Richard Murphy and the apples of Thoor Ballylee

The Irish poet Richard Murphy died last week at the age of ninety.

Late last year Poetry Ireland hosted readings and celebrations in honour of his birthday, attended by friends, admirers, and members of his family including his sister Mary and brother Christopher. As Christopher Murphy’s affectionate talk made clear, although his brother Richard now resided in Sri Lanka, he always maintained strong connections with the west of Ireland, where he is known for restoring and sailing an old boat between Cleggan and Inishbofin in Connemara, chronicled in his poem ‘The Last Galway Hooker’.

Though the family spent time away from their home in Mayo, Richard Murphy always returned. Living for a time in Rosroe in the house used by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Murphy made his life in the west, writing acute poems about land and seascape, included in the volumes Sailing to an Island (1963) and High Island (1974). These poems could only come from someone who fully inhabited the place and his subjects: the poem ‘Cleggan Disaster’ is a sensitive recounting of a shipwreck that profoundly affected the area. The Price of Stone (1985) tells a kind of architectural autobiography in sonnet form from ‘Connemara Quay’ and ‘Killary Hostel’ to ‘Oxford Staircase’, ‘Kylemore Castle’, and ‘Letterfrack Industrial School’.

In the west of Ireland especially Murphy’s life and poetry lives on. It is, for example, the major inspiration for the annual Inish festival on Inishbofin. At the inaugural event, ‘Sailing to an Island’, President Michael D. Higgins’s inspiring talk about Murphy’s love poems made discreet comment on the recent same-sex marriage referendum, and capped an evening of music, readings, and tributes from award-winning poets like Bernard O’Donoghue and Vahni Capildeo.


As it happened many years earlier the epilogue to Murphy’s ‘Cleggan Disaster’ won a prize in London for which one of the judges was the American poet Sylvia Plath. In this passage from Murphy’s autobiography The Kick (Granta 2000, Cork UP 2014), he is setting up home in the Old Forge in Cleggan when Sylvia Plath and her husband the poet Ted Hughes come to visit.

They day after they arrived, there was a forecast of rain and south-east winds, making a passage to the island undesirable. So I took them to Yeats’s Tower at Ballylee and Lady Gregory’s Coole Park. I had no car but a 7 horsepower minivan, used for selling the fish we had caught. Sylvia sat in front, talking to me about her marriage and mine. In the back, which was too small to contain seats, Ted talked to Seamus about poachers, guns, and fishing.

We went first to Coole, where I showed them the copper beech tree in the Pleasure Ground. Sylvia urged Ted to climb a spiked iron fence that protected the tree, and to carve his initials beside those of Yeats. She said he deserved to be in that company […] But the spikes were too sharp for him to climb over.

The Tower at that time was the ruin predicted by Yeats in the poem carved on a stone at Ballylee. People in the neighbourhood had taken everything that could be moved. The Tourist Board had not begun its restoration, and the road was still untarred. A patient ass was rubbing its ears on a gate. Jackdaws fled protesting as we climbed the spiral stairs. From the top, Sylvia threw coins into the stream. Then they noticed a moss-coated apple tree, planted in the time of Yeats, bearing a heavy crop of bright red cookers. Ted and Sylvia both insisted we should steal them. I protested. Ted said they would make good apple pie, enough to keep me through the winter. They put Seamus up the tree to shake the branches, and went to work among the nettles, picking up the apples, gathering more than a hundredweight. My objections were brushed aside. I asked Ted ‘Why are you doing this?’ Standing with his back to the grey limestone wall of the Tower he spoke in a voice of quiet intensity: ‘When you come to a place like this you have to violate it.’

The respect of Plath and Hughes for the poetry of Yeats (and for Hughes especially for his astrological and magical investigations) did not prevent their harvesting the dead poet’s apples. Murphy, while disapproving of the violations of his visitors, took encouragement from their support during this visit for his writing of dramatic monologues, and in The Battle of Aughrim (1967), his deft disposal of these different historical voices demonstrates his conscience as a chronicler of violence.

Richard Murphy with the poets Douglas Dunn, Philip Larkin, and Ted Hughes

There are still apple and pear trees at Thoor Ballylee, flowering and bearing fruit, despite the odd period of neglect and flooding. Richard Murphy, their would-be custodian, and a sincere, generous, distinguished poet will be remembered fondly in many parts of the world, but nowhere more than in the west of Ireland.

King Lear at Thoor

King Lear comes to Thoor Ballylee!

via a lecture on Shakespeare’s play for schools and students in Gort on 13th February 2018. All proceeds to Thoor Ballylee.

Come and shelter from the storms. ‘Blow winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!’

Denis Creaven, English teacher at The Institute of Education, Dublin, will lecture on several topics in King Lear and on the roles of the main characters.

The lecture will focus totally on Leaving Certificate examination requirements. Complimentary handouts of the lecture, prepared at The Institute of Education, will be distributed.

All proceeds in aid of maintenance for Yeats’s Tower.

Venue: Sullivans Hotel, Gort, Co Galway

Date: 13th February 2018

Time: 12 noon

Duration: 1.5 – 2 hours

Admission: 25 euro

Booking: yeatsthoorballylee@gmail.com Telephone Nichola on 086 855 2124

Your chance to come and hear from an angry old man (not Yeats):

‘And thou, all-shaking thunder / Smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!’

Yeats candlesticks at Thoor Ballylee

Happy New Year from Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society!

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is delighted to announce the coming of Yeats’s original candlesticks to their home in Thoor Ballylee.

With the unmatched generosity of Joseph Hassett and Ronnie O’Gorman these magnificent large brass candlesticks (or altar-sticks) were acquired for the tower. In the 1920s they stood before the great fireplace in the family sitting room in the Norman tower itself. It must have been a magical sight, beneath the dark blue ceiling painted by George Yeats with stars and symbols and next to the old stonework, reworked by the architect William Scott. Although most of the tower’s refurbishment was done with local materials, the candlesticks themselves were probably made in Birmingham by Pearson-Page, a company specialising in authentic copies of historic metal-work in brass, copper, and iron.

Ronnie O’Gorman of Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society admires the candlesticks at their stop in Galway City Museum

The candlesticks come with excellent provenance. They were purchased in the Yeats Family Collection sale in Sotheby’s in London. The sale attracted considerable publicity  as it included not only manuscripts, drawings, and furniture from the collections of WB Yeats, but artwork from Jack B Yeats, the sisters EC and SM Yeats, and paintings and sketchbooks by their father John Butler Yeats.

Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society are very proud to have these fine objects, and there is no more fitting place for them to reside. An event to celebrate their arrival is planned in January, hosted by NUI Galway.

 

Thoor Closing Night 2017

Thoor Ballylee Closing Night 2017

New writers write back to Yeats

Come and join the excitement as Sarah Clancy, Lisa McInerny, and our Thoor ‘write back to Yeats’ competition winners perform.  Mingle with our indomitable songsters and new warblers.
Saturday 7th October 2017
€10 – & refreshments
This is Thoor Ballylee’s season closing event of 2017. Don’t miss out!

Thoor Ballylee extended an open invitation to new (or old) poets for a poem in response to Yeats’s lines a hundred years ago (1938) in his poem ‘Under Ben Bulben’ (edited a little, from Stanza V):

Irish poets, learn your trade
Sing the peasantry and then
Hard-riding country gentlemen…
Sing the lords and ladies gay
That were beaten into the clay
Through seven heroic centuries;
Cast your mind on other days
That we in coming days may be
Still the indomitable Irishry
 W.B. Yeats, from ‘Under Ben Bulben’ (1938)
There will be a modest award for the poem which, in the opinion of the audience, best responds to Yeats’s poem.

Closing Night Saturday 7th October 2017 also features:

Sarah Clancy, author of The Truth and Other Stories. This is Sarah’s third collection of poetry. In it she excavates the personal and psychological wreckage caused by an unrelenting recession in her native Ireland and further afield – with sacrificing the warmth, wit, or linguistic extremity for which she is known.
Lisa McInerney’s first novel The Glorious Heresies won the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the 2016 Desmond Elliott Prize. Her second novel, The Blood Miracles, was published in April 2017 and she is just finishing her third.  She lives in Gort.

Thoor Poetry Competition

Thoor Ballylee Poetry Competition

 Write back to Yeats!

Thoor Ballylee extends an open invitation to new (or old) poets for a poem in response to Yeats’s lines a hundred years ago (1938) in his poem ‘Under Ben Bulben’ (edited a little, from Stanza V):

Irish poets, learn your trade
Sing the peasantry and then
Hard-riding country gentlemen…
Sing the lords and ladies gay
That were beaten into the clay
Through seven heroic centuries;
Cast your mind on other days
That we in coming days may be
Still the indomitable Irishry
 W.B. Yeats, from ‘Under Ben Bulben’ (1938)
So. Are we still the indomitable Irishry??
One poem only per poet — no pseudonyms.
Add name and address/email/phone to  submitted poem.
Poems should  be under three minutes to say and must reach Galway Bay FM  (arts@galwaybayfm.ie) by Friday 29th September.
Up to three poets may be chosen.
The chosen poet or poets  must be available to come and say or read the poem 7.30 on Saturday October 7th in Thoor Ballylee!
There will be a modest award for the poem which, in the opinion of the audience, best responds to Yeats’s poem.

Poetry Night Saturday 7th October 2017 also features:

Sarah Clancy, author of The Truth and Other Stories. This is Sarah’s third collection of poetry. In it she excavates the personal and psychological wreckage caused by an unrelenting recession in her native Ireland and further afield – with sacrificing the warmth, wit, or linguistic extremity for which she is known.
Lisa McInerney’s first novel The Glorious Heresies won the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the 2016 Desmond Elliott Prize. Her second novel, The Blood Miracles, was published in April 2017 and she is just finishing her third.  She lives in Gort.

Thoor Ballylee Culture Night!

For Culture Night this Friday Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society hosts an evening of traditional music, song  and dance at Thoor Ballylee.

Oiche Ceoil at Thoor Ballylee 

Culture Night Friday September 22nd 2017

7.00 pm to 9.30 pm

Refreshments served. All welcome. Free event!


 For Ireland’s nationwide festival of the arts, Culture Night,  Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society hosts an evening of traditional music, song  and dance at W.B. Yeats’s Norman stone tower. 

Performing on the evening will be Gaillimh Theas Comhaltas, Gavin Dance Academy, renowned violinist Claire Egan, accordionist Eoin O Neill and guests.

Come along and join the excitement and witness the cultural richness of Galway’s finest performers, in a unique stone fireside setting restored and honoured by Ireland’s greatest poet.

The event is supported by Galway County Council, Oireachtas na Gaeilge & Arts. Culture night is brought to you by the Department of Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht & the  Creative Ireland Programme in partnership with Galway County Council.

Look out also for our closing season writers event 3pm Saturday 7th October with poet Sarah Clancy, novelist Lisa McInerney and performing poets..!

Jennifer Johnston & Rita Ann Higgins at Thoor!

Join us for an exciting Saturday afternoon in which two of Ireland’s best-loved writers come to Thoor Ballylee to give us the benefit their words, wit, and wisdom.

Grand Dames at Thoor

Jennifer Johnston

& Rita Ann Higgins

with readings and discussion

3pm Saturday 9th September 2017

Tickets on the door €10 (concessions available)

These two storied writers give an afternoon’s entertainment talking over and reading from their work, and thinking about history, politics, and culture in Ireland and beyond.

Irish novelist and playwright Jennifer Johnston is the author of almost thirty books and plays, including The Old Jest (1979), recipient of the Whitbread Book Award, The Invisible Worm (1991), The Gingerbread Woman (2000), and recently Fathers and Son (2012), A Sixpenny Song (2013), and The Christmas Tree: A Play in Two Acts (2015). Her novels range in theme from depictions of the decline of Ascendancy Ireland and the events of the First World War and the Troubles to evocations of personal and familial sorrow in what Penelope Lively calls her ‘hallmark style … economic and staccato’. She also joined other Irish novelists like Roddy Doyle and Anne Enright as a key contributor to Dermot Bolger’s group of linked stories Finbar’s Hotel (1997). Born in Dublin, she is a member of Aosdana and in 2012 received the Irish Book Awards Lifetime Achievement Award.

Rita Ann Higgins is a poet and playwright born in Ballybrit, Galway, and the recipient of numerous prizes and fellowships for her work. Her poetry collections include Goddess on the Mervue Bus (1986) and Higher Purchase (1996) (both Salmon Poetry), An Awful Racket (2001), Ireland Is Changing Mother (2013), and most recently Tongulish (2016) (all Bloodaxe), as well as a recent excoriating and energizing poem about Galway’s City of Culture bid. She has been writer in residence at NUI Galway, received several Arts Council bursaries, and been visiting Professor and Honorary Fellow in institutions around the world from Texas to Hong Kong. A member of Aosdana, she is especially known for the empathetic undercurrent running through her verse and plays, her evocation of voices, and the power of her public readings, all drawn from her close connection to Galway city and county.

 

 

 

Autumn 2017 opening hours

An update on the autumn 2017 opening hours for Thoor Ballylee. Come along, enjoy our exhibitions, climb the famous winding stair, pop into the poet’s bedroom, admire the stranger’s room, and take in the view from the top of the tower.

Or come and see us late for Culture Night, or join our last event of the season, the spectacular Poetry Slam. All before our winter closing on Sunday 8th October. Details below, we hope to see you soon!

Thoor Ballylee Opening Hours

September-October 2017

Until  Friday 8th September

Open 10 to 6 daily

Saturday 9th September until Saturday 7th October

Weekdays: 10 am to 2 pm
Weekends: 11 am to 5 pm

NB our upcoming events

JENNIFER JOHNSTON & RITA ANN HIGGINS: 3pm Saturday 9th September

CULTURE NIGHT: Friday 22 September (from 7pm late opening)

and the 2017 season final event

POETRY SLAM: Saturday 7th October

From Sunday 8th October 2017 the tower closes for the winter months. Till then all visitors receive the warmest of welcomes!

 

Thoor Ballylee road closure

A quick note to inform our visitors that roads this Saturday 26th August around Thoor Ballylee will be closed from 2pm to facilitate the motorsport rally in South Galway. For details of the rally contact Co. Galway Motor Club.

The road closure sadly makes getting to the tower impossible. However we are open in the morning and every other day this summer, and hope to see you soon!