John Millington Synge, poet, folklorist and leading figure in the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th century was born on the 16th April 1871 in Rathfarnham, County Dublin. He was the youngest of eight children and his father was John Hatch Synge, a wealthy barrister who came from a family of laned gentry in Glanmore, County Wicklow.
His father died in 1918 and was buried on his son’s first birthday. Soon afterwards his mother took the family on the short journey to Rathgar where they lived beside her mother’s home. The little boy was educated at home before attending the Royal Irish Academy of music where he studied violin, piano, music theory and won a scholarship in counterpoint. He entered Trinity College in 1889 and graduated three years later before travelling to continue musical studies in Europe. However, due to his inherent shyness he was unable to deliver convincing musical performances and he opted for a literary future. So, in 1895 he moved to Paris and enrolled to study literature and languages.
He met WB Yeats the following in a hotel in Paris, and he suggested that he should travel to the Aran Islands and write about what he experienced there. Over the next few years, he did just that, and in learning the language spoken by the locals, he was able to write incisive, dramatic works. His play In the Shadow of the Glen, formed part of the bill for the opening run of the Abbey Theatre from 27 December 1904. But it was his masterpiece The Playboy of the Western World that was remembered by the audience and the public. On its opening night, 26th January 1907, riots broke out and continued on following evenings. The play was ridiculed by just about every commentator and it caused more riots when it was performed later that year in America.
Synge, who had always been a frail type, died from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on 24th March 1909 in Dublin, and he is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery.