Thoor Ballylee blooms for Yeats’s birthday

Every year a Poet’s Picnic is held in celebration of the birthday of WB Yeats. This year is no different. On afternoon of Saturday 13 June 2020 from 2 pm, the poet’s tower in Galway hosts a video event of poetry, music, and memories. This is the first in a series of events held all summer long at Thoor Ballylee, as the tower opens virtually and for outdoor visitors in compliance with COVID-19 restrictions.

WB Yeats Poet’s Picnic 2pm 13 June 2020

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We are delighted to say the waters have long gone, our volunteers and staff have removed all sand bags, tidied away all flotsam, and the gardens are thriving: these are all recent photographs! Though due to current restrictions we have not been yet allowed inside, the grounds are spectacular for visitors. And this weekend Thoor Ballylee blooms again to celebrate the 155th birthday of WB Yeats.

First, a reminder of our story.

WB Yeats bought the old Norman tower at Ballylee for a song in 1916, and had it renovated by local builder Michael Rafferty under the direction of architect William A. Scott, with whom Yeats had a lively relationship, describing him on one occasion as a ‘drunken genius’. With its attached thatched cottage it became a comfortable summer home for his wife George and their two children, Michael and Anne, and the Yeats family returned year after year.

Living there inspired Yeats to write some of his best poetry. Fruits of this work were published in two volumes considered by critics among his best: The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair (1933). They contain such poems as ‘The Tower’, ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, ‘Coole Park 1929’, ‘Blood and the Moon’, and many others, some featured in this weekend’s birthday celebrations.

The Winding Stair (1933) cover by Thomas Sturge Moore

The tower, which Yeats named Thoor Ballylee, fell into disrepair after the poet’s death in 1939. It was given by the children of the poet to Board Failte, who opened it as a tourist information office, while offering tours showing its extraordinary literary heritage.

Built by the de Burgo family in the 14th century as a Hiberno-Norman stronghold, the tower stands beside the Streamstown River and is subject to sporadic winter flooding. It truly is a livestream: the floods have been severe in recent years, so in 2009 the tower was shut by Failte Ireland who decided that it was no longer economically viable. It remained closed until a group of volunteers, with the grand-sounding name of Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society, appealed to Failte Ireland to let them re-open the Tower as a visitor centre once again. This was granted, and after restoration and repair work the tower was opened with music and song in June 2015, the 150th anniversary of Yeats’s birth. Exhibitions, tours, and all kinds of cultural events have attracted thousands of visitors. His birthday has been celebrated there ever since.

This summer, these events are set to continue. Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society continues to adhere to all the COVID-19 guidelines from the Government of Ireland. While this does not currently allow for visitors inside the tower, the Society continues to host special events with social distancing in place in the grounds, by the mill wheel, by the river, and online.

In addition to the Poet’s Picnic taking place this Saturday 13 June 2020, there are ambitious plans in the coming year to hold the type of events the tower has become famous for: poetry readings, plays, musical get-togethers, talks of historical, natural, and literary interest, including virtual multimedia tours, talks, and readings from WB Yeats’s inspirational home, and from our new studio space dedicated to art and cultural workshops which opened just last year.

This summer the magic of the tower can thus be experienced in a number of ways. The grounds remain open to visitors practising social distancing, while the tower hosts small gatherings for invited attendees, and an exciting series of events broadcast to the world by video or audio link.

WB Yeats Poet’s Picnic 2pm 13 June 2020

Visit Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society Facebook Page

Livestream on

To donate to this voluntary group, our webpage has updates, and see also the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society facebook page. Visitors this summer still be able to enjoy the charm of Ballylee, and perhaps agree that it is the perfect place for a poet to rest and write.


Yeats’s birthday celebrations

W.B. Yeats was born on the 13th June 1865: on this day in 2019 that makes him a notional 154 years young, entering his 155th year. Though he complained loudly in verse about old age he did so from a very young age – and when approaching seniority retained a youthful vigour. Young, old, and somewhere in between gathered in Thoor Ballylee to read poems, sing songs, and share birthday cake for the grand old ever-young poet.

Rena McAllen, Tiana Fischer, Stephen O’Neill, and Melinda Szüts

Poems written early and late in life, from ‘Down By the Salley Gardens’ and ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ to ‘The Tower’ and ‘Blood and the Moon’ were sung or read out loud (the way Yeats believed poetry should be performed) at our newly opened studio.

Colm Farrell and the Doolan family: Lelia Doolan about to read

Poems were read putting blessings on the tower, and expressing a wish to leave the country, or the body: “That is no country for old men”, declares ‘Sailing to Byzantium’. With the young jackdaws nesting in the tower having just flown their nest, reading ‘The Stare’s Nest By My Window’ from ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ was particularly poignant.

‘The Stare’s Nest By My Window’

The bees build in the crevices
Of loosening masonry, and there
The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We are closed in, and the key is turned
On our uncertainty; somewhere
A man is killed, or a house burned.
Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

A barricade of stone or of wood;
Some fourteen days of civil war:
Last night they trundled down the road
That dead young soldier in his blood:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare,
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love; O honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

The Nobel prize medal for Literature he won pictured a young fellow listening to a beautiful muse. “I was good-looking once like that young man”, exclaimed Yeats, “but my unpractised verse was full of infirmity, my Muse old as it were. Now I am old and rheumatic, and nothing to look at, but my Muse is young.”

A horse joins the celebrations

In celebration this piece of music and reading by Ciaran Cannon features recent footage of Thoor Ballylee.

When You Are Old – WB Yeats from Ciaran Cannon on Vimeo.

Melinda Szüts reads from the opening song of the play ‘The Only Jealousy of Emer’.

Happy Birthday to W.B. Yeats from all at Thoor Ballylee, County Galway!



Artist’s view of Thoor

Artist Róisín Curé visited the tower for Yeats2015 and the Yeats 150th birthday celebrations and what emerged were some beautiful images and a fine essay, extracts of which are featured here.


‘After a few more twists and turns, the tower of Thoor Ballylee appeared through the trees, rising to our right on the edge of the road. Streamstown River, barely more than a stream in the dry summer weather, runs at the foot of the tower. Soft afternoon sunlight filtered through the trees all around the tower and the thatched cottage built on the far side of the tower. Later, I overheard someone say that the river in flood could rise to the roof level of the thatch, but it was hard to picture on the summer day of our visit. What I could picture, however, was John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara wading through the river in John Ford’s The Quiet Man, for a scene which was filmed here at Thoor Ballylee…’

For more please visit here.

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)