The Studio at Thoor Ballylee opens

Today thanks to the sterling work of our volunteers and helpers, Thoor Ballylee is now open for the 2019 season 10am-2pm weekdays, 11am-5pm weekends. There are an exciting line up of events planned throughout the year. We kick off in grand style with the launch of our new studio space.

The Studio at Thoor Ballylee

A new space for making and thinking

On Sunday 28th April 2019 at 3pm a new studio space opens at the Galway home of the poet W.B. Yeats. Designed for workshops, exhibitions, craft sessions, youth groups, special events, talks, and discussion forums, it combines work space for artists with educational and workshop facilities. The Studio at Thoor Ballylee forms a cultural hub in the west of Ireland that matches the commitment of Lily and Elizabeth Yeats to art and education.

The studio is inspired by two extraordinary examples: the work and legacy of the Yeats sisters. As a designer and embroiderer Lily Yeats (born Susan Mary Yeats) studied with May Morris, before setting up as an independent artist and maker of textiles with apprentices of her own. Her sister, artist and educator Elizabeth Yeats (known to the family as Lolly), pioneered the arts in the classroom, creating new watercolour brushwork techniques as a teaching method for children, and coaching young artists from Louis Le Brocquy to Anne Yeats. She became a hand-press printer and maker of books, publishing fine editions of art and literary works including by her brothers the poet W.B. Yeats and the artist Jack B. Yeats. Together the Yeats sisters were the founders of the Dun Emer workshop and then Cuala Industries, a groundbreaking nationalist and feminist collective producing art and providing skills, training, and apprenticeships across a range of applied artistic fields. Determined to revive, improve, and expand the reach of all the arts in Ireland, the example of the Yeats sisters stands behind the vision of the studio, with its emphasis on making of all kinds.

Saint Colman, design by Jack B. Yeats, embroidery by Lily Yeats and the Dun Emer workshop (1903) (image courtesy of St Brendan’s Cathedral Loughrea)

Originally an outbuilding converted to a garage by the Yeats family, the studio faces the Hiberno-Norman tower of Thoor Ballylee made famous by the poetry of W.B. Yeats, who lived and worked there with his wife George Yeats, also an artist and researcher of great ability, and their young family. Its transformation into a studio was made possible by generous private sponsorship and matching competitive funding from the Government of Ireland’s Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht.

With a variety of configurations and uses the studio is designed to host artists, workshops, and young people. A series of craft workshops is planned throughout the year featuring textiles, printmaking, spinning, poetry, drama, storytelling, and more.

Dr Catherine Morris and Dr Barry Houlihan with Cuala Industries handpainted banner (NUI Galway)

The 2019 opening by local historian Sister Mary De Lourdes Fahy at 3pm Sunday 28th April features as special guest Mrs Sabina Higgins, with poet Mary O’Malley, weaver Kathy Mooney and harpist Áine Ní Shioradáin, plus other important artists and visitors. The studio hosts a special exhibition featuring work by Lily, Elizabeth, Jack and W.B. Yeats and the Cuala Industries workshop.

from Elizabeth Rivers, Stranger in Aran (Cuala Press, 1946)

To find out more – or see how you can help – see our website donate page  or contact yeatsthoorballyleesociety@gmail.

John Butler Yeats, Musician




Thoor Ballylee opens!

Thoor Ballylee opens to all visitors from Saturday 20th April 2019. Yeats’s famous tower is open all summer for visits, cultural events, crafts workshops, and more!

Come and visit the fourteenth-century Hiberno-Norman tower featured in so many of W.B. Yeats’s best poems.

The Winding Stair and other Poems (1929)

Climb the winding stair (and mind our precious bats and nesting jackdaws!).

Discover more about the life and work of W.B. Yeats in world-class exhibitions.

Join in our numerous cultural events, performances, and workshops!

Jeremie Cyr-Cooke (Ghost of Cuchulain) and Orlaith Ni Chearra (Fand/Woman of the Sidhe) work on choreography for Yeats’s The Only Jealous of Emer

Treat yourself to tea and cake by our roaring fire, and browse in our giftshop.

Or just soak in the atmosphere of the Norman tower and beautiful surrounds.

Our first special event of 2019 is the launch of our new studio space, The Studio @ Thoor Ballylee. Open as a working space for artists and audiences, and featuring workshops, educational events, exhibitions, symposiums, and discussion groups, it forms a vibrant cultural hub in the west of Ireland that matches the commitment of the Yeats sisters to art and education. Funded by generous donors and the Department of Culture, the studio opens in honour of Lily & Elizabeth Yeats, artists and pioneer embroiders, printers, and educators.

Our grand opening at 3pm Sunday 28th April features local artists and speakers and a wonderful exhibition of the Yeats sisters’ Cuala Industries material.

For more details see our visitors page. Our latest 2019 calendar of events is available here. As a non-profit community organization, Thoor Ballylee is run by volunteers. To find out how you can help us in our mission to keep open Yeats’s tower for new generations click here.

See you soon!

Macbeth & Poetry: Leaving Certificate lectures

Leaving Certificate 2019 

Macbeth & Poetry Lectures

at Thoor Ballylee

12 noon Tues 23 & Wed 24 April 2019

Booking: — 086 8552124

€30 or €50 for both days, with a tour of the Yeats tower and coffee included.

Would you like help preparing for your English Literature exams? More information and ideas about plays and poetry? Have a wider interest in theatre and verse? There is no better time than St George’s Day (also Shakespeare’s birthday) to come to Yeats’s tower at Thoor Ballylee to hear more.

Ralph Richardson as Macbeth (RSC 1952)

Denis Creaven, English teacher at The Institute of Education, Dublin, prepares lectures and notes focused on Leaving Certificate examination requirements. Complimentary handouts of the lectures will be distributed.

Macbeth Preparation Day 1

Tuesday 23rd April 2019

Deals with topics in Macbeth including the roles of the main characters.

Poetry Preparation Day 2

Wednesday 24th April 2019

Concerning the poetry of Seamus Heaney, WB Yeats, Brendan Kennelly, DH Lawrence, Sylvia Plath. (Notes on Gerard Manley Hopkins will also be distributed).

WB Yeats himself had endless arguments with his father about the merits of various Shakespeare plays, and founded the Abbey Theatre in honour of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London. As he wrote in 1906,  “every national dramatic movement or theatre in countries like Bohemia and Hungary, as in Elizabethan England, has arisen out of a study of the common people, and out of an imaginative re-creation of national history or legend.” From Scottish history Shakespeare plucked the story of Macbeth, and produced some of the finest and strangest scenes in theatrical history.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Come and hear more, and enjoy and inclusive tea and tour around the storied building of Thoor Ballylee. Proudly supported by the Institute of Education, Dublin.

In Memory of Sam McCready

Sam McCready, the actor, director, writer, painter, and teacher, a great friend to WB Yeats and to all lovers of Yeats around the world, has died.

Sam was a vibrant figure, and introduced generations to Yeats’s plays through performances at the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo. He repeatedly paid tribute to Mary O’Malley, founder of the Lyric Theatre Belfast where McCready got his break in the acting world in the late 1950s, and who pioneered productions of Yeats’s plays. Many have been paying tribute to him in his turn for his inspiring work in theatre and performance.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland remembered him as a ‘legend […] revered internationally and remembered locally with unusual warmth and affection’.

The Lyric Theatre Belfast released a statement calling him ‘a titan of Ulster theatre’, and no wonder: for the Lyric he played numerous roles, including Captain Boyle in Juno and the Paycock, King Richard in Richard the Third and Christy Mahon in a musical version of The Playboy of the Western World called A Heart’s A Wonder. He founded the Lyric Drama Studio for younger actors and directed Martin Lynch’s The Interrogation of Ambrose Fogarty, becoming trustee and Artistic Director of the theatre

Most recently in April 2018 he performed his own adaptation of No Surrender, based on the memoir of a Belfast childhood by Robert Harbinson. His own memoirs of early years at the theatre are available under the title Baptism of Fire from Lagan Press.

McCready’s career took him from Belfast to Bangor in North Wales to off-Broadway productions in New York and to the University of Maryland, where he became Professor of Theatre and is remembered as ‘an extraordinary mentor, teacher, actor, director, and friend to generations of students and to so many people in the UMBC community’.

As an outspoken proponent of the arts McCready insisted on their value as community projects but also on high standards – and practiced what he preached. As he said, ‘one of the things that America has taught me is that people should go out and work for themselves. […] I have to bring that audience in. I don’t want anyone to get money for nothing and I don’t want the taxpayer to be handing out money for nothing. But at the same time the arts must be subsidised. Those in the arts must use that subsidy to do quality work and not see it as an opportunity to do mediocre stuff.’

At the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo McCready was a regular yearly contributor as speaker and director. With his wife Joan he taught inspiring acting and speaking classes and directed each year a production of one of Yeats’s plays: rarely seen theatrical wonders about whose performance he campaigned passionately.

He wrote, performed, and toured one-man plays on the life of Percy French, and The Great Yeats!, about WB Yeats’s father the artist John Butler Yeats. He was known throughout the world as a fine speaker of WB Yeats’s verse, and chose to speak the final lines from Yeats’s play The Resurrection at the closing of the Lyric studio in Derryvolgie Avenue.

Edmund Dulac, ‘The Nightingale’

In one of his last posts Sam recited lines from Keats’s ‘Ode To A Nightingale’: ‘Thou wast not born for death immortal bird / No hungry generations tread thee down’.

Keats’s lines (which continue ‘The voice I hear this passing night was heard / In ancient days by emperor and clown’) were a vital trigger for Yeats’s own meditations on music, death, and immortality, especially when he imagines himself transported among the goldsmiths of ancient Constantinople, posthumously singing to a (sometimes indifferent) royal audience.

Here follows Yeats’s poem ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, in fond memory of Sam McCready.


That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.


An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.


O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.


Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

In Memory of W.B. Yeats

It is eighty years, a lifetime and no time at all, since W.B. Yeats died and was laid to rest at Roquebrune in the south of France. Far from home, friends and energies surrounded him, and he left life still busy working and thinking: “I know for certain my time will not be long. I have put away everything that can be put away that I may speak what I have to speak, & I find my expression is a part of study […]. It seems to me that I have found what I wanted. When I try to put all into a phrase I say, ‘Man can embody truth but he cannot know it’. I must embody it in the completion of my life.”

France, Var, Roquebrune sur Argens, snow in winter on the cliffs of the Rocher de Roquebrune

When his death was announced, the wires hummed with tributes from around the world. Most interesting perhaps were responses from his younger contemporaries, Louis MacNeice and W.H. Auden. They had differed politically from Yeats in the ‘low dishonest decade’ of the 1930s, and yet both were moved to respond handsomely. Louis MacNeice would write a one of the earliest and finest books of criticism about the poet, published in 1941, and W.H. Auden wrote several essays and a poem among the finest in the language.

Thoor Ballylee, Galway, March 2018 (from Connacht Tribune)

Auden’s poem is sombre, strangely moral, and reflective, as he works out a strong sense of difference amidst his admiration (in its final version below, the poem was revised to leave out any need for forgiveness: ‘Time […] pardons him for writing well’). It records the effect of the poet’s death on the world, but the world’s impress on all he left behind, including those last to know about his passing, his poems. Yeats had been seeking warm weather for his health, but through Auden’s eyes it was marked indelibly by a symbolically cold winter: ‘What instruments we have agree / The day of his death was a dark cold day.’ With the current cold snap across these islands and in North America it is hard not to recall the words of this probing, bracing tribute, first published later in 1939 as the flames of World War Two were rising.

Chicago and Lake Minnesota, January 2019

In Memory of W.B. Yeats

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.

The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.
But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden.


Ben Bulben, Sligo, January 2018

Happy New Year 2019!

Season’s Greetings and a Happy New Year for 2019!

With our Season’s Greetings, Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society has great pleasure in sending you news of everything you have helped to support during the past year at Yeats’s tower in County Galway.

We hope you are as pleased as we are with all the varied cultural events associated with the tower, and welcome your continued support for an equally ambitious programme of performances, tours, talks, and exhibitions in 2019. These are exciting times at Thoor Ballylee: work is in progress converting the old garage over the road into a magnificent new artist’s studio and residence.

So we welcome your support! 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 and all the best for the Festive Season.



Highlights of 2018

The curtain has come down on another successful season at Thoor Ballylee.
Around 4,400 appreciative visitors came to Thoor Ballylee during from April to October 2018.

Many also came to our programme of special events.

The Songbirds with their wonderful harmony and lyrics proved to be a popular public closing event, performing to a full house. This year the season was extended to facilitate the Architecture at the Edge festival 2018. Many first-time visitors from the locality and afar, took advantage of our open house day to visit the home of W.B. Yeats, and even began with an hour of Architectural Yoga conducted by Sarah from the Gallery Café. With his eastern and esoteric interests W.B.Y. might well have approved.

Other successful events held during the year include two Talks for Leaving Certificate students courtesy of Denis Creavan, and a riveting production of The Only Jealousy of Emer by Galway based DancePlayers, including members of NUI Galway’s Drama department.

As a special treat for W.B.Y’s birthday we enjoyed a Sunday afternoon of medieval music in the medieval tower, with the talented & delightful Coole Music troupe, dressed in medieval costume. We even had a birthday cake. A second celebration of the birthday featured wine and amazing food, provided by the very talented Anna and featured poetry reading by the mill. Thanks again to Anna O Donnell and to Brendan Murphy, for their demonstration of Lady Gregory’s brack cake and stories from the Abbey. This was our nod to Heritage Week.

For Culture Night, the composer and sound artist Francis Heery brought poetry to Thoor Ballylee and an immersive sound installation in his presentation of A Vision.  Supported by the Arts Council, this, one of the main events in County Galway, was unquestionably a memorable night, quite out of the ordinary for lots of reasons. Francis even proposed to his fiancée on the battlements just before the show & she said ‘yes’. It all happens at Thoor Ballylee! Indeed two local wedding parties chose Thoor Ballylee and its beautiful, tranquil, surrounds for their wedding photographs. We were joined also by the Professor Roy Foster, distinguished historian and biographer of W.B. Yeats, prior to his lecture on Thoor Ballylee for the Galway International Arts Festival first thought talks.

The Galway Film Fleadh came on tour in a special event to Thoor Ballylee. Three films from the archives of the Irish Film Institute about Yeats and Lady Gregory, Coole Park and one of Gregory’s plays from the Abbey Theatre were screened in our spectacular audiovisual room in July.

Lovers of the art of spinning and weaving enjoyed an afternoon trying their hands at the spinning wheel, thanks to the Irish Spinners and Weavers Guild from Clare and Galway. Our appreciation goes also to Coole Music Junior Quartet who entertained spinners and visitors alike. Kate and Ruth our local intrepid Headford Bat Rangers put together an interpretive piece on Thoor Ballylee and the Lesser Horseshoe bats which nest in the tower. We had any number of visitor groups throughout the summer from locals like Gort ICA to the Yeats International Summer School, and many individual and family visitors from all around the world. The final day of the Yeats and Lady Gregory Autumn Gathering brought September to a close with a lecture and a film about the life and loves of Lady Gregory. That was also the day that W.B.Y.’s candlesticks, handsome brass altar pieces came home to Thoor Ballylee, proudly standing by the hearth after ninety years away. Our heartfelt thanks go to our wonderful benefactors.

None of this would be possible without a great number of helpers, volunteers, artists, gardeners, skilled craftspeople, and a host of supporters from here and abroad. Our esteem and appreciation goes to our dedicated staff, led by the wonderful Rena McAllen: Nichola, Frank, Gary, and Krzysztof. And to our knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and most generous volunteers: Phil, Pat O L., Rose, Tonii, Karen, Pat F., Rosemary, Anna C. Dominic. A special thank you also to intern Gerry who generously offered to cover every Saturday up until now. Thanks to JJ for manning the car park and lighting our way in the dark during events.

This is the fantastic team that has kept the home of W. B. Yeats open to the public for all six months of the summer, for seven days a week during the height of the season and for eight hours (and more) a day.

Our visitor book records the appreciation, delight, and gratitude of the thousands of people who came and experienced the atmosphere and spirit of Thoor Ballylee. They enjoyed discussing the Yeats family over a cup of tea with staff, viewed our exhibitions and AV presentation, climbed the winding stair, lingered in the many original rooms, admired the spectacular 360 degree view, read poetry, sang, played music, or took selfies on the battlements (and not one fell off).

Thanks in particular to Failte Ireland for continued help with maintenance and repairs. Work has already begun on the conversion of the garage into a studio for artists in residence so we look forward to exciting times at Thoor Ballylee.

Most of all our thanks and appreciation to our wonderful friends and benefactors, whose generosity and financial support enables us to keep the spirit of Yeats and his extraordinarily talented family alive.

Go fada buan sibh.


The final event of 2018 at Thoor Ballylee is a concert of music by The Songbirds.

The Songbirds

7.30pm Saturday 6th October

Thoor Ballylee EU12/10 entry

Tickets available on 091 631436 or email

It’s the last chance to hear music at Thoor this year: come along and visit the tower in an atmosphere of celebration!

The Songbirds feature musicians from around the globe: John Cooper from the Red Dirt Rangers California, Maria Burns from the Burns Sisters Band, Ithaca New York, and Kate Purcell from down the road in County Clare. With classic singers and expert musicians this concert promising to be a fine send-off to a wonderful 2018 season.



Moon Phases for Culture Night

Culture Night sees a wealth of culture showcased all over Ireland with performances, plays, exhibitions, talks, and events taking place all through the country.

Thoor Ballylee in County Galway is no exception.

This Friday 21st September from 5pm sees a site-specific musical performance and installation from award-winning composer and sound-artist Francis Heery.

Moon Phases by Francis Heery

Friday 21st September 5-10pm

Thoor Ballylee, County Galway

As featured in the Irish Times, ‘Moon Phases’ presents a unique interpretation of WB Yeats’s strange and wonderful  A Vision, a book of philosophy, psychology, and history inspired by his wife George and their experiments in dreams and automatic writing.

As William Blake wrote in his Jerusalem “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s”, and it was here that WB and George Yeats achieved this. In the rounds of the moon they found both a way of describing different personalities and the cyclical movements of history.

Poems like ‘The Phases of the Moon’, ‘The Second Coming’ and ‘All Soul’s Night’ are testament to the enduring importance of the book, and its deep attention to both recurrences in both vision and sound.

Join us for a unique and fascinating evening – a sonic experience like no other. Drop in, listen, wander, for as little or as long as you like – take tea and refreshments, browse our shop, and climb the winding stair as darkness falls.

Lady Gregory’s Brack

To kick off Heritage week at Thoor Ballylee, this Saturday Anna O’Donnell comes to Thoor Ballylee for a talk and demonstration event about Lady Augusta Gregory’s brack, the cake she made for the players  of the Abbey Theatre.

Lady Gregory’s Brack

3pm Saturday 18 August, Thoor Ballylee

Free event, all welcome!

Come and join us to learn more about this famous cake!

Anna O’Donnell, culinary historian, chef, and writer, will speak on the importance of ‘Lady Gregory’s Brack’. We will learn about its history and its significance for the Abbey Theatre, how for each new production the making of the cake became an embedded tradition. She will also demonstrate the process, so you can recreate this delicious dish at home.

In 2018 Galway becomes a European Region of Gastronomy, the first region of Ireland to be awarded the honour. Lady Gregory’s Brack is an important part of this story.