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!

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

I
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
Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly
accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his
freedom,
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.

II
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.

III
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.

Songbirds

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 yeatsthoorballylee@gmail.com

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.

 

 

Galway Film Fleadh comes to Thoor Ballylee

This year, the celebrated Galway Film Fleadh takes to the road with a programme of films from the IFI Irish Film Archive, celebrating the life and legacy of WB Yeats’s great friend and co-founder of Ireland’s national theatre, Lady Augusta Gregory.

Entitled ‘Local Films for Local People’, a special screening of these films is presented at Thoor Ballylee, at 3pm Thursday 12th July.

The range of Lady Gregory’s talents was considerable: co-founder of the Abbey Theatre, translator, folklorist, theatre producer and Yeats’s collaborator.  She was also an important, resolutely experimental dramatist in her own right.

And, although at times she tried to dissuade him from living there, it was she who found the tower at Thoor Ballylee for Yeats and his new wife, George, where he and his family spent many summers. Close by is Coole Park where, under Lady Gregory’s steadfast and welcoming spirit, poets, playwrights, painters and artists from every background – Yeats, Shaw, Synge, Hyde, O’Casey – created a renaissance of Irish literary, artistic, and political thinking and action.

This exclusive programme of short films includes Coole Park and Ballyee and Cradle of Genius, films about Gregory and Yeats’s connection to the local landscape and the cultural revival they inspired. It also includes a rare screening of a movie adaptation of Gregory’s one-act play The Workhouse Ward with the Abbey Theatre players. Featuring a pair of down-at-heel men arguing in a hospital ward, the comedy anticipates Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in exploring the strange co-dependencies of Irish masculine culture.

The screening is a wonderful chance to see these rare films in a site-specific setting. The programme is introduced by Sunniva O’Flynn, Head of Irish Film Programming, IFI, and by Lelia Doolan, Yeats Thoor Ballylee board member and former Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre. There will be time afterwards for discussion and tea.

Galway Film Fleadh Screening

Local Films for Local People

Thoor Ballylee, 3pm Thursday 12th July

COOLE PARK AND BALLYLEE
This short documentary celebrates the cultural heritage of Coole Park and Thoor Ballylee and the serene landscape which inspired its visitors.

Producer: Queen’s University Belfast

1976 / 20 mins / Colour

THE WORKHOUSE WARD
This film recently acquired by the IFI Irish Film Archive is an adaptation of Lady Gregory’s one-act comedy which centers on two bickering paupers confined to adjacent hospital beds until the arrival of the Widow Donohue (Eileen Crowe).

Director: Ria Mooney

1950/ 25 mins/ Black and White

CRADLE OF GENIUS
This Academy Award-nominated film, written by Frank O’Connor and produced by Tom Hayes, presents a history of the Abbey Theatre and a record of Irish theatre culture in the late 1950s as fondly remembered by leading lights Siobhán McKenna, Maureen Delaney, Harry Brogan, Eithne Dunne, Barry Fitzgerald and Seán O’Casey.

Director: Paul Rotha

1959/ 42 mins/Black and White

Followed by questions, discussion, and tea.

 

Bloomsday & Birthday updates

Happy Bloomsday, and happy birthday to WB Yeats, who earlier this week was 153 years young!

The message might be slightly late, but not nearly as late as the new ship from Irish Ferries, the WB Yeats, still immersed in deep revisions at a shipyard in Germany.

This is a rich time of cultural activity in the west of Ireland and Thoor Ballylee. Contemporary Irish writing here is evidently in rude health. Mayo novelist Mike McCormack, currently director of NUI Galway’s BA with Creative Writing in the Department of English, has won the prestigious 2018 International Dublin Literary Award for Solar Bones. This is just the latest recognition for his fifth novel  which has won a series of awards and plaudits since its publication by Tramp Press.

Mike McCormack with the 2018 International Dublin Literary Award

Probably Mayo’s finest ever writer the novelist and memoirist George Moore was also celebrated this week. The Ninth International George Moore Conference, George Moore: Transnational And Cosmopolitan Networks On The Page And Canvas, hosted by Dr Mark Corcoran and Dr Muireann O’Cinneide took place in the Moore Institute at NUI Galway over the last two days with the generous aid of the School of Humanities’s Research Support Scheme.

George Moore by John Butler Yeats

This coincides with the release of the biopic of George Moore’s friend Hugh Lane, nephew of Lady Augusta Gregory and Ireland’s greatest art dealer, whose exhibitions of Irish art and collections of old master and impressionist enrich the country to this day. Citizen Lane, directed by Thaddeus OSullivan and starring Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Gemma-Leah Devereux is on general release, with a screening at Galway’s brand-new Palas Cinema on Sunday 17 June at 6pm. WB Yeats, Augusta Gregory, and George Moore all make an appearance on screen in this docudrama, which is also graced by expert talking heads Caitriona Crowe and Roy Foster.

In the coming weeks film comes directly to Thoor Ballylee. On Thursday 12 July at 3pm the Galway Film Fleadh holds a special screening of short films at Thoor Ballylee. It promises to be a special atmosphere and a unique experience to watch period short films associated with Augusta Gregory and the cultural revival she initiated in a old stone cottage attached to a fourteenth-century stone tower.

Thoor Ballylee itself is celebrated in this summer’s Galway International Arts Festival. The acclaimed biographer of WB Yeats for Oxford University Press, Professor Roy Foster, speaks on Sunday 22 July at 1pm about Yeats’s tower at the Aula Maxima in NUI Galway. Ezra Pound was notably sceptical about what he called ‘Ballyphallus, Yeats’s phallic symbol on the bogs’. Nevertheless Foster explores the central importance of the tower to Yeats’s life and work, and in a talk entitled ‘When All Is Ruin Once Again’ affirms Thoor Ballylee as his favourite dwelling.

Thanks to our volunteers, friends, and supporters, Yeats’s tower is far from in ruins. Thoor Ballylee recently hosted a special performance by Coole Music in honour of Yeats’s birthday, and a spectacular production of Yeats’s play The Only Jealousy of Emer by Galway theatre group DancePlayers.

Eithne Inguba (Orla Turbridy) comforts the hero Cuchulain (Oisin Porter) as his wife Emer (Catherine Denning) and musicians look on

The tower is also open throughout the summer for visits from all comers. Our exhibitions are open and a warm welcome is promised. Do come and join us!

The Only Jealousy of Emer: tickets selling fast!

This new production of WB Yeats’s play of The Only Jealousy of Emer is a world premiere: the first ever fully staged theatre production of Yeats’s play taking place in his own tower. Fresh from a highly acclaimed run at the Galway Theatre Festival this production has been entirely re-imagined for this historic space. As a site-specific movement piece in a resonant venue numbers are limited so get in fast!

DancePlayers presents

The Only Jealousy of Emer

By WB Yeats

8pm Sat 26 and Sun 27 May 2018

Thoor Ballylee, Yeats’s Tower, Gort, Galway

Tickets: €14/12 Concession

Booking:  Places are limited. Booking required by phone 091 631 436 (weekdays 10am to 2pm, weekends 11am to 5pm) or by email to yeatsthoorballyleesociety@gmail.com

The performance begins outdoors so we highly recommend outdoor shoes and appropriate comfortable clothing. Seating is available but only for some scenes.

The great hero Cuchulain is on his deathbed. His body was washed up by the shore after a long and senseless fight with the sea. There are three women around him: his wife, Emer, his lover, Eithne Inguba, and Fand, an evil creature of the Sidhe. His fate is in their hands. Yeats’s poetic dance-drama focuses exclusively on the feelings and motivations of the female characters, and portrays the emotional turmoil that Emer has to suffer when she has to face her own jealousy to save her husband’s life.

DancePlayers is a new ensemble founded in Galway in 2018. It is a group of professional theatre makers and musicians who produce collaborative pieces for physical theatre.

This production aims at exploiting the qualities of the dance play to the full to show the availability of Yeats’s play texts for contemporary audiences within and outside Ireland. It thus features original masks, costumes, live music, dance, design, as well as newly imagined acting, speaking, and movement. Because of the unique arrangements of the venue, the audience move with the performers during the show and seating is only available for certain important scenes. The performance begins outdoors so we highly recommend outdoor shoes and appropriate comfortable clothing.

Funded by The Galway City Council, NUI Galway, The Embassy of Hungary in Dublin and the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society.

Running time: 50 mins without interval.

As featured in the London Times, Galway Bay FM, and many other media outlets – this production promises to be theatre event of the season!

Jeremie Cyr-Cooke (Ghost of Cuchulain) and Orlaith Ni Chearra (Fand/Woman of the Sidhe) work on choreography

 

 

 

 

 

The Only Jealousy of Emer: Yeats play at Thoor Ballylee

Yeats’s tower this spring hosts the theatre event of the season, as WB Yeats’s play The Only Jealousy of Emer receives its Thoor Ballylee premiere in a spectacular production by Galway-based theatre group DancePlayers.

Fresh from a highly-acclaimed run at Galway Theatre Festival, this new production, featuring resonant music, dance, acting, and design is re-imagined especially for  Yeats’s tower. As a moving site-specific piece in a historic venue numbers are limited so get in fast!

DancePlayers presents

The Only Jealousy of Emer

By WB Yeats

8pm Sat 26 and Sun 27 May 2018

Thoor Ballylee, Yeats’s Tower, Gort, Galway

Tickets: €14/12 Concession

Booking:  Places are limited. Booking required by phone 091 631 436 (weekdays 10am to 2pm, weekends 11am to 5pm) or by email to yeatsthoorballyleesociety@gmail.com

The performance begins outdoors so we highly recommend outdoor shoes and appropriate comfortable clothing. Seating is available but only for some scenes.

The great hero Cuchulain is on his deathbed. His body was washed up by the shore after a long and senseless fight with the sea. There are three women around him: his wife, Emer, his lover, Eithne Inguba, and Fand, an evil creature of the Sidhe. His fate is in their hands. Yeats’s poetic dance-drama focuses exclusively on the feelings and motivations of the female characters, and portrays the emotional turmoil that Emer has to suffer when she has to face her own jealousy to save her husband’s life.

The Only Jealousy of Emer is a one-act dance piece by W.B. Yeats. Written in 1918, it is one of the earliest plays by an Irish writer for physical theatre, with dance, masks and music. Inspired by the Japanese Noh theatre tradition, Yeats wrote this piece for an empty stage, where movement, gesture, posture, masks, spatial relations and dance all contribute to act of storytelling. Physicality speaks it its own language in these plays, so the performers’ task is to elevate this form of expression to the standard of Yeats’s verse and create a piece of total theatre.

This production is an attempt to prove that Yeats’s Noh-inspired dance plays have every right to be presented in front of a heterogeneous audience, in any part of the world, even 100 years after their composition. The notion that these pieces are only accessible for scholars and those “select few” that have an interest in oriental theatre, poetry or Irish mythology is widespread, and is rooted in the absence of professional Yeats productions on the world’s stages. This production aims at exploiting the qualities of the dance play to the full to show the availability of Yeats’s play texts for contemporary audiences within and outside Ireland. It thus features original masks, costumes, live music, dance, design, as well as newly imagined acting, speaking, and movement.

The show is a world premiere: the first ever fully staged theatre production of Yeats’s play The Only Jealousy of Emer taking place in his own tower. Fresh from a highly acclaimed run at the Galway Theatre Festival this production has been entirely re-imagined for this historic space.

Cast and crew after rehearsals at Thoor Ballylee

Because of the unique arrangements of the venue, the audience move with the performers during the show and seating is only available for certain important scenes. The performance begins outdoors so we highly recommend outdoor shoes and appropriate comfortable clothing.

Running time: 50 mins without interval.

DancePlayers is a new ensemble founded in Galway in 2018. It is a group of professional theatre makers and musicians who produce collaborative pieces for physical theatre.

Funded by The Galway City Council, NUI Galway, The Embassy of Hungary in Dublin and the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society.

Richard Murphy and the apples of Thoor Ballylee

The Irish poet Richard Murphy died last week at the age of ninety.

Late last year Poetry Ireland hosted readings and celebrations in honour of his birthday, attended by friends, admirers, and members of his family including his sister Mary and brother Christopher. As Christopher Murphy’s affectionate talk made clear, although his brother Richard now resided in Sri Lanka, he always maintained strong connections with the west of Ireland, where he is known for restoring and sailing an old boat between Cleggan and Inishbofin in Connemara, chronicled in his poem ‘The Last Galway Hooker’.

Though the family spent time away from their home in Mayo, Richard Murphy always returned. Living for a time in Rosroe in the house used by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, Murphy made his life in the west, writing acute poems about land and seascape, included in the volumes Sailing to an Island (1963) and High Island (1974). These poems could only come from someone who fully inhabited the place and his subjects: the poem ‘Cleggan Disaster’ is a sensitive recounting of a shipwreck that profoundly affected the area. The Price of Stone (1985) tells a kind of architectural autobiography in sonnet form from ‘Connemara Quay’ and ‘Killary Hostel’ to ‘Oxford Staircase’, ‘Kylemore Castle’, and ‘Letterfrack Industrial School’.

In the west of Ireland especially Murphy’s life and poetry lives on. It is, for example, the major inspiration for the annual Inish festival on Inishbofin. At the inaugural event, ‘Sailing to an Island’, President Michael D. Higgins’s inspiring talk about Murphy’s love poems made discreet comment on the recent same-sex marriage referendum, and capped an evening of music, readings, and tributes from award-winning poets like Bernard O’Donoghue and Vahni Capildeo.


As it happened many years earlier the epilogue to Murphy’s ‘Cleggan Disaster’ won a prize in London for which one of the judges was the American poet Sylvia Plath. In this passage from Murphy’s autobiography The Kick (Granta 2000, Cork UP 2014), he is setting up home in the Old Forge in Cleggan when Sylvia Plath and her husband the poet Ted Hughes come to visit.

They day after they arrived, there was a forecast of rain and south-east winds, making a passage to the island undesirable. So I took them to Yeats’s Tower at Ballylee and Lady Gregory’s Coole Park. I had no car but a 7 horsepower minivan, used for selling the fish we had caught. Sylvia sat in front, talking to me about her marriage and mine. In the back, which was too small to contain seats, Ted talked to Seamus about poachers, guns, and fishing.

We went first to Coole, where I showed them the copper beech tree in the Pleasure Ground. Sylvia urged Ted to climb a spiked iron fence that protected the tree, and to carve his initials beside those of Yeats. She said he deserved to be in that company […] But the spikes were too sharp for him to climb over.

The Tower at that time was the ruin predicted by Yeats in the poem carved on a stone at Ballylee. People in the neighbourhood had taken everything that could be moved. The Tourist Board had not begun its restoration, and the road was still untarred. A patient ass was rubbing its ears on a gate. Jackdaws fled protesting as we climbed the spiral stairs. From the top, Sylvia threw coins into the stream. Then they noticed a moss-coated apple tree, planted in the time of Yeats, bearing a heavy crop of bright red cookers. Ted and Sylvia both insisted we should steal them. I protested. Ted said they would make good apple pie, enough to keep me through the winter. They put Seamus up the tree to shake the branches, and went to work among the nettles, picking up the apples, gathering more than a hundredweight. My objections were brushed aside. I asked Ted ‘Why are you doing this?’ Standing with his back to the grey limestone wall of the Tower he spoke in a voice of quiet intensity: ‘When you come to a place like this you have to violate it.’

The respect of Plath and Hughes for the poetry of Yeats (and for Hughes especially for his astrological and magical investigations) did not prevent their harvesting the dead poet’s apples. Murphy, while disapproving of the violations of his visitors, took encouragement from their support during this visit for his writing of dramatic monologues, and in The Battle of Aughrim (1967), his deft disposal of these different historical voices demonstrates his conscience as a chronicler of violence.

Richard Murphy with the poets Douglas Dunn, Philip Larkin, and Ted Hughes

There are still apple and pear trees at Thoor Ballylee, flowering and bearing fruit, despite the odd period of neglect and flooding. Richard Murphy, their would-be custodian, and a sincere, generous, distinguished poet will be remembered fondly in many parts of the world, but nowhere more than in the west of Ireland.