Dunsany - Friend of the native Irish
John Moreton Drax Plunkett the 18th and most celebrated
author/playwright/poet (and man of other specialities) Lord
Dunsany is cited by editors, academics, critics and fellow
writers as one of the most popular and critically acclaimed
writers of the early 20th century. A vital figure in modern
fantasy and fantastic fiction, he is credited as a major
influence on the likes of Tolkien, Le Guin and Lovecraft
to name but a few. By Gerald Robinson.
Lord Dunsany was a prolific, creative and extremely versatile
writer. Over a 50-year period, he produced work that was
laden with meaning and of the highest quality, covering
every literary mode novels, short stories, prose,
reviews, autobiography, poetry, plays and essays.
Baron Dunsany was blessed with an understanding of the symbolic
strengths of fantasy and he used fantasy, horror and the
supernatural world as metaphors for his own deeply-held
convictions. Thus, according to experts who have studied
this enigmatic writer in detail, the need for human reunification
with the natural world was the overriding theme that permeated
all his works.
Lord Dunsany (1878-1957) was a British peer, whose real
name was Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett. As the 18th
Baron Dunsany, with his family seat in County Meath, he
was heir to a great family tradition with a keen sense of
heritage and duty responsibilities he assumed as
a matter of course.
As well as being an important contributor to literature,
Lord Dunsany was also a complex and intriguing character.
Standing tall at 64, he fought in the Boer War,
was injured in WWI and was also an exceptional chess player
(he was Irish champion, reportedly held the Grand Master
Capablanca to a draw, penned one of the greatest chess stories
ever in Three Sailors Gambit, wrote chess
puzzles for the Times and even invented his own variant
form of the game). He was also skilled in shooting, art,
cricket, tennis and hunting.
The eccentric 18th Lord Dunsany once ran for public office
and was a devoted family man.
Along with George MacDonald, Rider Haggard, Edgar Allen
Poe and William Morris, he is regarded as one of the forerunners
of the modern fantasy genre.
The term Dunsanian refers to a style and atmosphere that
has been much-copied but, many would contend, never equalled
A large number of Lord Dunsanys 70 books were handwritten
with personally-cut quill pens (made from feathers discarded
by local ducks), while others were dictated to his lifelong
wife, Lady Beatrice (of the Jersey family, sister of Lady
Longford). He produced his first book The Gods
of Pegana in 1905 and went on to write a lifetimes
worth of magical stories that, though packed with horrors
of their own, provided readers with escapism from the banality
and oftentimes terror of everyday life of the time.
It would be no exaggeration to suggest that Dunsany was
held in the very highest regard by many of the most acclaimed
writers who came after him. HP Lovecraft, acknowledged as
the grand master of darkness and weird fantasy, was an avid
admirer of Dunsanys work and once said: His
rich language, his cosmic point of view, his remote dream-worlds,
and his exquisite sense of the fantastic, all appeal to
me more than anything else in modern literature.
In his capacity as the 18th Baron Dunsany, Lord Dunsany
had plentiful property in his care. This included Dunsany
Castle, which is Irelands oldest remaining family
home, dating back to around 1180. The castle and its estate
were considered by the family to be a crucial part of the
national heritage and they fought to ensure that it was
maintained despite the difficulties that led to many other
similar buildings being abandoned in Ireland during Lord
Dunsany Castle was originally built as a towered fortification
of the Norman Pale. Construction began in 1180/81 under
the command of Norman warlord Hugh de Lacy. The first part
of the site to be erected was a motte-type fortification
for the fortress (Dun), after which the townland of Dunsany
is named. Of course, additional work was carried out, notably
in the 18th and 19th centuries, as the castle grew to three
times its original size. Much of the original building still
stands, including the large foundation and four main towers.
Today, Dunsany Castle is still headed by the Plunkett family,
namely the 20th Lord Dunsany Edward Plunkett and his wife
Maria Alice de Marsillac. It is the longest occupied home
and one of the oldest continuously inhabited buildings in
Ireland. The castle can be visited and still houses the
writing table at which Lord Dunsany conceived his fantastic
Other properties in Lord Dunsanys care were Trim Castle
(Irelands largest castle) and Dunstall Priory and
Ivy Cottage in Shoreham, Kent.
As genres didnt really exist at the time, Lord Dunsany
was respected for his overall ability as a writer. In all,
he published hundreds of items an amazing achievement
bearing in mind that writing only accounted for a small
percentage of his very busy schedule.
Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett (the Plunkett name is
unique to Ireland) was born in London on July 24 1878. His
familys roots in Ireland are believed to go back to
before the Norman invasion. His father John William was
a scholar, engineer and politician, while his mother Ernie
Grosvenor was descended from James Drax of Barbados.
Known as Eddie in his immediate circle, Edward grew up between
the family properties in Kent and Dunsany. He schooled at
Cheam and Eton and entered Sandhurst in 1896. He returned
to Dunsany in 1901, upon finishing his duty as an officer
in the Coldstream Guards during the Boer War, having inherited
the title of Baron Dunsany upon his fathers death
He met Beatrice Child-Villiers in 1903 and married her the
following year. He would remain devoted to his wife for
the rest of his life and the couple worked very closely
together in recording Edwards many works (though he
preferred to work in solitude, often in a small room at
the top of Dunsany Castle).
Edwards first book was published in 1905: The
Gods of Pegana was a unique work or artificial mythology
contained in a series of short stories. Though his first
recorded published work was a poem, Rhymes From a
Suburb, in The Pall Mall Magazine in September 1897,
the would-be Baron hadnt inherited his title then
and was known as the Honourable Edward Plunkett.
On August 25 1906 his only child was born (Randal would
become the 19th Lord Dunsany). Through his uncle, Horace
Plunkett who pioneered the co-op movement and was
a prominent figure in Irish society Edward met a
number of key Irish personalities, and regular visitors
to Dunsany Castle and Dunstall included Yeats, Kipling,
James Stephens, Lady Gregory, AE and Oliver
St John Gogarty.
At the suggestion of WB Yeats, Lord Dunsany penned the play
The Glittering Gate, which opened to critical
and public acclaim at the Abbey Theatre in 1909. He was
a natural playwright and once had five works running simultaneously
in Broadway. Another time, he was on stage at four major
European capital cities as well as New York.
A true master of the English language who awoke a sense
of wonder in his reader, Dunsany opened his library to another
famous Meath writer, poet Francis Ledwidge, whom he supported
greatly. He arranged publication of his works, including
two posthumous collections (Ledwidge was killed in action
in WWI). Though in his mid-30s, Lord Dunsany fought in the
After returning from duty, Dunsany continued to write, to
growing acclaim. His fiction entered a new phase and he
became more creative again as a poet. His best-know character,
Mr. Joseph Jorkens, was born in the 1920s and would go on
to feature in a sextet of short story collections.
Serving in the Home Guard and the Local Defence Force during
World War Two, Lord Dunsany made radio broadcasts and a
number of television appearances after the war, and gave
lecturing tours of the USA while also continuing to write.
The 18th Lord Dunsany died in Dublin on October 25 1957.
He had suffered an appendicitis episode at Dunsany Castle
and never recovered consciousness after the ensuing operation.
He was buried in Shoreham and a memorial service was held