University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

Thomas MacGreevy
Letters to
Eleanor and Frederick Reid

1954 - 1966

Manuscript Collection Number: 309
Accessioned: Purchase, August 1994.
Extent: .1 linear ft. (29 items, 78 pp.)
Content: Letters, photograph, and clippings.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: November 1994 by Anita A. Wellner.

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note

Irish author, poet, and critic Thomas MacGreevy was born in 1893, in Tarbert, County Kerry. During World War I, MacGreevy served as an officer of the Royal Field Artillery and was wounded twice during the Battle of the Somme.

Following his discharge from military service, MacGreevy was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, receiving a degree in history and political science. After completing his formal education, he worked with Lennox Robinson and Miss Christina Keogh to organize several libraries, including the Irish Central Library for Students.

In 1926 Thomas MacGreevy moved to Paris, where he taught English at the Ecole Normale Superieure of the University of Paris, wrote literary criticism, and developed friendships with a number of Irish writers, including Samuel Beckett, Denis Devlin, Brian Coffey, and James Joyce. During the seven years MacGreevy lived on the Continent, he also traveled throughout Italy with William Butler Yeats, worked on the staff of the art review Formes, and was executor of James Joyce's estate, following Joyce's death in 1941.

Although MacGreevy was best known for his literary criticism, his first published work was a translation of Paul Valery's Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci (1929). His two critical studies - Richard Aldington, an Englishman (1931) and Thomas Stearns Eliot: a study (1931) - were followed by his first book of poetry, Poems, published in 1934. He also contributed articles to The Criterion, transition, and Dial.

Following Paris, MacGreevy moved to London, where he lectured on art history at the British National Gallery and served as chief critic for The Studio, as well as contributing articles to Connoisseur and The Times Literary Supplement.

In 1941 Thomas MacGreevy returned to Dublin and in 1950 was appointed Director of the National Gallery, a post which he held until his retirement in 1964. As its Director, MacGreevy diligently sought to establish the National Gallery as a cultural center for the Irish nation. He devoted himself to procuring works of art for the Gallery, introducing the work of Irish artists, and creating an appreciation for the visual arts in Ireland.

Prior to his tenure as Director, MacGreevy had developed a friendship with Jack B. Yeats and had written a tribute to the artist titled Jack B. Yeats: an appreciation and an interpretation (1945). Their friendship was marked by Yeats's increasing reliance on MacGreevy until his death in 1957. MacGreevy's relationship with Eleanor and Frederick Reid developed because of MacGreevy's service as an informal guardian to Yeats. MacGreevy was also executor of Yeats's will and the organizer of an exhibition devoted to Jack B. Yeats in 1962.

MacGreevy continued to write and serve as a consultant for the National Gallery until his death on March 16, 1967. His Collected Poems was published posthumously in 1971.


Hickey, D. J. and J. E. Doherty. A Dictionary of Irish History Since 1800. Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble Books, 1981. p. 339.

Hogan, Robert (ed.) Dictionary of Irish Literature. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979. p. 403.

Note: Biographical information also derived from obituaries found in Brian Coffey's "Self books" (Brian Coffey Papers).

Scope and Content Note

The twenty-four letters written by Thomas MacGreevy to Eleanor and Frederick Reid, between 1954 and 1966, include seventy-eight pages of text and several enclosures. With the exception of one typed card, which provided MacGreevy's change of address, all of the letters were handwritten by MacGreevy.

Thomas MacGreevy became acquainted with the Reids through Jack B. Yeats. In November of 1954 MacGreevy made the arrangements for Frederick B. Reid to visit Yeats and to view paintings by Yeats at local galleries. MacGreevy's hospitality was deeply appreciated by the Reids and a friendship grew from that experience, as well as their shared appreciation for the work of Jack B. Yeats.

Although Thomas MacGreevy's early (1954) letters were dominated by his responses to the Reids's questions about Jack B. Yeats, as the correspondence continued, MacGreevy began to widen the scope of his discussions to include details about his family, his personal health, his strong religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic, his work at the National Gallery, his activities following his retirement, and reminiscences about his friendships with James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Wallace Stevens, and particularly, Jack B. Yeats.

The letters, which are arranged in chronological order, are filled with numerous details concerning Jack B. Yeats, such as his devotion to his wife, his "mystical" feeling about roses, his refusal to allow reproductions of his painting for print, and his religious faith.

Enclosures in MacGreevy's letters consist of one letter from his niece, Cliona Farrington; a photograph of Cliona and her mother; a business card; and two clippings. The clippings are from a local Dublin newspaper. One is a letter to the editor, in which MacGreevy - signing as "Kerry Catholic" - presented his opinion on "racialism," and an article describing the opening of the 1962 exhibition of work by Jack B. Yeats, which was organized by MacGreevy and at which he provided remarks.

Located with the November 2, 1956 letter from MacGreevy is a letter written to Frederick Reid by Harry A. Bigelow, in which Bigelow refers to Jack B. Yeats. It is unclear whether this letter had been sent to MacGreevy, and was being returned, or whether it was simply placed among the MacGreevy letters by Reid.

This small collection of letters provides insights into the life and work of Thomas MacGreevy and his friendship with Jack B. Yeats.

Related collections:

Ms 310 Eleanor and Frederick Reid Collection Related to Jack B. Yeats

Ms 313 Proscenium Press Archive

Brian Coffey Papers

Contents List

Folder -- Contents

F1   Letters, 1954-1956
     1954 Apr 27              ALS       2p
          Aug 4               ALS       2p
          Nov 2               ALS       2p
          Nov 10              ALS       2p
     1956 Nov 2               ALS       1p
               Note:  Includes a letter from Harry A. Bigelow to Frederick Reid.

F2   Letters, 1957-1961 Nov
     1957 Good Friday         ALS       1p
          Sep 15              ALS       4p
          Dec 12              ALS       4p
     1958 Mar 18              ALS       4p
               Note:  Includes a business card and a photograph of MacGreevy's great
               niece Cliona Farrington with her mother.
     [1960] Jan 3             ALS       4p
     1961 Feb 6               ALS       4p
          Nov 20              ALS       3p

F3   Letters, 1961 Dec-1962
     1961 Dec 31-1962 Jan 1   ALS       4p
     1962 Dec 8               ALS       4p
               Note:  Includes a clipping of an exhibition opening of work by Jack B.
               Yeats, at which MacGreevy provided opening remarks.
          Dec 26              ALS       6p

F4   Letters, 1963
     1963 Mar 14              ALS       6p
               Note:  Includes a letter from Cliona Farrington to Eleanor Reid.
          May  11             ALS       5p
               Note:  Includes a clipping of MacGreevy's letter to an editor on
               "racialism," which he signed "Kerry Catholic."
          Jul 23              ALS       4p
          Sep 29-Oct 2        ALS       8p
          Dec 14              ALS       2p

F5   Letters, 1964-1966 and [n.d.]
     1964 Dec 14              ALS       1p
     1966 Jan 7               ALS       3p
     [n.d.]                   ALS       2p
               Note:  This is an incomplete letter, comprised of the final two pages of a
     [n.d.]                   TC        1p

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