29 July 2016

Moat House to reopen after pub owner
takes on Comberford ancestral home

The Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth, in summer sunshine … the Comberford family ancestral home is to reopen as a pub next month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The Moat House in Tamworth, one of the ancestral homes of the Comberford family, is to reopen its doors next month after the lease has been taken on by a local businessman, according to a report in this week’s edition of The Tamworth Herald [28 July 2016].

The Moat House on Lichfield Street was built by the Comberford family in 1572 and Charles I was a guest of the Comberford family here when he visited Tamworth as Prince of Wales in 1619.

This week’s report by Helen Machin, which describes the house as “Tamworth’s iconic Moat House,” says the Moat House is to reopen its doors next month.

The report, which The Tamworth Herald says is exclusive, follows months of speculation and considerable interest in the Grade II* listed building.

The lease has been taken on by Martin Young (35), a local businessman who also owns the Three Tuns pub in Fazeley. He plans to re-open the Moat House in mid to late August.

He said: “This is a massively exciting project for me, next to the castle, it’s the most famous building in Tamworth.”

He told The Tamworth Herald: “I plan to return it to its former glory, previously it has been used as a pub and restaurant, and eventually I hope to host high profile events and weddings there.”

In a similar report this morning [29 July 2016] on the site Insider Media, he tells Storm Rannard: “I am delighted to have taken over such a prestigious venue which I feel has significant potential.”

He adds: “The Moat House presents a unique opportunity to provide a wonderful social hub for the people of Tamworth to enjoy. My management team and I will provide a beautiful venue which will welcome both laid back diners and those who wish to simply enjoy our range of drinks.”

Martin Young, who has taken on the lease of the Moat House, with Lynne Dudley, the new manager (Photograph: Tamworth Herald, 2016)

Martin Young, who has been in the pub trade for 19 years, has been doing much of the general labouring and painting himself, according to The Tamworth Herald. However, he has called in specialist contractors for some of the work on the house on Lichfield Street, Tamworth.

He told Helen Machin: “Structurally everything is in good condition, but it needs a lot of love, a lot of attention and a lot of paint! But it’s a stunning building.”

Martin Young comes to the Moat House with a wealth of experience. The Three Tuns in Fazeley was a finalist in the Tamworth Business of the Year and the winner of the Enterprise Inns Midlands Community Pub of the Year last year [2015].

Work is well under way at the Moat House, with work currently concentrating on the ground floor and the extensive gardens by local tradesmen.

The pub will be open to serve drinks next month, then shortly afterwards it is hoped that the kitchen renovations will be complete and that food will be served too. Martin Young said: “We’re paying great attention to detail, I want to make sure that every bit is right and we don’t run before we can walk. We’re keen not to destroy the character of the building.”

The Moat House has been closed since 2014. The lease was sold in a deal brokered by specialist business property adviser Christie & Co.

Charles Jones, business agent at Christie’s Birmingham office, said: “The Moat House is a fantastic property which is steeped in history and has significant potential. Martin recognised the opportunity and quickly placed an offer which suited the vendor’s needs.”

He added: “Martin has an excellent reputation for running pubs that are valued at the heart of the local community, and we’re delighted that he has taken on the Moat House with plans to operate the business as an important local asset. I expect that this site will be very successful and wish him the best of luck in his new venture.”

The Moat House includes a bar, restaurant, library, function room, gardens and space for more than 80 cars.

A briefing paper on the vote to go ahead
with a new reactor at Hinkley Point C

A computer-generated image of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant. Photograph: EDF Energy/The Guardian

Patrick Comerford

I was interviewed on Newstalk FM this morning by Kieran Cuddihy about the decision late yesterday that could give the go-ahead to building Britain’s first new nuclear power station for a generation.

I was speaking as President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND). Also on the programme was Dr David Robert Grimes of Oxford University, a Dublin-born physicist who writes regularly for The Irish Times and the Guardian.

In advance of the programme, I prepared this briefing paper last night.

The setting

Britain is likely to get its first new nuclear power station for a generation after the directors of the French energy group EDF voted in favour of building the Hinkley Point C power station. After a decade of debate about the controversial £18 billion project, the EDF board approved the project by 10 votes to seven.

If the plan gets the expected British government approval in a few weeks’ time, there will be not one, but two new EPR-style reactors at the Hinkley Point C power station in Somerset.

But it will be too big, too slow, and too expensive.

A more dangerous nuclear world

Nuclear safety has been back in the public eye with the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident recently, along with fifth anniversary of the Fukushima crisis.

The decision comes just weeks after the British government pushed through a decision on replacing Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine force. Britain is on a mad roll towards making this a more-nuclear world and more dangerous world.

Hinkley C is going to produce weapons-grade uranium and weapons-grade plutonium. At a time when world tensions are rising, when Cold War tensions are at a height we have not seen since the 1980s, at a time when we are worried about terrorists and rogue states gaining access to the uncontrolled production of dangerous material like this, this seems like lemmings rushing to the edge of the cliff.

How can the world argue morally that it is wrong for Iran to have its nuclear programme when Britain is stepping up the nuclear race with both nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations?

In addition, it is only five years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 led Japan and Germany to shut down all their nuclear reactors. Japan has since restarted some, but Germany still plans to close all its plants permanently by 2022.

Why should we be concerned?

Of course, we should be concerned in Ireland.

The site of the Hinkley Point C is just 240 km from the Irish coast, and is a greater distance from London – a 265 km drive.

Yet the British government insists it does not have to consult with its European neighbours because there is little or no likelihood of “significant transboundary environmental impacts.”

In the past, British courts have ruled against An Taisce, the Irish National Trust, when it tried to block Hinkley. An Taisce’s lawyers say there was a failure to undertake “transboundary consultation” as required by the European Commission’s Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.

Ireland, The Netherlands, Norway and other European countries have argued they should have been consulted about Hinkley, and even more distant Austria has raised the possibility of a severe accident that could lead to radioactive materials being spread by wind across Europe.

Others are worried too. A UN committee has already ruled that Britain failed to consult European countries properly over potential environmental risks. The committee said Britain “is in non-compliance with its obligations” to discuss the possible impact of any accident or other event that could affect those nations in proximity to Hinkley.

Paul Dorfman, a senior researcher at UCL’s energy institute, said the ruling from the UN Economic and Social Council throws great uncertainty over Hinkley.

Why now?

Ironically, the British government, which supports the project heavily, has welcomed this vote from EDF as a vote of confidence in the British economy just a month after the UK voted to leave the EU.

The cost of the project

The construction of Hinkley Point C is due to be completed by 2025, and its advocates claim it will provide 7% of Britain’s electricity, enough power for six million homes, for almost 60 years.

The British government wants to phase out coal by 2025, and claims nuclear energy offers a lower-carbon option that produces enough electricity to fill the gap created by closing existing plants.

But who said nuclear is cleaner than coal? This is simply exporting the dirt to the Third World, where open-cast uranium mines are radioactive isolated landscapes that blight vast areas for the foreseeable future. Looking at how similar projects have been delayed in France, Finland and other countries, how can we believe that the target date of 2025 is realistic? A similar project has overrun costings in France.

The £18 billion cost of Hinkley Point C is being borne by EDF, which is 85% owned by the French government, and China General Nuclear Power Corporation, which has agreed to take a 33% stake in the project. But the costing must also take account of £3030 billion in subsidies.

EDF’s own flagship project in Flamanville is more than three times over budget and years behind schedule. EDF’s workers in France have campaigned for Hinkley Point C to be delayed or scrapped amid fears it could ruin the company’s finances.

The cost to consumers

This reactor would be the most expensive nuclear reactor in the world, and on top of this it would be poor value for tax payers and consumers.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, has pointed out that the project is “terrible value for money” for British families.

“This is a bitter pill to swallow for hard up people who have been told that the government is trying to keep bills down while dealing with energy security and lowering carbon emissions. Today’s decision doesn’t prove the UK is open for business post Brexit. It just shows the Hinkley deal became too big to fail in the eyes of British and French politicians.”

And, of course, there is a cost to consumers.

The British government has guaranteed EDF a ‘strike price’ of £92.50 for each megawatt hour of energy it generates. But the present wholesale price of that amount of electricity to the British consumer is £38.

Either consumer prices for electricity are going to rise rapidly in Britain – at a time when they are falling fast in other countries, as we know in Ireland; or the British government, the British taxpayers is going to subside the cost, and in the process subsidise the French and Chinese nuclear programmes.

The delays

Can Hinkley Point C (HPC) provide 7% of Britain’s electricity during its estimated lifetime of 60 years? Even these estimates depend on HPC beginning to generate power in 2025, and that is several years later than planned.

In 2007, EDF’s chief executive, Vincent de Rivaz, made the brash claim that people in Britain would be cooking their Christmas turkeys on new nuclear power by Christmas next year [2017]. Now, however, Hinkley Point C is not going to be completed before 2025, at least.

John Sauven of Greenpeace points out: “Every time EDF has tried to build a reactor like Hinkley, it has failed. There isn’t a shred of evidence that Hinkley can be built on time or on budget, and if it hits the same problems as its predecessors, it can’t be relied on to keep the lights on in the UK.”

The main reason for the delays has been worries over the financing of the project by EDF. EDF is 85% owned by the French government, and French trade unions warn Hinkley could ruin the company’s finances.

Look at what’s happening in France

In the run-up to the meeting, an EDF director opposed to the project resigned. in his resignation letter, Gérard Magnin said Hinkley C is “very risky.” He did not attend the board meeting in Paris yesterday [28 July 2016].

His walk-out follows the resignation of EDF’s finance director, Thomas Piquemal, in March. He too expressed concerns about the cost of Hinkley Point C, and he resigned because he felt his warnings that Hinkley Point C could bankrupt the company were being ignored.

In June 2016, EDF executives and managers told MPs that Hinkley Point C should be postponed, until it has “solved a litany of problems,” including EDF’s “soaring debts.” At the time, EDF said it was delaying a final investment decision until at least September 2016.

Apart from financial concerns, there are concerns in France too about how to deal with nuclear waste. France’s nuclear safety authority has found weaknesses in a reactor EDF is building in Flamanville, which is the same design as Hinkley Point C.

Flamanville is over-budget and behind schedule. The €10.5 billion nuclear reactor has faced problems that some say could now be repeated in Britain.

It stands on granite cliffs overlooking the Channel and has become France’s most famous building site.

The technology behind the European pressurised reactor (EPR) is meant to be safer than anything that has gone before. But the project is more than three times over budget and years behind schedule, and France’s nuclear safety authority has found weaknesses in the reactor’s steel.

If and when it comes online, perhaps late in 2018, the Flamanville EPR will be the world’s largest nuclear reactor. It is being claimed that the reinforced concrete core is being built to withstand plane crashes and earth tremors. But the combination of the EPR’s size and its safety features have turned it into a construction nightmare.

The proposed waste disposal scheme remains a proposal. No similar scheme has been built yet, indeed the design has yet to be completed, let alone tested or tried.

Today, there is not one single EPR reactor that is operating anywhere in the world. In Flamanville, the first concrete was poured in 2007. Since then costs have more than tripled to €10.5 billion, and the project is six years behind schedule.

In Finland, the location of another EPR, the picture is even worse: the Olkiluoto reactor is nearly a decade behind schedule and three times over budget, with the added headache of legal battles over who is to blame.

We know less about the two EPR reactors being built in China.

In 2015, it emerged that weak spots had been found in the Flamanville reactor’s steel, which is made by another French industrial champion, Areva. France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) said it had found “very serious anomalies” in the reactor vessel.

As the regulator deepened its investigation, it warned that the problems could affect other reactors in operation. In its latest annual report, the ASN expressed “significant concerns” for the future of France’s nuclear industry.

Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based nuclear policy analyst, accuses the industry of over-estimating its capacity to build highly complex reactors, while under-estimating its skills gaps.

He is worried that relentless cost-cutting pressures could compromise safety, as Areva bids to save €1 billion by 2017 through job cuts. “To me, it is very obvious that you will cut into safety and security and that is what makes me most nervous,” he says. “The financial and economic pressure on all the stakeholders is completely unparalleled.”

The French nuclear regulator, ASN, said it had been informed by Areva that its investigation had found evidence of irregularities in about 400 components produced since 1965, of which some 50 are believed to be in use in French nuclear plants. Areva found faults at a new reactor being built at Flamanville in Normandy. That scheme, like another at Olkiluoto in Finland, is using an EPR like the one planned for Hinkley and is both massively delayed and over budget.

The alternatives

Kevin Coyne, the national officer for energy of the union Unite, was absurd when he said that going ahead “could result in the lights going out in Britain.”

Environmental groups including Greenpeace have criticised any go-ahead, calling for investment in homegrown renewable energy like offshore wind.

John Sauven of Greenpeace says: “We need to invest in reliable home-grown renewable energy like off-shore wind which is powering other northern European countries more cheaply than Hinkley, even taking into account the back-up cost when the wind doesn’t blow.”

The supporters of Hinkley claim it is going to provide 7% of Britain’s electricity from about 2025, at a time when old coal and atomic plants are closing down.

This dash for brash, costly projects comes just as electricity production is moving to a smaller, more dispersed model with the arrival of renewables. Meanwhile, demand for power has been falling in continental Europe as a result of factory efficiency drives.

Britain too should be thinking about smaller, easier-to-build, more-flexible nuclear power stations.

The nitty-gritty of the finances

The unhedged British wholesale electricity price in January 2015 was about £50/MWh. EDF has negotiated a guaranteed fixed price – a “strike price” – for electricity from Hinkley Point C of £92.50/MWh (in 2012 prices), which will be adjusted and linked to inflation during the building period and over the subsequent 35-year tariff period. The price could fall to £89.50/MWh if a new plant at Sizewell is also approved.

The National Audit Office estimates that the additional cost to consumers of “future top-up payments under the proposed HPC CfD have increased from £6.1 billion in October 2013, when the strike price was agreed, to £29.7 billion in March 2016.”

Research by Imperial College Business School argues that no new nuclear power plants would be built in the UK without government intervention.

Compared with other power generation sources, actual UK strike prices in 2015 were in the range of £50-£79.23/MWh for photovoltaic, £80/MWh for energy from waste, £79.23-£82.5/MWh for onshore wind, and £114.39-£119.89/MWh for offshore wind and conversion technologies (all expressed in 2012 prices). These prices are indexed to inflation.

In 2012, maximum strike prices were £55/MWh for landfill gas, £75/MWh for sewage gas, £95/MWh for onshore wind power, £100/MWh for hydroelectricity, £120/MWh for photovoltaic power stations, £145/MWh for geothermal and £155/MWh for offshore wind farms.

For projects commissioned in 2018-2019, maximum strike prices are set to decline by £5/MWh for geothermal and onshore wind power, and by £15/MW for offshore wind projects and large-scale photovoltaic, while hydro power remains unchanged at £100/MWh.

A 2014 Agora Energiewende study found that new wind and solar can provide carbon-free power at up to 50% lower generation costs than new nuclear, based on a conservative comparison of current feed-in tariffs in Germany with the agreed strike price for Hinkley Point C, and neglecting future technology cost reductions in any of the technologies.

Two houses in Churchtown and Rathgar
with links to the playwright JM Synge

The birthplace of JM Synge (1871-1909) at Newtown Villas in Churchtown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

My walks in search of mid-afternoon coffee or on the way home in the evening have led to two unexpected finds of houses in the Churchtown, Rathfarnham and Rathgar area that are associated with the great Irish playwright, John Millington Synge (1871-1909).

Synge was the author of plays, poems and essays, and played a pivotal role in the founding of the Abbey Theatre, alongside WB Yeats and Lady Gregory. His stylised realism set the tone for great writers who followed him, including Sean O’Casey, Brendan Behan and Samuel Beckett. Indeed, Beckett’s novels and plays are often indebted to Synge’s casts of tramps, beggars and peasants.

Around the corner from the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and Braemor Park, Synge House in Newtown Villas is now part of a discreetly-hidden gated community on the corner of Braemor Road.

Edmund John Millington Synge was born on 16 April 1871 in Newtown Little, then described as being in Rathfarnham and now Synge House, No 2 Newtown Villas, Churchtown, Dublin 14. Synge was the youngest son in a family of eight children and spent the first year of his life in this house.

The former country house has been converted into duplex accommodation, with one imposing two-storey-over-basement residence stuck back-to-back to an identical property. Both have steps leading up their main entrances on opposite sides, and have been divided into apartments.

Edmond John Millington Synge was born here in 1871, the youngest of five children. His father, John Hatch Synge, was from a landed gentry family that was seated at Glanmore Castle, Co Wicklow, and moved to Dublin to practice as a barrister.

The Synge family was descended from Edward Synge (1614-1678) from Shropshire, who became Bishop of Limerick and later Bishop of Cork. The family was closely identified with the Church of Ireland over several centuries, providing archbishops, bishops, deans, archdeacons, and clergy in abundance.

The playwright’s branch of the family derived its fortune from John Hatch, the son of Sir William Temple’s agent, who amassed estates in Co Wicklow, Co Meath and Dublin. In Dublin, John Hatch gave his name to Hatch Street, and he owned a townhouse on Harcourt Street that later became the High School.

Glanmore Castle, standing on a 4,000-acre estate in Co Wicklow that included Roundwood Park, was built by John Hatch’s son-in-law Francis Synge, who inherited Glanmore from his uncle, Sir Francis Hutchinson.

Francis Synge’s son, John Hatch Synge (died 1845), the playwright’s grandfather, was known as ‘Pestalozzi John’ after the Italian educationalist whose theories he applied in the estate school, incorporating its own printing-press for teaching materials.

The family estate in Co Wicklow was lost by his son, also John Hatch Synge, under the terms of the Encumbered Estates Act of 1848. The family bought back some of the estates at auction in 1850, and his brother Francis Synge re-established Glanmore Castle as the family seat. Both brothers were members of the Plymouth Brethren, which had a stronghold in Co Wicklow.

In 1856, John Hatch Synge married Kathleen Traill, daughter of the Revd Robert Traill, the Rector of Schull, Co Cork, who is described as having spent his life “waging war against popery.” He was the principal of the Schull Relief Committee during the Great Famine, and died of famine fever in 1847. His translation of Josephus’s The Jewish Wars was published posthumously.

Soon after John was born at Newtown Little, his father John Hatch Synge, a lawyer, contracted smallpox, and died in 1872. He was 49 and the child was just a year old.

No 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar (right) … the childhood of JM Synge; his grandmother lived in the neighbouring house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The widowed Kathleen Synge was left with an income of £400 a year from a Galway property, bolstered by annuities for her children from an uncle. She moved to 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar, to be next door to her mother, Mrs Traill, whose house was afterwards occupied by his sister Annie and her family – maintaining the practice of living together as an extended family of evangelical religious temper under the tutelage of Kathleen.

John was always sickly and was kept at home by his domineering mother who tutored him there. Overshadowed by her through most of his early years, he would live with her for most of his life and even take his holidays with her. For her part, Kathleen Synge was her father’s daughter, a dour evangelical who mixed only in devout circles.

A neighbour wrote: “Mrs Synge conducted her household by a rule as strict as that of a religious order and supposed that her children would acquiesce without question.”

The banks of the River Dodder, behind Orwell Park, inspired Synge’s early interests in nature (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Nevertheless, Synge seems to have had a happy childhood. He developed an interest in nature and in bird-watching as he wandered behind Orwell Park along the banks of the River Dodder, with clusters of wild flowers and a variety of birds and wildlife, and in the grounds of nearby Rathfarnham Castle. Family holidays were spent at the seaside resort of Greystones, Co Wicklow, and at the family estate at Glanmore Castle, Co Wicklow.

The cruel irony for Kathleen Synge was that the long hours of reading she allowed her son to indulge in ultimately took him to Charles Darwin – as a 14 year old he kept The Origin Of The Species hidden under his pillow – and eventually he abandoned his religion completely.

Nos 1 and 2 Newtown Villas … John Millington Synge was born in No 2, the house to the right (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Robert Synge, a brother of the playwright, settled in Argentina as an engineer. Another brother, the Revd Dr Samuel Synge, was a CMS medical missionary in China (1896-1914) with the Church Mission Society (CMS) and the Dublin University Fukien Mission (now the Dublin University Far East Mission), before returning to Co Wicklow as Rector of Deralossary (1923-1951). In his letters to his daughter, he discussed JM Synge’s religious doubts and lack of paternal direction.

A third brother, Edward Synge, became land agent to the Synge estates and later to Lord Gormanston. He was involved in evictions in Galway and Wicklow, causing JM Synge to reproach his mother, to which she replied: “What would become of us if our tenants in Co Galway stopped paying their rents?”

His sister Annie also married a solicitor; an aunt Jane dandled Parnell on her knee and later lamented his politics.

The family later moved to two adjoining houses at Crosswaithe Terrace in Glasthule (Kingstown, Dun Laoghaire), where Mrs Synge continued to instruct her children and grandchildren. She wrote: “John – poor boy ... He had not found the Saviour yet.” He later wrote: “By the time I was 16 or 17, I had renounced Christianity after a good deal of wobbling.”

JM Synge was educated privately, at Mr Harick’s Classical and English School on Upper Leeson Street, and later briefly at Aravon School, Bray, Co Wicklow. The family spent summers in Delgany, Co Wicklow, and later in Duff House, a rented home at Lough Dan.

He studied the violin with Patrick Griffin for two years, and became a student at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, playing the piano, flute and violin and winning awards for counterpoint and harmony.

He entered TCD in 1889 and studied Irish with the Revd James Goodman (1828-1896), an “amiable old clergyman who made him read a crabbed version of the New Testament …” He studied Hebrew in his final year, read George Petrie on Irish antiquities and the Aran Islands, joined the academy orchestra in 1891, and graduated from TCD with a BA (Pass) in 1892.

In 1893, he campaigned against Home Rule in the belief that it would provoke sectarian conflict.

Later, he studied music in Koblenz, Wurzburg and Paris, and then studied literature and languages at the Sorbonne. In 1896, during a return visit to Dublin, he proposed to Cherrie Matheson, the daughter of a leading member of the Plymouth Brethren. Later that year in Paris, he met WB Yeats who encouraged him to visit the Aran Islands.

But in Paris, he also found Maud Gonne’s group – Irlande Libre, with a newspaper of the same name – to be mendacious and gave up attending their meetings. By then, however, he was suffering the first symptoms of Hodgkin’s Disease, and spent much time in hospital.

He travelled to Inishmore and the Aran Islands in 1898, and was invited to Coole Park, where he met Lady Gregory, Yeats, and Edward Martyn that summer 1898. He would spend the late summers of 1899-1902 on the Aran Islands. By coincidence, his uncle, the Revd Alexander Hamilton Synge, had been the Rector of the Aran Island, where he tried to ban Sunday games.

Synge stopped first at Aranmore but soon decided to “move on to Inishmaan, where Gaelic is more generally used and the life is perhaps the most primitive that is left in Europe.” He continued living mainly in Paris, but returned to the Aran Islands regularly.

This was followed in 1902 with two plays, Riders to the Sea and In the Shadow of the Glen, set in Glenmalure, Co Wicklow, near the Synge family home.

He left Paris in 1903 and moved to London. Later that year, In the Shadow of the Glen was staged for the first time by Irish National Theatre at the Molesworth Hall. It was criticised by Arthur Griffith in the United Irishman and other critics in the nationalist press as “a slur on Irish womanhood” and “a vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to.”

When Riders to the Sea had its premiere in 1904, it was attacked by Patrick Pearse, who described it as “a sinister and unholy gospel.”

He was then living at 31 Crostwaithe Terrace, Glasthule, but he moved to 15 Maxwell Road, Rathmines, later that year.

He was appointed literary adviser to the Abbey Theatre at its foundation in December 1904. He became a director with Yeats and Lady Gregory when the limited liability company was formed in September 1905. His play The Well of the Saints also attacked by nationalists when it was stage at the Abbey in 1905.

Synge spent the summer of 1905 in Ballyferriter, Co Kerry, perfecting his Irish. He moved back to Croswaithe Terrace, in November 1906. At the time, he was writing The Playboy of the Western World, based on the story of a man who killed his father with a [turf-cutting implement.

The Playboy was first produced at the Abbey Theatre on 26 January 1907, with Riders to the Sea as a curtain-raiser, amid riots triggered by the phrase “chosen females in their shifts alone.” At the time, the word “shift” was also used in conversation as reference to Kitty O’Shea and her adultery with Charles Stewart Parnell. The rioters were egged on by a band of Trinity students who sang God Save the King. Theatre seats were torn up, Yeats turned up on the second night to appeal for calm, speaking as “The author of Cathleen Ni Houlihan,” and the Dublin Metropolitan Police were called into the theatre to keep the peace.

But Hodgkin’s Disease was taking its toll. He was working on his play Deirdre of the Sorrows, but spent much time in hospitals and nursing home. He was visited daily by Molly Allgood, aka Máire O’Neill, and they became engaged.

He read the Bible in a brown-paper wrapping during his last days, and he died on 24 March 1909, just short of his 38th birthday, in a private nursing home in Lower Mount Street, Dublin. He was buried in a Synge family grave in Mount Jerome. But the Synge family refused to permit Molly to attend his funeral. Deirdre, which was left uncompleted, was written for her and was performed at the Abbey in January 1910 in a version prepared by Yeats and Molly Allgood.

In his speech accepting the Nobel Award for Literature acceptance speech, Yeats said Synge was “incapable of a political thought or of a humanitarian purpose,” – meaning that he was pure imagination.

In 1927, Vaughan Williams wrote an operatic version of Riders to the Sea, which had its premiere in London in 1937 at the Royal College of Music.

The Abbey Theatre presented Pope John Paul II with a rare edition of The Playboy in 1979, during his visit to Ireland.

Today Newton Villas has been renamed Synge House. No 2 carries a plaque on the outside commemorating Synge’s birth, and Newtown Villas is surrounded by a gated residential scheme.

The plaque on Synge House, No 2 Newton Villas, commemorating JM Synge’s birth in the house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

For other postings on the architectural heritage of South Dublin see:

Berwick Hall.
The Bottle Tower, Churchtown.
Brookvale House, Rathfarnham.
Camberley House, Churchtown.
Dartry House, Orwell Park, Rathfarnham.
Ely Arch, Rathfarnham.
Ely House, Nutgrove Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Fernhurst, 14 Orwell Road, Rathgar.
Fortfield House, Hyde Park, Terenure.
No 201 Harold’s Cross Road, the birthplace of Richard Allen.
Homestead, Sandyford Road, Dundrum.
Kilvare House, also known as Cheeverstown House, Templeogue Road.
Knocklyon Castle.
Laurelmere Lodge, Marlay Park.
Marlay Park.
Mountain View House, Beaumont Avenue, Churchtown.
Newbrook House, Taylor’s Lane, Rathfarnham.
Old Bawn House, Tallaght.
Rathfarnham Castle.
Sally Park, Fihouse.
Scholarstown House, Knocklyon.
Silveracre House, off Sarah Curran Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Synge House, Newtwon Villas, Churchtown, and No 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar.
Templeogue House.
Washington House, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Westbourne House, off Rathfarnham Road.