Come to Thoor for Yeats’s birthday!

Invitation to Thoor Ballylee

16.00-18.00 Saturday 13 June 2015

Thoor Ballylee, Gort, Co. Galway

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society invites you to the re-opening of Thoor Ballylee on the occasion of W.B. Yeats 150th birthday. Come celebrate Yeats2015 at the poet’s home! ThoorBallyLeeRiver

This Saturday 13th of June to coincide with W.B. Yeats’s 150th birthday, the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is thrilled to announce the re-opening of the Tower for the first time in seven years. Minister Jimmy Deenihan, Joseph Hassett, Yeats Scholar & Thoor Benefactor and Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, chair of the Society, will open the event at 4 pm.

Niall De Burca, Internationally acclaimed story teller will perform at the event, which is followed by a community barbeque.


Ireland’s Nobel Laureate for Literature, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) spent his summers in Thoor Ballylee, where he was inspired to write some of his finest poetry. Yeats once said in a letter to Olivia Shakespeare that “We are in our Tower and I am writing poetry as I always do here, and, as always happens, no matter how I begin, it becomes love poetry before I am finished with it.” In 1928 he published a monumental volume of poetry, The Tower and in 1933, The Winding Stair and Other Poems. Both collections were inspired by the life, landscape, and architecture of the place, and feature many poems set and composed at Thoor Ballylee.

Winding stair

Senator Healy Eames, Chairperson of the Thoor Ballylee Society explains “Thoor Ballylee is re-opening on Saturday 13th of June and will be open throughout the summer. We are planning to develop the Tower into a legacy project of the Yeats 150th Celebrations which will draw tourists and Yeats scholars from near and far to savour this stunning setting and the depth of the Irish literary legacy. This has been a labour of love and strength of conviction about the need to preserve our past for future generations. With Thoor we are reclaiming our past. As Chair of the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society, I would be delighted if you would help us on our journey’”

The Society is calling on the local community, media and other interested parties to support the project so ambitious plans to turn the tower into a world class cultural centre, which will accommodate a new exhibition, a cafe, bookshop, and space for exhibitions, lectures and classes. The Society calls on the public to check the website to find out more about the project, read updates on progress, learn about the tower and its history, join in discussions, make donations, and discover exciting sponsorship opportunities.

We are delighted to say that thereafter for the summer, the tower will be open all week, from 11am to 6pm Monday – Sunday.

This area of South Galway has many cultural connections to Yeats and to Lady Gregory. Other celebrations that are taking place in the vicinity include:

  • Kiltartan Gregory Cultural Society Picnic Enjoy a recital by Coole Music Ensemble, poetry reading by local school children, face painting for the younger generation and a Trad session with Gaillimh Theas Comhaltas. Come in period costume. Time. 12.30 to 2.30 pm.
  • Coole Harmonies in the Cobbled Yard Fancy dress procession to the site of Coole House, Uilleann Piper Eugene Lamb & Poetry readings. Time: 3pm to 5pmCome and join us!

Come and join us!


Which is your favourite W.B.Yeats poem?

Would you rather arise and go now, slouch towards Bethlehem, or seek to tell the dancer from the dance? Is it the terrible beauty of Easter, 1916, the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart in The Circus Animals’ Desertion or the world more full of weeping from The Stolen Child that is closest to your heart?

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of WB Yeats, one of the 20th century’s greatest poets, with worldwide celebrations. Nationalist, romantic, spiritualist; beacon of the Celtic Twilight, chronicler of everyday life and angry old man; Yeats went through many phases, and left many exemplary poems. In a 1999 poll to find Ireland’s 100 favourite poems of all time, he takes seven places in the top 10 (Heaney and Kavanagh hardly get a look-in), and dominates the list as a whole.

But which of his poems is your favourite? The Guardian is running an open thread. Let them know your choice!

Y Sligo1

Dead poet’s society?

(The following article by Adrian Paterson about the Yeats2015 celebrations and the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society appeared in the Irish Times on 10 February 2015. It is reproduced here with permission.)

WB Yeats

Joyous and recalcitrant, Yeats’s voice still resonates

This year sees a worldwide series of creative and cultural events celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of William Butler Yeats. Launched by Senator Susan O’Keeffe and Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys as part of Ireland’s decade of commemorations, Yeats2015 gives the anniversary decade a new focus.

But why remember, of all things, a dead poet? What good can calling Yeats from the dead do us?

Yeats himself thought a lot about life after death, and his poems ask nagging questions of those beyond the grave. Fittingly, Yeats2015 might just prove the most lively of all the commemorations.

It is the only one that celebrates a birth, rather than remembering an event of sober historical record. It is the only one exclusively devoted to artistic achievement, so central to this island’s story.

It is locally driven but international in scope, with events centred on places important to Yeats, such as Galway, Sligo, Dublin, London, and further afield, Paris, Utrecht, Madrid, Atlanta, Melbourne, Tokyo, Beijing.

Yeats today is respected rather than loved. His unassailable position on the Leaving Cert syllabus has not resulted in the universal affection of schoolchildren, among whom this self-confessed “smiling public man” walked and dreamed of loves and loss.

An association with Ascendancy Protestantism (which doesn’t cloud opinion of Samuel Beckett or his own brother, the artist Jack Yeats) underplays his own radically unorthodox beliefs, and the down-at-heel origins of a young man who used to ink his feet to hide the holes in his socks.

Yeats is seen as lofty, aloof, abstract, when in fact he was engaged, committed, sensual. But we don’t have to like Yeats to listen. We don’t have to agree with him to learn something. Yeats would have loathed a hagiography and Yeats2015 will not be one. His is a bountiful, contradictory shade that deserves to be called up and questioned again.

Dates mattered to Yeats. For him, the whirlings of moons and midnights set in train the larger forces of history and creativity this commemorative decade is designed to mark.

Revolutionary decade

It is hard to imagine that revolutionary decade without him. Those repeating the lines “Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,/ It’s with O’Leary in the grave” sometimes forget that September 1913, first published in this newspaper, is an impassioned defence of modern art, a frontal attack on those who thought progress was a new road bridge over the Liffey and breaking the unions rather than workers’ rights and a free public gallery.

Easter 1916 commemorates the rebels’ sacrifice but questions it too, painfully acknowledging the ambiguity of founding a state on violent insurrection. The War of Independence sparked the savage Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen, which condemns violence against the person and against art, yet acknowledges our thirst and culpability for both.

These poems may name dates but have not become dated. Like them, The Second Coming knows intimately the horrors of the 20th century, perhaps explaining the poem’s prescience even today. Slavoj Zizek is among countless public figures to cite it, arguing in response to the recent Parisian murders that it “seems perfectly to render our present predicament: ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity’.”

Meditations in Time of Civil War, meanwhile, wrests from the Troubles a lyric Seamus Heaney felt still mattered: its refrain “O honey-bees – Come build in the empty house of the stare” pleads for peace to a deafened world.

That bloody decade made Ireland, but it also made Yeats as a poet. Facing a new reality he turned a personal midlife crisis into spare, unflinching public poems whose powerful lines and pressing concerns still sound like tolling bells.

However we think of Yeats, poetic achievement must be at the heart of any commemoration. But Yeats was more than a poet. He was a cultural revolutionary who became a cultural entrepreneur. He began things, co-founding the Abbey Theatre, the Irish Literary Society and, with his talented family, the Cuala Press, producing designs and books from a single hand-press in Dublin.

He was anything but a solitary dreamer: his collaborations with musicians, actors, dramatists, stage designers, folklorists, journalists, artists, dancers, printers, occultists, broadcasters and lovers are reflected in the vibrant range of celebratory events on offer.

A disturbing late flirtation with authoritarian politics remains rightly controversial and must cause us to reflect on the role of the arts in a democratic society. As a working politician, however, Yeats was a liberal and his conception of the nation strikingly diverse. As a senator he promoted Irish-language research, while questioning compulsory Irish. Citing cross-Border unity and minority rights he argued for long-established rights to divorce, only recently restored.

Yeats radio mike

Defender of free speech

He defended free speech against religious interests, denouncing censorship and mocking the new State’s “committee for evil literature”. He was in principle a European, trading in a global artistic currency; but in practice a localist, insistent on self-determination. The coinage commission he chaired produced animal designs that lasted until the coming of the euro.

His poems honour the Irish landscape. You might even say his shade balefully haunts our ghost estates: an alternative to profligate new-builds and property booms is shown by the careful restoration of a Hiberno-Norman tower in Galway with local labour and materials, wood, thatch, ironwork, and slates. This year of all years it must be hoped the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society receives support for its reopening.

WB Yeats was a vortex of energy, a protean, recalcitrant, joyous figure who believed in the value of art to shape a nation and to change the world. Perhaps, for a year, we should join this dead poet’s society and see what happens.

Adrian Paterson is a lecturer in English at NUI Galway and a member of the Yeats2015 steering committee and the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society.

Yeats rooftop auction

On May 31st 2015 the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society will hold a development fundraising evening at Thoor Ballylee Gort, Co. Galway in the former home of the world-famous poet William Butler Yeats. With shades of the Beatles on the roof at Savile Row or U2 from Dublin’s Clarence Hotel, the auction will take place from the rooftop of the tower by local Auctioneer, Colm Farrell (MIPAV), acting as William Butler Yeats. Funds raised will be used to re-open the tower to the public thirteen days later on the poet’s birthday (13 June) and to set in stone long-term plans for a permanent Yeats exhibition, a cafe, bookshop, and space for exhibitions, lectures and classes at this most remarkable building, ‘the most important public building in Ireland’ according to the late Seamus Heaney.

The fantastic Yeats-themed items and gifts available, including rare books and hotel mini break offers, will be featured on this website in the lead up to this event. So too will all our wonderful donors and sponsors.

The Galway Advertiser feature on this unique event is linked here. 

To give to this fundraising effort go to our donate page or contact us at

Yeats Auction111

Yeats & Facial Expression exhibition

Facial Expression: an exhibition celebrating the human face

From portraiture to caricature the human face has remained central to visual expression.This show features the work of Illustrators Ireland members exploring this theme.

The exhibition features this image of W.B.Yeats and Thoor Ballylee in charcoal by Brian Gallagher, a study for a woodcut produced especially for the Yeats2015 celebrations, coinciding with the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society development project.


The Facial Expression exhibition is to be opened by iconic photographer
John Minihan
Thursday 26th February @ 8pm

The United Arts Club
3 Upper Fitzwilliam St
Dublin 2

Exhibition continues until 14th March 2015
Viewing Tues to Friday 11am to 11pm


Yeats 2015

In 2015 Ireland celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Nobel Prize-winning poet, William Butler Yeats. As part of Ireland’s decade of commemorations, a worldwide series of creative and cultural events takes place throughout the year to mark this occasion, honouring and exploring his rich life, work, and legacy. The programme was launched in Dublin in December by Senator Susan O’Keefe and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphries. The launch also featured a reading by Olwen Fouere of ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, and was attended by members of the Yeats Thoor Ballylee SocietyAn RTE report of the event can be viewed here.

Yeats 2015 presents a local, national, and international series of exhibitions, performances, educational events, festivals, concerts, readings, talks, and screenings. Cultural events centred on Sligo, Galway, Dublin, London, and in counties across Ireland, are echoed in a diverse international programme. Through the prism of one of Ireland’s greatest artists, Yeats 2015 marks a moment to celebrate and promote creativity in Ireland and elsewhere, and to reconsider the role of culture, community, and the arts in the contemporary world. Full details of how to get involved in this exciting cultural programme are released in January 2015. The re-opening of Thoor Ballylee is at the heart of these commemorations. Galway is at the heart of these celebrations and a full programme of Galway Yeats2015 events is available here.


The Poet

W. B. Yeats is Ireland’s greatest poet, and considered by many the finest poet of the twentieth century. Seamus Heaney noted that as well as a great poet he was both the founder and inheritor of traditions: with a lifelong interest in the occult and in Irish mythology, an openness to European art and eastern philosophy, and with a sceptical, questioning intellect, he brought a revolutionary new voice into Irish literature. A maker of extraordinary love poems and an architect of modernism, Yeats is unusual among poets in that much of his best work came after the age of fifty. The way he put words together changed utterly: from an early lush lyricism, he developed a spare, hard, late style, and many of his most powerful lines have entered the language. Such an uncompromising attitude to creative excellence was a part of his inheritance. He was born into an extraordinarily talented artistic family: his father John Butler Yeats was a renowned portraitist, his sisters were innovative craftworkers and printers, and his brother Jack Yeats became Ireland’s most celebrated painter. His unrequited love for the beautiful Maud Gonne affected the course of his life, while his collaboration with his wife George altered the texture of his poetry. More than a poet, Yeats was a dramatist, a critic, a journalist, a politician, and a founder of theatres, print houses, dance companies, and artistic societies. With its diverse programme of events, Yeats 2015 celebrates this rich cultural harvest.


The Places

W. B. Yeats’s profound connection with landscape and architecture served as inspiration for many of his greatest works. Ireland is the setting for nearly all his poems and plays, whether the city’s ‘grey eighteenth-century houses’ or the stones and trees of the west. Born in Dublin, Yeats went to school in Dublin and London, and spent much of his young life with his family in Sligo, which he thought of as his spiritual home. In later life he lived in Dublin, London, and put down deep roots in County Galway, spending summers at Coole Park and restoring a Hiberno-Norman tower, Thoor Ballylee, as his family home. As well as travelling extensively in France, Spain, Italy, and the United States, Yeats was deeply affected by eastern art and philosophy, especially that of Japan and India. Yeats 2015 celebrates the strong connection he had will all the places that inspired him.Galway is therefore at the heart of these celebrations, with a full programme of exciting artistic and cultural events taking place throughout the county. It is intended also that the re-opening of Thoor Ballylee will be a central part of these celebrations.


The Legacy

Yeats was the first Irishman to be awarded the Nobel Prize, in 1923. He accepted on behalf of his work for the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theatre which he co-founded with Lady Augusta Gregory. Such artistic generosity was not unusual. Yeats was a cultural revolutionary who become a remarkable cultural entrepreneur. A spearhead of what became known as the Irish Literary Revival, he spurred a revival of interest in Irish mythology and in Irish literature, and was for a time deeply involved in the nationalist movement. His work explored the complexities of the formation of the new state and helped give expression to a new Irish identity. Passionate about artistic freedoms and minority rights, he made speeches against censorship and supporting the long-established right to divorce when appointed a Senator of the Irish Free State in 1922. Yeats also chaired the commission for coinage, which produced renowned designs of Irish animals on currency in use until 2001. His increasing identification with a Protestant tradition and his brief flirtation with authoritarian politics remains controversial. But most of all he promoted new art, championing writers as diverse as James Joyce, Frank O’Connor, and J. M. Synge, working with an astonishing variety of artists, actors, musicians, theatre designers, printmakers,  producers, and dancers. From his founding of the ground-breaking Cuala Press to his pioneering work as a radio broadcaster, his legacy is just as varied. His belief in art’s power – that words could change the world – makes his example still powerfully resonant today.


Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society members with a copy of Yeats's The Tower (1928) at the Yeats2015 launch with Senator Susan O'Keeffe and Minister Heather Humphries

Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society members with Yeats’s The Tower (1928) at the Yeats2015 launch with Senator Susan O’Keeffe and Minister Heather Humphries