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 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 was, for example, the major inspiration for the annual Inish festival on Inishbofin. At the inaugural event President Michael D. Higgins’s talk about Murphy’s love poems 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.

Thoor Ballylee Culture Night!

For Culture Night this Friday Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society hosts an evening of traditional music, song  and dance at Thoor Ballylee.

Oiche Ceoil at Thoor Ballylee 

Culture Night Friday September 22nd 2017

7.00 pm to 9.30 pm

Refreshments served. All welcome. Free event!


 For Ireland’s nationwide festival of the arts, Culture Night,  Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society hosts an evening of traditional music, song  and dance at W.B. Yeats’s Norman stone tower. 

Performing on the evening will be Gaillimh Theas Comhaltas, Gavin Dance Academy, renowned violinist Claire Egan, accordionist Eoin O Neill and guests.

Come along and join the excitement and witness the cultural richness of Galway’s finest performers, in a unique stone fireside setting restored and honoured by Ireland’s greatest poet.

The event is supported by Galway County Council, Oireachtas na Gaeilge & Arts. Culture night is brought to you by the Department of Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht & the  Creative Ireland Programme in partnership with Galway County Council.

Look out also for our closing season writers event 3pm Saturday 7th October with poet Sarah Clancy, novelist Lisa McInerney and performing poets..!

Yeats in Bloom!

Thoor Ballylee wishes Happy Birthday to William Butler Yeats!

Thoor Ballylee celebrates W.B. Yeats’s one hundred and fifty second birthday this weekend with the performance of Joe Hassett’s Two Stars, a play for voices featuring WB and James Joyce in conversation, directed by Ian Walsh and starring Fionnuala Flanagan as Molly Bloom and students from NUI Galway.

Two Stars

An Imaginary Conversation between WB Yeats and James Joyce

by Joe Hassett

2pm Saturday 12 June 2017

Music and refreshments

Admission Free

TWO STARS
An Imaginary Conversation between WB Yeats and James Joyce
Joyce             Cathal Ryan
Yeats.             Shane McCormick
Narrator         Fiona Buckley
Nora/Molly.    Fionnula Flanagan
Directed by Ian Walsh
Musical accompaniment and performance       Úna Ní Fhlannagáin
The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society welcomes this collaboration with NUI Galway’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance.

From the Playwright Joe Hassett:

The 20 year- old Joyce famously told the 37 year-old Yeats: “you are too old for me to help you.” Despite the younger man’s  arrogance, Yeats recognized that Joyce had a contribution to make to  Irish literature and  generously helped him to do so. In one of fate’s twists, the relationship resulted in Joyce’s helping his elder. As Yeats defended the candor of Joyce’s writing on sexual matters, his own poetry took on a more erotic tone. The differing views of Yeats and Joyce on the proper subject of literature, particularly the role of the sordid in the creation of the beautiful, are as vibrant today as they were when these two stars in the Irish constellation struggled to launch their pioneering work.
The idea of presenting the two  stars in conversation arose from Ambassador Anne Anderson’s idea of recognizing Yeats’s 150th birthday  on June 13, 2015  as part of the Washington Embassy’s June 16th Bloomsday celebration. I put the play for voices together, and cultural officer Claire Fitzgibbon oversaw the production.
I’m delighted that the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is bringing the conversation home to the place where Yeats first read and admired the  ground-breaking prose of Ulysses and commented that, “I am making a setting for my old age, a place to influence lawless youth with its severity  and antiquity.  If I had had this tower of mine when Joyce began to write I daresay I might have been of use to him, and got him to meet those who might have helped him.” 

Thoor Ballylee reopens for 2017

We are delighted to announce that Yeats’s tower, Thoor Ballylee is now open for the summer months!

Mon-Fri 10am to 2pm

Sat-Sun 11am to 5pm

From June until the end of August the tower will be open every day, 10am to 6pm 7 days a week.

This year, 2017, is the one hundredth anniversary of work beginning on the tower by Yeats’s architect William Scott and local builder Michael Rafferty.

So all the more reason to come and climb the winding stair that inspired some of W.B.Yeats’s greatest poems.

The Winding Stair (1933) cover by Thomas Sturge Moore

Come and view our spectacular exhibitions…

…and our regular programme of cultural events.

The Curlew Theatre perform Cathleen Ni Houlihan

The doors of Thoor Ballylee officially re-opened on the occasion of W.B. Yeats’s 150th birthday on June 13th, 2015, after being closed for many years.  Donations from local business people, artisans, and artists generated much needed funding to cover operational costs. To find out how you can help, click here.

No winter flooding this year so we have been busy cleaning and refitting the tower ready for the summer. To find out more, how to visit, or how you can help look around our website at yeatsthoorballylee.org, and sign up for regular updates.

We would like to say a big thank you to all our friends, supporters, volunteers, and visitors over the last two years for their generosity and support. This coming year will feature a new programme of events, new challenges, and new excitements.

Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society Volunteers 2015

Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society Volunteers 2015

We still need your support to keep the tower open for future generations: to find out how you can help, click here. You can email us on yeatsthoorballylee@gmail.com and you can like us and stay abreast on our facebook page. Do please keep in touch!

 

Thoor Ballylee in The Irish Times

Thoor Ballylee features in Irish Times Open Season

William Butler Yeats’s tower at Thoor Ballylee features prominently in an Irish Times list of tourist attractions open this summer. The Hiberno-Norman icon features alongside such destinations as Skellig Michael, the Swiss Cottage Tipperary, and Lissadell Sligo, home of the Gore-Booth sisters and visited by Yeats as a young poet.  Visitors are advised that it was at Thoor Ballylee Yeats “penned some of his finest work” and that the tower and stream also featured in John Ford’s classic film The Quiet Man (1952).

It should be added that Thoor Ballylee is not yet quite open for the summer. However the sandbags guarding against possible flooding have long gone, and the tower and cottage are being tidied in readiness for 2017 opening, expected on May Day, Monday 1st May. We look forward to welcoming new visitors and old friends then. Also make sure to look out for our summer programme of cultural events.

Meanwhile you can follow here the other Irish Times suggestions for historic and scenic visits across Ireland. The Times assessment of Thoor Ballylee follows below.

Thoor Ballylee, Gort, Co Galway

The engraving onto the cut stone plaque on this 16th-century tower house states: “I, the poet William Yeats, with old mill boards and sea-green slates, and smithy work from the Gort forge, restored this tower for my wife George; and may these characters remain when all is ruin once again.” Yeats penned some of his finest work, from the Winding Stair and Other Poems to The Tower Poems, in the four-storey castle on the bend of a Co Galway road. it is now restored and open to visitors, who can discover the winding stair to the top floor or look out through the river-facing window in the chamber described by the Nobel Prize winner as the “pleasantest room I have yet seen”. Thoor Ballylee appeared in John Ford’s timeless The Quiet Man(1952).
Open: From 1 May every day until September 30th
Hours: 10am-6pm
Admission: €7 (concessions also apply)
https://yeatsthoorballylee.org

Thoor Ballylee heads calls for flood relief

As Thoor Ballylee closes for the winter, representatives repeat calls for state intervention on flood relief for South Galway.

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society, a community group in south Galway which runs W.B. Yeats’s former retreat at Thoor Ballylee, has appealed for State support for the area as it anticipates fresh flooding this winter, the Irish Times has reported.

Speaking before a fundraising poetry slam event at the tower this weekend, curator Rena McAllen said flooding at the tower last winter did not recede until March.

Ms McAllen is part of a community group that acquired a lease for Thoor Ballylee – a 15th century Hiberno-Norman tower house with what Yeats described as a “winding, gyring spiring treadmill of a stair”– after it was closed by Fáilte Ireland due to flooding in 2009.

During Yeats’ tenure, the Streamstown river would food the building’s ground floor, but the flooding is now more frequent and much higher.

See more in the Irish Times report here.

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is pleased to report that there is no immediate risk of of flooding to the tower and cottages. However the water table in the area is very high, and if rain comes then further flooding is in prospect again this winter.

Thankfully work has been completed on preparing the tower and cottages for the winter. This means that at ground level it has been entirely clear of its exhibitions and all movable goods. Permanent electricity and heating systems were moved above flood height earlier this year.

It is good news that all is dry at present.

Still, with flooding increasing year on year, better solutions might be found to relieve the annual uncertainty and the very real cost to livelihoods in the area.

thoor-ballylee-oct-2016-3

Thoor Ballylee October 2016

Yeats’s Women

Yeats’s Women performed by  Dublin trio, Glynis Casson, fellow actor Daniel Costello and renowned Irish Harpist Claire Roche, brought the poetry of Yeats into another dimension last Friday night at Thoor Ballylee.

Yeats Women July 8th 2016

This performance brought to life the fascinating story of Yeats’s women. Featuring original letters, poems, stories, and song, it uncovers in a dramatic interweaving of life and art the artistic collaborations and personal crises which the poet W.B.Yeats experienced together with an extraordinary cast of striking and hugely talented women: his sisters, his lovers, and his remarkable wife George, presiding spirit of Thoor Ballylee.  George Yeats herself would design and paint much of the interior, creating ‘a beautiful house’, and found she could drop a line from the tower window to fish.

Yeats Music 1

The castle walls resounded to the sound of the magnificent Irish harp as  the group delighted a captive audience with tales of W.B’s life, family, friendships, loves lost and won, through music, poetry, drama and song. While sipping wine or juice during  the interval, members of the audience climbed the winding stair, browsed through the exhibitions, strolled in the garden or sat on the ancient bridge. Following a standing ovation  at the end of the show, the cast mingled with the audience, and very positive feedback about the performance and hospitality was shared over tea and brack .
As well as locals in attendance at the sold-out event, the audience also consisted of people from Galway City, Headford, Loughrea, Dublin, and further afield from Germany, New York, Australia, and China. The performance raised a generous sum of money for Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society and its continuing efforts to restore and refurbish Yeats’s historic tower. 

Part of the new Thoor Ballylee Yeats exhibition is devoted to the women of Yeats’s life, in a room called Yeats and the Muses, arranged by Joseph Hassett. So it is fitting that a celebration of the life and talents of these extraordinary women should come to Yeats’s tower.

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Yeats’s Women: performance on Friday 8th July

Yeats’s Women

a dramatic performance in story and song

with

Glynis Casson

Daniel Costello

& harpist Clare Roche

8pm Friday 8th July 2016

Thoor Ballylee

Tickets available to book or on the door

Yeats Women July 8th 2016

This performance brings to life the fascinating story of Yeats’s women. Featuring original letters, poems, stories, and song, it uncovers in a dramatic interweaving of life and art the artistic collaborations and personal crises which the poet W.B.Yeats experienced together with an extraordinary cast of striking and hugely talented women: his sisters, his lovers, and his remarkable wife George, presiding spirit of Thoor Ballylee.  George Yeats herself would design and paint much of the interior, creating ‘a beautiful house’, and found she could drop a line from the tower window to fish.

Part of the new Thoor Ballylee Yeats exhibition is devoted to the women of Yeats’s life, in a room called Yeats and the Muses, arranged by Joseph Hassett. So it is fitting that a celebration of the life and talents of these extraordinary women should come to Yeats’s tower.

Yeats’s Women: The Performers

Glynis Casson

Glynis comes from the well known Casson theatrical family and has played many leading roles over the years in Gilbert and Sullivan productions, in Gigi, My Fair Lady and Me and My Girl in the Gaiety Theatre Dublin. She has toured her one woman show Oscar and the Sphinx in Ireland, London and Egypt. The Harp That Once and Dauntless and Daring with Harpist Cormac de Barra in Ireland and the Continent, Seven Ages with Daniel Costello, and the comedy show Ladies Who Lunch with Irene Gaffney in venues around Ireland.

Other stage work includes: Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, The House of Bernarda Alba, Very Heaven, and Harold Pinter’s Party Time.  

TV & Film Credits include: Kathleen in RTE’s Fair City, The Clinic and TG4’s Maru crime series. Imelda in winning Irish film 32A, Mauyra in The Riders to The Sea, Pensioner in the short award winning film Bollybrack in which she did Indian dancing for the first time in Moore Street!   www.glyniscasson.com

Yeats Music 1

Daniel Costello, Glynis Casson, & Claire Roche from a recent perfomance in Birr Castle

Daniel Costello

Daniel has recently played Polonius in Hamlet at The New Theatre.

Other stage work includes: Nicolas in Pinter’s One For The Road, Friar Laurence in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Solange in Genet’s The Maids, Duke of Ferrara in De Vega’s Justice Without Revenge, Antonio in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Jimmy Jack in Friel’s Translations, Sir Peter Teazle in Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, Carl in Rebecca Gilman’s The Glory of Living, and Clov in Beckett’s Endgame.

TV & Film credits include: Bachelor’s Walk, The Clinic, & Fair CityAlbert Nobbs, Situations Vacant, Breakfast on Pluto and The Magdalene Sisters.

Claire Roche

Claire studied harp and voice with Maírín Feiritear in Sion Hill Convent Dublin, who encouraged her to compose her own songs, and at the age of 13 set ‘To A Child Dancing In The Wind’ to the music of harp. Poet Brendan Kennelly inspired Claire ‘to set some more’ when she was studying Anglo-Irish Literature in Trinity College Dublin, so in all she arranged eight of Yeats’ poems for the Harp. Michael Yeats kindly gave this permission before the copyright had run out on his Father’s work. Claire has had very successful tours of singing with her harp accompaniment in America, Australia and Ireland. www.claireroche.com

cropped-windingstairs_2979-copy.jpg

 

Yeats’s Women

Yeats’s Women

a dramatic performance in story and song

with

Glynis Casson

Daniel Costello

& harpist Clare Roche

8pm Friday 8th July 2016

Thoor Ballylee

Tickets available to book or on the door

Yeats Women July 8th 2016

This performance brings to life the fascinating story of Yeats’s women. Featuring original letters, poems, stories, and song, it uncovers in a dramatic interweaving of life and art the artistic collaborations and personal crises which the poet W.B.Yeats experienced together with an extraordinary cast of striking and hugely talented women: his sisters, his lovers, and his remarkable wife George, presiding spirit of Thoor Ballylee.  

Glynis Casson

Glynis comes from the well known Casson theatrical family and has played many leading roles over the years in Gilbert and Sullivan productions, in Gigi, My Fair Lady and Me and My Girl in the Gaiety Theatre Dublin. She has toured her one woman show Oscar and the Sphinx in Ireland, London and Egypt. The Harp That Once and Dauntless and Daring with Harpist Cormac de Barra in Ireland and the Continent, Seven Ages with Daniel Costello, and the comedy show Ladies Who Lunch with Irene Gaffney in venues around Ireland.

Other stage work includes: Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, The House of Bernarda Alba, Very Heaven, and Harold Pinter’s Party Time.  

TV & Film Credits include: Kathleen in RTE’s Fair City, The Clinic and TG4’s Maru crime series. Imelda in winning Irish film 32A, Mauyra in The Riders to The Sea, Pensioner in the short award winning film Bollybrack in which she did Indian dancing for the first time in Moore Street!   www.glyniscasson.com

Daniel Costello

Daniel has recently played Polonius in Hamlet at The New Theatre.

Other stage work includes: Nicolas in Pinter’s One For The Road, Friar Laurence in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Solange in Genet’s The Maids, Duke of Ferrara in De Vega’s Justice Without Revenge, Antonio in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Jimmy Jack in Friel’s Translations, Sir Peter Teazle in Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, Carl in Rebecca Gilman’s The Glory of Living, and Clov in Beckett’s Endgame.

TV & Film credits include: Bachelor’s Walk, The Clinic, & Fair CityAlbert Nobbs, Situations Vacant, Breakfast on Pluto and The Magdalene Sisters.

Claire Roche

Claire studied harp and voice with Maírín Feiritear in Sion Hill Convent Dublin, who encouraged her to compose her own songs, and at the age of 13 set ‘To A Child Dancing In The Wind’ to the music of harp. Poet Brendan Kennelly inspired Claire ‘to set some more’ when she was studying Anglo-Irish Literature in Trinity College Dublin, so in all she arranged eight of Yeats’ poems for the Harp. Michael Yeats kindly gave this permission before the copyright had run out on his Father’s work. Claire has had very successful tours of singing with her harp accompaniment in America, Australia and Ireland. www.claireroche.com

cropped-thoorballylee_today-may-17-2016.jpg

Yeats Thoor Ballylee Exhibition opening in media

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 2.26.08 p.m.

Yeats Thoor Ballylee exhibition opened by Sabina Coyne Higgins

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee exhibition opened by Sabina Coyne Higgins featured widely in local media reports over the last few days.

The Galway Advertiser reported on the event with this piece by Ronnie O’Gorman, quoted below:

“On Saturday the sun bathed South Galway for the unveiling of the new Yeats Exhibition in Thoor Ballylee which is now open to the public every day over the summer.

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society was delighted to welcome Sabina Coyne Higgins who officially opened the exhibition, and shared her perspectives on the significance of love in Yeats’s poetry. Since the tower flooded last winter, it was unimaginable that the beauty and tranquility of Ballylee would be enjoyed so soon again.

Fidelma Healy Eames, Chair of the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society remarked, following this year’s redecoration, that the tower gets better after every flood. Cathaoirleach of Galway County Council, Michael Connolly was also present and together with Minister Sean Canney, pledged to ensure that Thoor Ballylee would continue to be prioritised in local flood management programmes.

Cllr Connolly also stressed the important role that Thoor Ballylee had to play in bringing national and international visitors to the area and stressed its importance as an integral part of the Galway 2020 offering. Without the generosity of Yeats scholar Joseph Hassett, the exhibition would not have been possible.

Mr Hassett was thrilled at the event and gave a sterling speech about the symbolism of the tower in so much of Yeats’s poetry. The new exhibition, curated by Dr Adrian Paterson, Lecturer in English at NUIG, explores Yeats’ relationship with the people and places that most inspired his work.

It looks at the culture of the west, its crafts, stories, and songs; the central importance of the women in his life, most especially of his wife George; and his close connections with the landscapes and people of County Galway, with Coole Park and with Thoor Ballylee.

Children attending the opening were also delighted to complete the new Thoor Scavenger hunt which will be available for all families to complete over the summer. A series of cultural events will be organised over Summer 2016 to honour Yeats’s memory, his heritage and his links with the literary revival and with 1916. The Tower and Exhibition will be open to visitors throughout the summer from 10am to 6pm Monday – Sunday.”

The curator of the new Thoor Ballylee Yeats exhibition, Dr Adrian Paterson, commented:
“It is especially fitting that Thoor Ballylee is open thanks to the support of the Galway community. Many local families have a strong connection with the tower, going back even before the arrival of Yeats and his family, and the tower will remain long after we have all gone. As the worldwide Yeats2015 celebrations made clear, Yeats has a worldwide audience from Seoul to San Francisco, but again and again he made a commitment to west of Ireland as his home and as the nourishing soil for his imagination. Thoor Ballylee is the emblem of that commitment.
“The Thoor Ballylee Yeats exhibition is an attempt to reflect the importance of the west to W. B. Yeats, to illustrate his many artistic collaborations, and to understand the role of the women in his life. Thoor Ballylee represents so much for Yeats, as it still does for us. It is a reminder of Ireland’s turbulent history; a magical symbol drawn deep from the well of our collective memory; the setting for stories and songs about local beauty Mary Hynes; a centre for local crafts and collaborations; a home for Yeats’s family, his wife, children, and their pets; a place of inspiration for some astonishing poetry; a beacon for the arts and all artistic communities; and a monument to lasting creative achievement. Now it has a new exhibition, there are even more reasons to visit this special place.”
Yeats Tower Exhibition

The Clare Champion had this on the opening:

Clare Champion 17 June 2016

Clare Champion 17 June 2016

A selection of photos from the opening follows.

Thoor Ballylee May 2016

Thoor Ballylee May 2016