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!



Dermot Bolger on Thoor Ballylee

The following is an extract from writer Dermot Bolger’s piece on Thoor Ballylee for the Irish Independent. The full text is available here.

Writer  in Residence, Dermot Bolger    in the Library at Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park.Pix Ronan Lang/Feature File

Writer in Residence, Dermot Bolger in the Library at Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park.Pix Ronan Lang/Feature File

Two months ago, I found myself passing through Gort in Co Galway, on my way home from doing a reading in a school.

It’s an area I’m rarely in, and after stumbling across signpost after signpost that all led me down a maze of tiny roads, I fulfilled a life’s ambition by finally finding my way to Thoor Ballylee.

This is the tall, fortified, 16th Century tower house into which William Butler Yeats moved his young wife Georgie soon after their marriage, not long after the Easter Rising. He used this ancient tower as a retreat from the world during the next decade, which saw him simultaneously experience horror and joy.

The public horror he witnessed occurred with the advent of the Irish Civil War. He observed the caustic bitterness of this divisive conflict and chronicled its pulse of “great hatred, little room” from the perspective of this restored tower.

Despite the oak doors and high walls of Thoor Ballylee, Yeats knew that his young family was not safe here. As a poet who had engaged for decades in the task of trying to imaginatively shape the type of independent Ireland that might come into being, he was determined to play a role in this new Ireland by taking the dangerous decision to become an outspoken member of the first Free State Senate.

Read on…!