28 June 2023

Swinford Alley in 1905. Sketches by Jack B. Yeats

Two sketches of a handball alley in Swinford, Ireland, 1905. Yeats, Jack B. Source: Jack Butler Yeats Collection of Papers, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature. The New York Public Library, Astor, Lennox, and Tilden Foundations. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022 In 1905, artist Jack B. Yeats made these two sketches of the handball alley in Swinford, most likely while travelling with the Anglo-Irish playwright John Millington Synge (1871-1909) on a commission from the Manchester Guardian newspaper. Synge was to write about projects undertaken under the Congested Districts policy. Yeats was to illustrate these. They “travelled from Galway through Connemara and Mayo. Twelve illustrated articles ... appeared in the paper between 10 June and 26 July 1905, at intervals of three to four days” (Saddlemyer, 2015, p. 27)*. Although the ball alley sketches are not among the 14 illustrations published with the articles, two of the articles refer to Swinford. The series was given the title ‘In the “Congested Districts”’ and can be viewed on the online archive of the Manchester Guardian via the newspapers.com database. The articles were subtitled as follows: From Galway to Gorumna (10.06.1905), Between the Bays of Carraroe (14.06.1905), Among the Relief Works (17.06.1905), The Ferryman of Dinish Island (21.06.1905), The Kelp Makers (24.06.1905), The Boat-Builders (28.06.1905), Homes of the Harvest Men (01.07.1905), The Smaller Peasant Properties (05.07.1905), Erris (08.07.1905), The Inner Lands of Mayo -The Village Shop (19.07.1905), The Small Town (22.07.1905), Possible Remedies (26.07.1905). Yeats made two known paintings of handball alleys. A watercolour The Handball Alley in (private ownership, date unknown) of the same Swinford alley and an oil painting The Ball Alley in 1927 (in collection of Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin). Sometime in the 1920s. A photograph of the same alley was depicted as a postcard by London company Woolstone Bros (one of these postcards is in collection of Mayo County Library). *Saddlemyer, A. (2015). More Letters by John Millington Synge. Irish University Review, 45(1), 25–30.


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