Yeats & the West: new NUI Galway exhibition

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William Butler Yeats, poet, playwright, politician, and Nobel prize-winner for literature always looked west. As part of Ireland ’s decade of commemorations and the worldwide Yeats2015 series of cultural events marking his 150th birthday, NUI Galway’s Moore Institute and Hardiman Library presents Yeats & the West, a collaborative exhibition exploring Yeats’s life, work, and legacy, and his deep connections to the west. Yeats & the West considers what the west meant to him, and what that means for us. For fuller information, visit the website. 

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For Yeats the west was the wellspring of songs, stories, folklore, artwork, drama, crafts; the foundation of the Irish imagination. It was also the landscape of his poetry and plays. Significant events of his life took place there; collaborations that formed his work were forged there. Yeats & the West tells this remarkable story.

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This interactive exhibition features original watercolour sketches and oils by W.B.Yeats’s brother, the celebrated artist Jack Yeats, priceless Cuala Press volumes and broadsides, a wealth of visual material from artists and photographers from Fergus Bourke to Nicolas Fève, and rarely seen images and manuscripts from archive collections in NUI Galway and around the world. Through rare books, original documents, and artworks, and using modern touchscreens, recorded sound, and exclusive film, visitors take a tour of Yeats’s commitment to history, tradition, and new art, all under western eyes. Talks and special events feature throughout the exhibition’s spectacular run from June to December 2015.

Yeats and the West logo

June – December 2015

Hardiman Research Building

NUI Galway

Free admission

Open 9-5 Mon – Sat. (9-5 Mon-Fri until 20 July)

Yeats & the West tells the story of the places and people that made a western cultural revolution.

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On display is W.B.Yeats’s attention to life, love, and landscape in Galway, Sligo, and beyond. Yeats & the West details the many artistic collaborations that centred on Coole Park, Galway between artists of the western world. It follows the foundation of the Abbey Theatre in Galway, and Yeats’s work with J.M.Synge, George Moore and Edward Martyn, using exclusive materials from the Lady Gregory Collection, the Abbey Digital Archive, and the Lyric Theatre Belfast. It explores his obsession with local poet Antoine Ó Raifteiri, and highlights the gifted artists of Yeats’s own family, whose pioneering work is showcased in exquisite handprinted books and in embroidery from Loughrea cathedral.

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Yeats’s restoration of Thoor Ballylee, Galway, is seen alongside the construction of his own poetry, and the effects of revolution and civil war on his work and the west is put starkly on view with manuscripts from the National Library of Ireland, and rare books and photographs. Collaborations with his artist brother Jack Yeats are illustrated with newly exhibited sketches and exquisite colour prints. Yeats & the West even tracks his furthest forays west, following him and the Abbey players as they cross the Atlantic and bring back with them a renewed idea of the breadth of the western world.

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Through images, words, film, and sound, with interactive touchscreens, panels, and rich display cases, using valuable material from the university’s collections and from around the world, Yeats & the West tells anew an old story: a story of going west to find those places, real and imaginative, that change our sense of where and who we are.

The exhibition runs from June to December 2015 in the Hardiman Building, NUI Galway with special events throughout.

With special thanks to the Moore Institute, Hardiman Library, NUI Galway’s President’s Office, Galway City Museum, the National Library of Ireland, Loughrea Cathedral, the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society, and Yeats2015.

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Rooting Thoor Ballylee

A speech on the occasion of Yeats2015 and Yeats’s 150th birthday

by Joseph Hassett                                                            

Yeats birthday Roy Foster Joseph Hassett

I salute the important work you are doing to restore Thoor Ballylee. Preserving this tower is essential because W. B. Yeats is present here. One of the greatest poets of all time is alive here in a very particular way. There are two reasons for claiming Yeats’s presence. First, he himself insisted that the passionate dead return to the places to which they were attached during life. In particular, he says, ‘the shadows of the famous dead come to our elbow amid their old undisturbed habitations.’ In such places, ‘they tread the corridor and take the empty chair.’

Whether you accept the real presence of Yeats here at Thoor Balylee is not important because there is no denying his virtual presence. Yeats’s famous declaration that ‘this tower is my symbol’ made Thoor Ballylee the visible representation of his life and work.

The troubled poet Sylvia Plath wrote that she felt a profound connection with Yeats as a result of her visit to this tower and that her soul responded to the peace of this place where we stand today.


Yet the Tower was a very unusual place to live. And the location is remote. Wondering why Yeats chose to live here at all, we realize that taking up residence in Thoor Ballylee was so forceful an assertion of Yeats’s personality, and so complete an identification between person and place, that his palpable presence becomes apparent one moment and believable the next.

In a letter to Sturge Moore Yeats called the tower a ‘permanent symbol of my work’—, a ‘rooting of mythology in the earth.’ The suitability of a tower for this purpose is suggested by Gaston Bachelard in a little book bearing the intriguing title, The Poetics of Space. Bachelard maintains that the form of a tower emphasizes the opposition in any dwelling between the rationality of the roof and the irrationality of the cellar. The latter, the ‘dark entity’ of the house, sinks into what he calls the ‘earthly watery depths’ of the collective unconscious. Bachelard’s poetics make good sense as applied to Yeats because Yeats believed in a universal unconscious, an hereditary capacity for primordial thought, memory and myth. Yeats put it simply : Our individual thoughts ‘are not, as we think, the deep, but only the foam upon the deep.’

By living in Thoor Ballylee, Yeats was sinking his roots into the deep. Thus, when he prayed, in ‘A Prayer on Going Into My House’, “that “God grant a blessing on this tower and cottage,’ he asked specifically

That I myself for portions of the year

May handle nothing and set eye on nothing

But what the great and passionate have used

Throughout so many varying centuries

We take it for the norm.

In other words, Yeats is praying that the tower connect him to the great and passionate dead, whose thoughts still linger in the collective unconscious.

Five years after Yeats moved into Thoor Ballylee, Carl Jung built a tower on the Upper Lake of Zurich at Bollingen. Yeats would not have been surprised to find that Jung’s mind travelled in the same circle as his. Were not both minds but the foam upon a common deep? As Jung sank his roots into the ancestral depths, he sensed that the souls of his ancestors, hitherto awash in the collective unconscious, were gathering about his tower.

The same thing occurred at Ballylee. No sooner had Yeats taken up residence in his tower than he began calling up, and claiming as ancestors, what he called –in the poem ‘The Tower’—‘nearby images in the Great Memory stored.’Then, in his next volume of poetry, The Winding Stair, he made that firm declaration that is so pertinent to the reasons that bring us here today:

I declare this tower is my symbol; I declare

This winding, gyring, spiring treadmill of a stair is my ancestral stair;

That Goldsmith and the Dean, Berkeley and Burke have travelled there.

Yeats was plumbing the depths of his ancestral past. Speaking of the poetry of this period, he said that his ideal form of expression was most approximated ‘when I carry with me the greatest possible amount of hereditary thought and feeling.’ This ancestral feeling was tapped by sinking the tower into the watery, earthly depths of the collective unconscious. That is why the tower symbolized his work, which he summed up as a ‘rooting of mythology in the earth.’

‘Rooting’ was in Jung’s mind as well. The ‘uprootedness’ of modern civilization, he felt, was unsettling to the hereditary elements of the psyche. Sinking the tower in the collective unconscious had a calming effect because it restored our severed connection with the past.


In the serenity of Thoor Ballylee, we sense the harmony of roots restored, the calm of the psyche made whole. Standing here, it is easy to share Sylvia Plath’s sense of serenity and peace, and to believe that it flows from a perfect blending of person, place, present and past.

Preserving this connection to the past is essential to our own connection to the extraordinary Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and to a sense of ourselves as a people who care about our past, and want to feel its continuing life in our own lives, and in the lives of our children and their children.

Congratulations and Godspeed on the important work you are doing.


Joseph Hassett

More from Joseph Hassett on Yeats’s 150th birthday on OUP’s blog here.

Share in Yeats’s enchanting Thoor dream

Thoor Ballylee Re-opening speech on the occasion of Yeats2015 and Yeats’s 150th birthday celebrations

by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames


A dhaoine uaisle, Cathaoirleach an Chontae, a Aire, a Theachta Dala, Seanadoiri, Comhairleoiri, cuirim failte roimh go leir go dti an ocaid speisialta seo, an ait an-speisialta seo.

And I will find some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings

These famous lines help us to understand the importance of place in Yeats’ life and poetry. Places of beauty form the source and substance of poetry, they evoke the flitting essence of life so hard to grasp. Places are where the magic of life is sensed and felt, the magic which our poet sought to catch, like butterflies, in his net of words.

Thoor Ballylee is undoubtedly such a place. It smells of poetry: the trees, the whispering weir, the fairy-tale tower, the rustic cottage…the whole atmosphere of tower, stream, and area.

One could imagine the poet dreaming Eithne imprisoned in the tower’s dusty loft, or himself looking from the window to the stream and out across the deep fields and blossoming hedgerows, himself ruminating words as the lazy cows chew the cud.

I can see him rising bleary-eyed from his cluttered desk ‘because a fire was in my head’, and emerging from the foot of his tower where he might have

       cut and peeled a hazel wand

And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,

And moth like stars were flickering out,

I dropped a berry in a stream

And caught a little silver trout.

For well over ten years the poet came here again and again to breathe in the inspiration of the evening air, of the clear morning, of the lazy afternoon in the company of his wife George, close to his great friend Lady Gregory.

W.B.Yeats was Ireland’s first Nobel prize winner. This is where he lived. It was here by the shady depths passing by his dream tower that he sought and caught his salmon of knowledge, the mythical fish of inspiration, at whose taste Fionn’s eyes were made bright.

We must therefore celebrate this place, Thoor Ballylee, if we really desire to get closer to the magic, the musicality, running through Yeats’ poetry.


Ladies, gentlemen and children, Thank you for joining with us in celebration today. It was in this spot that Yeats’ dreams were conceived, here that he sought to make them poetry.

This place, however, is not only important for poetry. It was central to forming Yeats’ identity. And it is so often that we look to poetry itself, especially that of an Irish poet, to catch a glimpse and form an idea of our own identity. In more recent times we have done this with Kavanagh and Heaney. Yeats was perhaps the first to unify us in this way.

Yeats’ true identity, and ours too, was not political, although he was a Senator, but rooted in places like this: in the charm of rural quiet, and rustic beauty. These things are real, and stay with us, regardless of all the conclusions and beliefs drawn by rational minds. Rest a while, take it in and savour it today.

This is not to say that Yeats was not a political poet. In a Seanad debate in 1924 when Yeats contemplated a united Ireland he said it would be won in the end not because we fight for it but ‘because we govern this country well ‘by creating a system of culture which will represent the whole of the country and which will draw the imagination of the young towards it’. Wise words we must agree.

And Yeats has a lot to teach us in this regard. I read from his famous poem, ‘The Tower’, drawing its name from this very spot:

I choose upstanding men

That climb the streams until

The fountain leap, and at dawn

Drop their cast at the side

Of dripping stone; I declare

They shall inherit my pride,

The pride of people that were

Bound neither to Cause nor to State,

Neither to slaves that were spat on,

Nor to the tyrants that spat,

The people of Burke and of Grattan

That gave, though free to refuse—

Pride, like that of the morn,

When the headlong light is loose…

It is therefore a great pleasure, no, a great honour rather, to celebrate the regeneration of this magical place, for me to commend our outstanding local community, our donors local and afar, some you will hear more from later, but most especially our committee of dreamers, who have toiled against all the odds to declare Thoor re-open today, for our culture, for our identity, for our sense of selves.

But I being poor have only my dreams

I have spread my dreams under your feet,

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

With Thoor Ballylee, Yeats spreads his dreams under our feet.

We must be careful with them. Together then let us claim this tower. Help us on our journey to restore it. because ‘we have miles to go, miles to go before we sleep’ to realise our vision, to turn it into a home for all to enjoy, to re-claim our past and re-imagine our futures as Yeats did in 1916. To make it a place that will exhibit and tell not just Yeats story but our story. We need your help – volunteer, come along to our events, become a friend of Thoor. All information is available on

Minister Deenihan, I thank you for being with us today and for the unexpected honour you bestowed on me in asking me to chair this committee, Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society. I have a favour to ask you too –  that you would take it upon yourself to convince the Government to lift up its head, look out and realise the treasure that Thoor is.

Today we are opening our doors to you and inviting you in.

Come with us. Thoor is the kind of monument that speaks so much more to us than any official column or statue. Let us mind it. It is living poetry, it quivers with life!

Happy birthday Willie! Breithla shona dhuit, a Sheamais!

Healy Eames

Fidelma Healy-Eames

Yeats’s Birthday at Thoor Ballylee

Due to our marvellous community support and the wonderful efforts of committee and sponsors and helpers, Thoor Ballylee has opened for Yeats2015. On W.B.Yeats’s 150th birthday, Saturday 13th June 2015, over 800 visitors and well-wishers made their way to the tower for a special opening event hosted by the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society, with Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, founding sponsor Joseph Hassett, and Minister Jimmy Deenihan.

Yeats Thoor

Thank You!

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society thanks all our supporters, visitors, and donors.

Without your help this event, and this wonderful reopening, would not be happening.

Joseph Hassett, Founding Sponsor

Aoife Gallagher & other private donors

Auction Donors & Buyers

The Heritage Council

The American Ireland Fund

Thoor Friends

Local tradesmen, family and friends

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

As W.B. said ‘my glory was I had such friends’.

For more information on how to help, visit here – all and any visitors please go here.


Flynn Hotels

Galway Arts CentreGalway 2020

Heritage Council


Thoor Ballylee Thank you Poster (1)



Come to Thoor for Yeats’s birthday!

Invitation to Thoor Ballylee

16.00-18.00 Saturday 13 June 2015

Thoor Ballylee, Gort, Co. Galway

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society invites you to the re-opening of Thoor Ballylee on the occasion of W.B. Yeats 150th birthday. Come celebrate Yeats2015 at the poet’s home! ThoorBallyLeeRiver

This Saturday 13th of June to coincide with W.B. Yeats’s 150th birthday, the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is thrilled to announce the re-opening of the Tower for the first time in seven years. Minister Jimmy Deenihan, Joseph Hassett, Yeats Scholar & Thoor Benefactor and Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, chair of the Society, will open the event at 4 pm.

Niall De Burca, Internationally acclaimed story teller will perform at the event, which is followed by a community barbeque.


Ireland’s Nobel Laureate for Literature, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) spent his summers in Thoor Ballylee, where he was inspired to write some of his finest poetry. Yeats once said in a letter to Olivia Shakespeare that “We are in our Tower and I am writing poetry as I always do here, and, as always happens, no matter how I begin, it becomes love poetry before I am finished with it.” In 1928 he published a monumental volume of poetry, The Tower and in 1933, The Winding Stair and Other Poems. Both collections were inspired by the life, landscape, and architecture of the place, and feature many poems set and composed at Thoor Ballylee.

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Senator Healy Eames, Chairperson of the Thoor Ballylee Society explains “Thoor Ballylee is re-opening on Saturday 13th of June and will be open throughout the summer. We are planning to develop the Tower into a legacy project of the Yeats 150th Celebrations which will draw tourists and Yeats scholars from near and far to savour this stunning setting and the depth of the Irish literary legacy. This has been a labour of love and strength of conviction about the need to preserve our past for future generations. With Thoor we are reclaiming our past. As Chair of the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society, I would be delighted if you would help us on our journey’”

The Society is calling on the local community, media and other interested parties to support the project so ambitious plans to turn the tower into a world class cultural centre, which will accommodate a new exhibition, a cafe, bookshop, and space for exhibitions, lectures and classes. The Society calls on the public to check the website to find out more about the project, read updates on progress, learn about the tower and its history, join in discussions, make donations, and discover exciting sponsorship opportunities.

We are delighted to say that thereafter for the summer, the tower will be open all week, from 11am to 6pm Monday – Sunday.

This area of South Galway has many cultural connections to Yeats and to Lady Gregory. Other celebrations that are taking place in the vicinity include:

  • Kiltartan Gregory Cultural Society Picnic Enjoy a recital by Coole Music Ensemble, poetry reading by local school children, face painting for the younger generation and a Trad session with Gaillimh Theas Comhaltas. Come in period costume. Time. 12.30 to 2.30 pm.
  • Coole Harmonies in the Cobbled Yard Fancy dress procession to the site of Coole House, Uilleann Piper Eugene Lamb & Poetry readings. Time: 3pm to 5pmCome and join us!

Come and join us!


Thoor Ballylee opens for Yeats’s birthday!

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is delighted to announce that Thoor Ballylee will open as promised for Yeats 150th birthday celebration on Saturday 13th June. Visitors, scholars, and the local community will be able to view that winding gyring stair once again, thanks to all your support, eagerness and goodwill.


Our official opening will take place in Thoor Ballylee, Gort Co.Galway from 16.00-18.00, 13th June. Minister Jimmy Deenihan, Joseph Hassett and Senator Healy Eames, Chair of the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society will open the event. This is a public event to which you are very welcome. You can also view it on facebook.

You are also welcome to join other Yeats Celebrations taking place in the vicinity on the same day:

  1. Kiltartan Gregory Cultural Society Picnic Enjoy a recital by Coole Music Ensemble, poetry reading by local school children, face painting for the younger generation and a Trad session with Gaillimh Theas Comhaltas. Come in period costume. Time. 12.30 to 2.30 pm.
  2. Coole Harmonies in the Cobbled Yard Fancy dress procession to the site of Coole House, Uilleann Piper Eugene Lamb & Poetry readings. Time: 3pm to 5pm.

If you are unable to attend we would be delighted if you could help us by becoming a Thoor Ballylee Friend for €25. All Donations big or small are gratefully received on our website. Funds will be directed towards developing Thoor Ballylee as a thriving cultural centre and ensuring that the Tower remains open to the public in the future.

For more information about the project, please contact:

Winding stair


Thoor auction raises €10,000

A unique rooftop auction at Thoor Ballylee at the weekend raised €10,000 towards Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society’s plans to restore and reopen Yeats’s venerable tower in county Galway.

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A total of €10,000 was raised at the auction, which was held on the rooftop of Thoor Ballylee by local auctioneer Colm Farrell – dressed as Yeats.

A signed first edition of Maud Gonne MacBride’s autobiography fetched €5,200 at a fundraiser for poet WB Yeats’s former summer home at Thoor Ballylee in south Galway.

The signed copy of MacBride’s A Servant of The Queen, published in 1938, was donated by Enid McAleenan to an auction run last Sunday evening by the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society, along with a letter written by MacBride to her late aunt Eileen.

Gonne’s letter refers to the importance of living a full, adventurous life and standing up for a “free Ireland”.

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Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society chairwoman Senator Fidelma Healy Eames paid tribute to the “power and generosity of the local community”. “All funds raised will be used to open the tower to the public during the summer season in the stark absence of State funding,” she said.

Read more in this Irish Times article here.

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