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Friel to open newly restored Synge cottage

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — Top actors and writers have backed a £100,000 restoration of a cottage on the Aran Islands where John Millington Synge was inspired to write some of his most famous plays.

Half of the cost of the project has been met by the Udaras na Gaeltachta, the Irish language development body, and half has been raised by London-based Treasa Ni Fhatharta, whose family has owned the cottage for at least five generations.

Among those supporting the project are screen and stage stars Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Rea and Fiona Shaw, writers Roddy Doyle, M’ve Binchy, Jennifer Johnston, Patrick McCabe and Neil Jordan and former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.

The cottage on Inis Meain is to be officially opened next month by playwright Brian Friel.

Ni Fhatharta’s family took in Synge as a lodger when he first visited the island in 1898 at the age of 27. He became a regular visitor every year until 1902.

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Synge, whose plays include "Riders to the Sea" and "The Playboy of the Western World," fell in love with the island and its people.

The stone cottage has been restored to what it was like when he stayed there 100 years ago. The earth floor and large open fire are back and it has been whitewashed and re-thatched with the traditional rye straw used on the island.

"The idea is to keep the cottage and the stories about it alive," Ni Fhatharta said. "From the time I was very young I had heard about how the cottage was called a university of the Irish language with Synge coming and leaders of the Gaelic revival like Padraig Pearse, Eoin MacNeill, and Lady Gregory.

"I have been working for two years on the restoration and have had a lot of help from actors and writers. Many people in England and America also contributed but want to remain anonymous.

"It has gone a bit over budget because I am also adding a reference library in an extra room which was built on to the cottage in about 1903. This will help make it viable, as it will also be a room for a writer-in-residence.

"It will be available to visit throughout the year but we don’t get many visitors from October onward."

Synge used the kitchen and a bedroom and there are two other small rooms.

The cottage, where Ni Fhatharta was born and raised with ten brothers and sisters, had been unoccupied since 1978 when the family built a new bungalow alongside.

The cottage will be opened on Aug. 7 but it is lucky it is there at all.

"We were meant to knock it down," Ni Fhatharta said. "It was part of the terms under which we got the grant for the new bungalow. That, thankfully, didn’t happen."

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