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 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
To donate to this voluntary group, our webpage yeatsthoorballylee.org 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.