John Millington Synge, playwright, poet, prose writer and collector of folklore, was born on 16 April 1871 in Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin. He studied Irish and Hebrew in Trinity College. He was also an excellent musician. With William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory and others he helped to establish the Irish National Theatre Society (later the Abbey Theatre).
Synge's first visit to the Aran Islands took place in 1898, and he spent the following five summers there, collecting stories and folklore and perfecting his Irish. During this period he wrote his first play When the Moon has Set. He also produced a book called The Aran Islands in 1900, based upon his experiences there. In 1902 he wrote the first versions of three of his 6 plays: Riders to the Sea, In the Shadow of the Glen, and The Tinker's Wedding. He paid his first visit to Kerry in September 1903. This provided inspiration for some of his later works, including The Playboy of the Western World, Synge's major creative achievement, which he began writing in the Autumn of 1904. The first performance of this work caused rioting in Dublin (1907) by persons unhappy with Synge’s move away from the traditional, highly romanticised depiction of the West of Ireland.
In 1907 he became engaged to actor Molly Allgood (Maire O Neill); two years later, on 24 March 1909, he succumbed to cancer. After Synge’s death all his papers were inherited by his nephew and literary executor Edward M. Stephens. They were purchased by the Library in 1969 from Stephens’ widow, Lily M. Stephens, who also donated to the Library many other manuscripts of related interest, including letters which Synge had written to his fiancée Molly Allgood.
The collection, spanning reference numbers IE TCD MSS 4328-4429, includes literary drafts, correspondence, research notebooks, diaries and juvenile work. Further letters & papers of, or related to, J.M. Synge and his family held by the Library of Trinity College Dublin include IE TCD MSS 3554, 3460, 4367, 6173-6225, 7225, 10099, 10577, 10658, and 11332.
See also Nicholas Grene and James Little's online exhibition 'The Journey of the Playboy, 1896-1907' which features images from this collection.