New Year at Thoor Ballylee

Remembering the time of WB Yeats’s death eighty-four years ago, when according to WH Auden he ‘disappeared in the dead of winter’, this year sees WB Yeats’s 158th birthday, and the 100th anniversary of his Nobel Prize for Literature from 1923. At Thoor Ballylee we look back and look forward: we reflect on the past year’s happenings, and anticipate the exciting new season.

The clear out of the exhibitions and fittings in the tower and cottage has long been complete and flood barriers are in place until the spring. Many coats of paint were applied to the downstairs area; rich velvet curtains replaced rotten door & jambs (with the help of Anderson contractors); the audio-visual presentation is newly updated ready for the new year. Through this frosty winter the tower waits in welcome, as for so many years, for pilgrims and visitors from around the world.

2022 Season

Following an enforced two-year closure, we were delighted to back in business to in-person, on-site visitors. The past twelve months for Thoor Ballylee brought lots of hard work and many challenges, but it was our pleasure to welcome back three thousand visitors during the 2022 season, all eager to explore the home of WB Yeats and attend the many organised events.

This year’s season opening began with a warm welcome back as we hosted afternoon tea at Thoor Ballylee. This was followed by an evening concert with Ciaran Cannon & guests, all in aid of the Gort Welcomes Ukraine Fund.

The season also featured:

Two performances of Yeats Joyce and Nora by our local Wild Swan Theatre Company;

an evening with Soprano Helen Hancock;

the annual Poet’s Picnic for WB Yeats, attended by our generous benefactor, Joe Hassett;

…and a special performance of Nora by The Curlew Theatre Company, to mark Bloomsday 100 years of James Joyce’s Ulysses, with musical interlude by Nicola and Karina Cahill.

All week long during Heritage Week as ever the local community took the chance to engage, and the Studio @ Thoor Ballylee was the venue for a book launch on the History of the GAA by Steve Dolan.

For Culture Night Jo Beth Young and guests treated us to an enchanting evening of stories and song with her Shadow Navigation Show.

The long-awaited in-person return of the Yeats Lady Gregory Autumn Gathering brought many Augusta Gregory and Yeats enthusiasts, including many Gregory family members, to Thoor, which hosted day two of the Gathering.

The return of The Songbirds brought our visitor events for 2022 to a close.

But that was not all. Thoor Ballylee was represented at the inaugural Gort Community Fair.

The Society was chosen as a delegate in the EU’s Cultural Heritage in Action Programme and was included on the list of Best Practice Sites in Europe.

Mary Hanley’s sons paid a visit and donated a precious and valuable collection of books to the tower.

And schools and education groups returned to the tower to learn about its history and heritage.

We hosted a civil wedding ceremony for a lovely Texan couple and a several wedding parties chose Thoor and its surroundings for wedding day photos.

And his was a year for documentaries! – starring Miriam Margolyes, Julia Bradbury, and our own Ronnie O’Gorman and Rena McAllen. Highlighting the natural world and cultural impact of Thoor Ballylee, RTE, Channel 4, Bat Conservation Ireland, and a German TV crew came to film in the tower beside the stream at Ballylee.

Acknowledgments

We are indebted to our generous benefactors for their continued support. This year with their help we were able to acquire an original Elizabeth Corbett Yeats picture from 1934.

Our thanks go to our army of volunteers and craftworkers and professional contractors helping us at Thoor Ballylee.

Most of all, our appreciation goes to the fantastic group of volunteers (ten of whom joined our team this year) who threw open the doors and shutters, lit the fire and the candles and welcomed in the many guests, pre-booked tours, schoolchildren, and other groups and individual visitors, seven days a week over a period of six months. We thank Pat O Looney, Paul O Donnell, Tonii Kelly, Pauline Kennelly, John Morgan, Aidan Eames, Anne Leahy, Gerry Conneely, Dido, Ruth Lynch Delassus, Gerry Wynne, and more! The call for a Meitheal for the spring clean was responded to with much enthusiasm.

To our reliable car park team Gus and JJ who guaranteed our safety during events, thank you, and for lighting our way to the tower – so spectacularly – thank you JJ Finn.

To our mainstays – the hardworking Nichola Baverstock and Anthony Coppinger – Míle Buíochas.

All requests re maintenance were speedily addressed by local partners: shutters were replaced and painted, presses, windows & doors repaired, a new boiler installed, leaking toilet fixed and a grand new bridge erected in the picnic park.

Thanks go to Eugene Murphy, work on renovating and reinstating the mill wheel continues. The project has caught the interest of former Minister and TD Frank Fahey and other locals, and as a result, a fundraising drive has been set in motion to fund the restoration of the mill wheel.

Let us not forget the tremendous support of Failte Ireland and our many donors and friends.

We have completed another successful and inspiring year at Thoor Ballylee. Whether flood waters arrive or not, we look forward to a wonderful new year in 2023.

Míle Buíochas do cách. Meanwhile if you’d like to contribute however modestly to all the cultural and community work that we do and to the upkeep of this unique building and surrounds please visit our donate page.

Our first visitors of 2023 came all the way from Tennessee! We hope to see you too during this coming season.

Winter greetings from Thoor Ballylee

Following a two-year closure to in-person visitors, Thoor Ballylee opened to all comers in 2022 and all here had a busy and exciting year.  

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society was chosen as a delegate in the European Union’s Cultural Heritage in Action program, and was invited to be on the list of Best Practice Sites in Europe. We are also continuing to work nationally and internationally to address the current environmental issues: to that end we are restoring the mill wheel on site, with the hope of generating our own electricity. We hope to implement a biodiversity project, which will help restore the flora and fauna that surrounded Yeats and his family at Thoor Ballylee, and which is mirrored in his writing.

2023 marks an important time for Thoor Ballylee as that year marks the centenary of Yeats winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. To that end, we are planning a series of events to mark the occasion, as we continue our work to preserve and promote Yeats’s legacy. In tandem with the centenary events, we have an equally ambitious programme of performances, tours, talks, and exhibitions for 2023. 

If you’d like to read more about the many cultural events associated with the tower, take time in the new year to visit our website for the latest – https://yeatsthoorballylee.org/  – and why not follow us on Facebook by liking Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society!

As always, we appreciate your continued interest and support in our work to honour the remarkable Yeats family and historic Norman building, and to keep alive the work of WB Yeats through poetry, culture, history, and love of nature. 

If you would like to donate, become a Friend of Thoor Ballylee (or renew your Friend of Thoor Ballylee subscription), we gladly invite you to visit our website donation page.

Many thanks to all our visitors and well-wishers and donors and friends, and wishing you all the best for this season! We close with a photograph of Thoor Ballylee from just last week in all its winter glory.

Lady Gregory-Yeats Autumn Gathering

Join us for the 28th annual Lady Gregory-Yeats Autumn Gathering 2022!

Saturday 24 September 2022

0930-1600 (Coole Time)

and

Sunday 25 September 2022

1000-1400 (Thoor Ballylee Time)

In Coole Park, Lady Gregory provided the space and support needed by the literary giants of the time to shape the nation’s artistic and literary response to events. At Thoor Ballylee WB Yeats wrote some of his finest poems responding to monumental national events like the Irish Civil War. The magic of the Autumn Gathering is to bring people together from all corners of the world – to listen and learn, laugh and share, with academics and artists, local historians and literary figures; to meet descendants of Lady Gregory and Yeats, renew friendships and make new friends – all enjoying and celebrating the prominent role of Lady Gregory in shaping the theatrical, poetic and cultural life which thrives today.

After registration from 9.30, to mark the 90th anniversary of Lady Gregory, Jane Murray Brown, Great-Granddaughter of Lady Gregory, will formally open the Gathering at Coole Park Visitor Centre on Saturday at 10.00 and cut the famous Barm Brack.  Barry Houlihan, Archivist NUIG, will Chair the Gathering. Christopher Griffin, Smithsonian Journeys Lecturer, will speak of Gregory, Yeats, and the Political Violence in the Gort Area 1919-1923.  Dr. Cecily O’Neill, Author and international authority on Drama Education and Theatre, will present Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man: Letters of John B. Yeats from New York. Ella Swift Redding, a self-confessed Lady Gregory ‘SuperNerd’ since her Master’s thesis at Trinity College, and Creatrix of Burly Mermaid Media, will present Revolutions Ahead — Augusta Gregory’s Bold Spin with Victorian Bicycling.  Enjoy the Open Forum with our speakers and Robin Murray Brown, Great-great Grandson of Lady Gregory, and a guided walk in Coole Park Nature Reserve courtesy of the National Parks & Wildlife Service.

On Sunday at 10.00 in Thoor Ballylee, Ronnie O’Gorman, Director Autumn Gathering and Thoor Ballylee, will share The Unexpected Gift of BooksAnna O’Donnell, Chair Thoor Ballylee, will speak about the Mill Wheel Restoration and the Biodiversity Project at Thoor Ballylee, including George’s Garden and WB’s Poetry! Also, a second staging of Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man: Letters of John B. Yeats from New York will be held in the tower.

Saturday Cost: €60 per person, tea/coffee/barm brack break included.  Lunch can be purchased in Coole Park Tearooms.  Candlelight Dinner and Entertainment in Coole on Saturday evening at 1900 – €75 per person. Please advise your guest numbers asap.

Sunday Cost: €20 per person, tea/coffee break and lunch included; pay at door of Thoor Ballylee.

For full details please go to https://autumngathering.com/programme/

For booking, please go to: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/lady-gregory-yeats-autumn-gathering-2022-tickets-414867859937

To advance book the Thoor Ballylee Sunday leg go to: Thoor Ballylee Gregory gathering eventbrite

You can also contact the event organiser on:

Marion Cox email: monaleen@msn.com  Tel: 086-8053917. https://autumngathering.com

We look forward to welcoming you!

Portrait of a Lady

Continuing our summer programme of cultural events, don’t miss your chance to attend our next concert.

Portrait of a Lady

at Thoor Ballylee

Friday 24 June at 8:00 PM

The concert features Helen Hancock (Soprano), Catriona McElhinney Grimes (Piano), and our guest Kitty Sabry (Violin).

Join us for an evening of eclectic music – from French song and German lieder to Irish song and arrangements of Irish music for solo piano.

The programme explores the voice of women and includes a song cycle by Clara Schumann, songs by Lili Boulanger and Catriona’s own arrangements of Irish music for piano solo. Irish song settings and songs by Fauré, Schubert and Mozart will also feature.

Come find us in the historic venue of Thoor Ballylee, Gort, Co. Galway where Yeats himself lived and where many powerful female voices were heard!

Click to book your tickets at eventbrite. Tickets available on the door, but going fast!

Plays and Poets Picnic

2022 is a literary summer season! In the run up to WB Yeats’s 157th birthday on 13 June, and Bloomsday on 16 June celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ulysses, we have special cultural events taking place at Thoor Ballylee.

Poets Picnic

3pm Sunday 12 June 2022

+

4pm Wandering Stars

performed by the Wild Swan Theatre Company

Poets Picnic

Our Poets Picnic is free to all young and old! It is an annual gathering of poetry lovers and all folk interested in poetry and culture, in honour of WB Yeats’s birthday. Do come along for our magnificent outdoor picnic spread, with readings of Yeats’s poems, thoughts about his life and legacy, and reflections and poems by other artistic figures.

Wandering Stars

This year the Poets Picnic is followed by a play performed by The Wild Swan Theatre company. Written by Joe Hassett and directed by Marion Cahill-Collins, this explores the intertwined lives of Yeats and Joyce and Nora Barnacle. Admission to the play which starts at 4pm inside the tower is €10 with tickets available on the door.

Cast: Claire O Donnell as Nora, Justin McDermott as Joyce, Gerry Conneely as Yeats.

Ukraine Refugees Tea and Poetry Day Ireland

Tea for Ukraine Refugees

On Saturday 30th April Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is hosting a fundraiser in aid of the Ukrainian refugee crisis. It is a fitting venue as much of Yeats’s work, including “Meditations in Time of Civil War”, conceived and written at Thoor Ballylee, considered the nature of war and violence, and led to him receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The event on April 30th 2022 will consist of a afternoon tea served at the cottage in the 14th century tower between 3pm and 4.30pm.

You will be spoiled with a selection of delicious treats kindly provided by local restaurateurs and businesses.

A photograph from the event: all proceeds go to Ukrainian refugee organizations. For more details visit here. And below Nicolay Homenko shows off his artistic skills – this piece was created during the concert!

Poetry Day Ireland

Poetry Day Ireland takes place today, Thursday 28 April 2022. The theme is ‘Written in the Stars’.

Poetry Ireland ask us all to share a poem, read a poem, speak a poem, participate in a Poetry Day Ireland event or programme your own event on the day. Everyone is invited to join in and celebrate, just remember to tag them on #PoetryDayIrl. 

Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society joins in with this weird millennial poem from The Wind Among the Reeds (1899). It refers to a mythical battle of ancient Ireland whose terrifying violence seems to come again, whereupon the speaker humbly submits in peace before the fates written in the stars, dictated by the demiurge, or prime mover of the heavens.

‘The Valley of the Black Pig’

The dews drop slowly and dreams gather: unknown spears

Suddenly hurtle before my dream-awakened eyes,

And then the clash of fallen horsemen and the cries

Of unknown perishing armies beat about my ears.

We who still labour by the cromlech on the shore,

The grey cairn on the hill, when day sinks drowned in dew,

Being weary of the world’s empires, bow down to you

Master of the still stars and of the flaming door.

WB Yeats, from The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)

‘AE’ (George Russell), ‘Lordly Ones Appearing to a Turf Cutter’

Easter Reopening

Easter Saturday 16th April 2022

Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is delighted to announce our Easter reopening, and welcoming back our visitors – after a two year closure – from 11am this Easter Saturday 16th April 2022! Comhaltas Gaillimh Theas will provide entertainment between 12 noon and 1pm.

Each weekend in April we’ll be open 11-4pm. Further opening hours will be announced for the summer.

Especially thanks to our many helpers, contractors, and volunteers (to help or join us see below) we are primed and ready, and excited to welcome you back!

Volunteers readying the tower for opening!

This Easter Saturday and beyond into spring and summer, come along and learn about the life and work of WB Yeats, the poems he wrote at Thoor Ballylee, and he and his family’s deep connections to the area and the west of Ireland. The cultural revolution his family began would involve the whole island in arts and crafts, so it is fitting that the restoration of the the restoration of the tower with local materials is continued today in the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society’s efforts with local craftworkers and landscape gardeners on the gardens, the Studio at Thoor Ballylee, and the Mill.

Clare Champion

The Clare Champion has an article about us!

Galway Films

For our spring reopening, Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is presenting the online premieres of new films about Yeats and Galway. Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society youtube channel

With the help of the Spot-lit programme for literary tourism, with camera and editing by Morgan Creative and Seanchas Productions, and featuring local musicians and contributors, these short films are voiced by luminaries like Marie Mullen from Druid Theatre and some of our very own members. They highlight places in County Galway important to Yeats and which feature in some of his finest poems, from ‘The Tower’ to (as here) ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, as a ghost returns to old haunts.

Come and help!

Thoor Ballylee historic fourteenth Century tower house, once home to Nobel Prize winning poet WB Yeats and his family, is managed and run by an amazing group of volunteers. We are currently adding to our volunteer pool so if you have a love of literature or history, enjoy interacting with people and have four hours a week to spare, please contact Thoor Ballylee at +353 85 862 0935, email thoorballylee@gmail.com, or contact us above.

We are a voluntary group with no permanent external funding. We’d love for you to help us keep this unique heritage site going for all of us today, and for future generations. To join us or donate any amount large or small see the donate page above.

Tidying at Thoor Ballylee

Getting Yeats’s tower ready for Easter

In readiness for our grand reopening on Easter Saturday, our team of volunteers took advantage of the spring sunshine and tidied and pruned and carried and cleaned and gardened and wheeled and worked and generally made the C14th Norman tower and its surrounds ready for visitors.

Committee members Lelia Doolan and Rena McAllen and other volunteers young and old muck in with the gardening and landscaping at Ballylee.
Our dedicated team of volunteers (and dog) take a break.

After over two years of waiting Thoor Ballylee will reopen for visitors Saturday 16 April 2022. The countdown continues!

Coole Park

Speaking of gardening, when you visit Thoor Ballylee, why not stop at Lady Gregory’s great gardens and woods at Coole Park? The latest of our short films highlighting Galway places features Yeats’s poem ‘Coole and Ballylee 1931’ and celebrates the place, the people, and all the inspiration to which it gave birth. Voiced by Marie Mullen from Druid Theatre.

With the help of the Spot-lit programme for literary tourism, with camera and editing by Morgan Creative and Seanchas Productions, and featuring local musicians and contributors, Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is presenting the online premieres of new films about Yeats and Galway. For more see Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society youtube channel

Wild Swans in Coming Home

Culture Night leaving you hungry for more? Come and join us this weekend at Thoor Ballylee for an exciting al fresco play performance.

The Wild Swan Theatre Company presents:

Coming Homee

by Niall Finnegan

4pm Sunday 19 September

The Mill, Thoor Ballylee

Free Admission

In this short play written by the Wild Swan Theatre Company’s own Niall Finnegan, a chance meeting in the Burren revives both happy and sad memories for two old friends and leads to a lively conclusion…

Performed by Justin McDermott, Max Lee, Judith Gantley and Rose Finnegan.

The play is performed in the beautiful surrounds of the Yeats family’s C14th Norman Tower, Thoor Ballylee. Park in our free car park, walk up the stream, and find us by the mill.

This is an open air venue. If you wish (as well as a jumper!) do bring your own seat.

By the stream at Thoor Ballylee, Galway H91 D8F2

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)