Further Reading

 

 

Patrick B. Gregory (1886-1952) was a Belfast architect and poet best known for his collections of ballads, and for his ecclesiastical architecture, which is dotted around Northern Ireland.

My interest in Gregory was first sparked by a short article by Dr. Paul Larmour in the Northern Ireland architectural magazine 'Perspective' in September/October 1995. What interested me was not so much the quality of the architect's completed buildings (which, perhaps unfairly, caused a shiver of familiarity to run down my spine, recalling the enforced piety of my Catholic upbringing) - but more so, the question of Gregory's strange double career as poet and an architect. Are not poets more inclined to the contemplation of ruined buildings than the blueprints for future edifices? How was the solitary, sometimes melancholy nature of writing related to the practical business of getting buildings made in a sectarian city such as Belfast in the 1920's and 30's? The scope of Larmour's article did not provide any instant answers to these questions, so I was prompted to do some further research of my own.

The resulting project, very much a work-in-progress, is not designed as an attempt at a critical revaluation or recuperation. Rather than making any kind of argument for his reputation, I am as interested in the process by which a figure like Gregory, once highly visible within Belfast cultural and political life, can move from the center to the periphery of our collective vision, and finally out of sight.

 

 

Padraic Gregory was born in Belfast in 1886, the eldest son of Patrick K. Gregory of Monaghan and Hannah Downey of Ballymena. As a child, the young architect-to-be lived for some years in Durango, Colorado, to where his parents had emigrated, but he was later to return to Ireland to complete his education with the Christian Brothers and private tutors in Belfast.

Gregory served architectural apprenticeships with the Belfast ecclesiastical architect, J.J. O'Shea between 1901 and 1906, and the surveyor and engineer Thomas Pentland. Around the same time, his interest in drama and literature began to emerge and he was to become a founder member of the Ulster Theatre, the 'Northern wing' of the Irish literary revival.

Gregory commenced practice in 1906 at 124 Donegall Street, in conjunction with J. Norman Hall, as 'Gregory and Hall Architects'. Carabine notes that: "...although information is scarce, it is known that over this early period, Gregory worked on a variety of schemes, from a parochial hall and national schools to a yacht club"

It was with his collections of poetry, that Gregory seems to have been most preoccupied at this stage. In 1903, he had published 'verses on the ruins of the Cistercian Monastery at Greyabbey' in the Irish News, beginning an association with the paper that was to continue throughout his life. It was nine years later, however, in 1912, that his first full collection, 'The Ulster Folk', was published. Over the next eight years, eight more volumes were to follow: Old World Ballads (19l3), Love Sonnets (1914), Modern Anglo-Irish Verse (ed. 19l4), Ireland: A Song of Hope (1917), The Poems of Sean MacEntee (ed. 1917), The Insurrection (ed. 1918), and Ulster Songs and Ballads (1920).

Gregory's ballads, are largely picturesque sketches of 'Ulster Folk' that swing between humor and stern moralizing. However vivid their characterizations, they seem dated, and are written in a phonetic rendering of Ulster dialect that is somewhat difficult to read.

Several of Gregory's ballads were adapted and arranged for song, and they do work better in this context. Best known is John McCormack's recording of 'Padraic The Fiddler', with its mournful violin by Fritz Kiesler.

I did hunt through the 1903 Irish News's at Belfast Central Library for the 'verses on the ruins of the Cistercian Monastery at Greyabbey' - maybe here, if anywhere, we might find the key to Gregory's double-career? Disappointingly, however, I did not spot the piece among the pages of small, closely-spaced words.

As far as I can tell, Gregory seems to have separated the two main strands of his activities. During the 'teens, he was mostly writing and lecturing. After 'Ulster Songs and Ballads' (1920), Gregory was not to publish again until 1933, by which time he had finally established himself as an architect with the renovation work at St Colmcille's and the new chapels at St Mary's.

In 1931, Gregory was admitted as a licentiate of RIBA, the Royal Institute of British Architects, and in 1936, he received his Fellowship. 1941 saw the publication of 'When Painting Was In Glory', his study of Italian Renaissance painting and he was to become a recognized critic, and fixture of art openings around Belfast.

In 1942, Gregory was awarded an honorary degree by the National University of Ireland, on the occasion of which, he told the Irish News:

I owe this doctorate entirely to the Catholic Church. I owe it to His Eminence the Cardinal Primate of All Ireland, to the Most Rev. Dr. Mageean, the two Bishops of Down and Connor I have had the honor and privilege of serving professionally, and also to the priests of Down and Connor living and dead who, through the years, afforded me opportunities of expressing myself in stone and oak, in marble and mosaic, and in bronze and gold.

To add to his ever-growing distinctions, Gregory represented Falls Ward on the Belfast Corporation between 1946 and 1949.

In 1956, Gregory was diagnosed with lung cancer and after a serious operation, went into semi-retirement. He published his 'Complete Ulster Ballads' in 1959, at the age of 73.

Padraic Gregory died at the age of 75 on June 9th, 1962.

 

 

 

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