Thoor Ballylee at New Year

Wishing all our friends and everyone around the world Nollaig shona dhaoibh and a happier, brighter new year.

This year many of us have lost friends, family, and colleagues, and we take a moment to remember them: in WB Yeats’s understanding, the best way of keeping them with us. Alongside luminaries such as Dr Margaret MacCurtain, at Thoor Ballylee we particularly remember two good friends, powerful advocates for women and for the arts: Mary McPartlan, singer and cultural activist whose concert closed last year’s season, and Lois Tobin, co-founder of the Yeats Lady Gregory Autumn Gathering, whose determination, generosity, and style ensured that our literary and cultural heritage was shared across generations and borders.

‘Things fall apart: the centre cannot hold’. If you have felt so this year more than ever you are not alone. ‘The Second Coming’, written during a worldwide Spanish flu pandemic when Yeats’s wife George was pregnant and dangerously ill the disease, has been on many lips. The poem, celebrating its one hundredth anniversary after first publication in the The Dial of November 1920, seems curiously made for modern times, as this advent rereading discovers.  

Elihu Vedder, The Questioner of the Sphinx (1863)

Yet Thoor Ballylee stands. With your ongoing help and support, the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society charged with its guardianship emerges from the old year if anything stronger. While Thoor Ballylee was closed to physical visitors for most of the year, we have been open for virtual events, and began a series of films highlighting the place and its hidden delights.

Work has begun on our mill wheel, as part of our plan to remake with craft in metal and wood the fine centrepiece of the old mill just downstream from Yeats’s tower.

While physical labour is paused due to winter flooding, our astonishing volunteers, engineer Eugene Murphy and his team, have produced these blueprints for the new wheel, looking like something out of Yeats’s A Vision:

Eugene Murphy, Mill wheel plan (detail), Ballylee (2020)

This is the first step in a larger project to restore the old mill to become a fitting endpoint of glorious millstream walk. Donations are now open: take this chance to have your name remembered as part of this enduring project. Email us for details of how to sponsor a paddle board! Or as ever donations named or anonymous for this and all our work are gratefully received here.

As every year, The Yeats Lady Gregory Autumn Gathering made a big impression in September. Held virtually this year, and featuring contributions by (among others) Druid director Gary Hynes, and curator of the New York Public Library Exhibition James Pethica, this means events are still available to view online.

This year the DruidGregory project brought the plays of Lady Gregory in outdoor productions nearby Coole Park and other locations in Galway. With them they brought W.B. Yeats’s poems in performance, with fine videos available supported by the Poetry Foundation.

FeliSpeaks reads WB Yeats, ‘When You Are Old’ at Coole Park

Coole Park and the wonders of the heavens were also celebrated in this live outdoor concert by The Coole Players, featuring Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony and exciting new commissions.

The International Yeats Society held a virtual conference this December in Lodz, Poland, on the topic of Yeats and Popular Culture – with full details available on this website.

One hundred years ago, as the year was reaching an end, Yeats was finishing his poem ‘All Soul’s Night’. The strange spiritual revelations he and his wife George were investigating held out the promise of new beginnings – not always comfortable, but rich in thought:

I have a marvellous thing to say,

A certain marvellous thing

None but the living mock,

Though not for sober ear;

It may be all that hear

Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

In this spirit we wish all our friends around the world a rich and revelatory new year, and we look forward to welcoming you all back to Galway and to Thoor Ballylee, spiritually and in person.

Swans on the road to Thoor Ballylee (photograph and film by Rena McAllen)

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