen-men. seditious For the Land She Loved Irvine became more and more entrenched in his Unionism to the extent that shortly after his death a confidante remarked that he had a Yet, even while his predilections faced in the contrary direction of Home Rule and the possibility of a united Ireland (roughly 1910—18), Irvine’s creative force had distinctively Ulster characteristics. From his Abbey play (the very title of which has a particular resonance in Northern Ireland), through his novels , , and , to later plays such as — the latter based on the shop his grandmother Mrs. Greer operated in Belfast—the voices and settings are pure Ulster. Nor did this early work go without notice: Rebecca West remarked on the publication of , that Irvine and H.G. Wells called the same novel noting that it was Although he never had such a reputation, Irvine’s naturalistic portrayal of Ulster urban and country life could bear comparison with George Moore’s fictional world. He was most certainly the forerunner of what was to become that region’s distinctive literary flavour. pathological hatred for the rest of Ireland. Mixed Marriage, 1911 Mr. Martin’s Man (1915) The Foolish Lovers (1920) The Wayward Man (1927) Boyd’s Shop (1936) Mr. Martin’s Man proves himself quite definitely a novelist who counts, amazingly good, bad luck to publish it in the midst of this war. Most likely it was his association with Shaw and the Fabians that resulted in Irvine’s writing for He ran a series called as well as other occasional essays. His piece () makes for a sad read () because of the way it delineates a situation rife with sectarian division, and economic privation mainly of that division, a situation that has changed only superficially today. His essay () may very well betray Irvine’s reactionary nature, but it serves as a healthy antidote to the then current Ibsen worship. His short piece entitled (), a reflection on beauty, art, and life, written while sojourning in Normandy, shows another side of Irvine’s complex personality. The New Age. Belfast and Poverty, The Return to Belfast 14.04 I have never met anyone who was not depressed by Belfast because The Inadequacy of Ibsen, 14.17 Rain, 10.06 —Robert Sullivan Source Princess Grace Irish Library (Monaco)

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