Thoor Ballylee blooms for Yeats’s birthday

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

Visit Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society Facebook Page

Livestream on

https://www.facebook.com/yeatsthoorballylee/live/

or go to

https://www.facebook.com/events/317595142567428/

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 Winding Stair (1933) cover by Thomas Sturge Moore

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

Visit Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society Facebook Page

Livestream on

https://www.facebook.com/yeatsthoorballylee/live/

https://www.facebook.com/events/317595142567428/

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.

 

Thoor Ballylee year in review

The last year represents one of our most successful years ever here at Yeats’s Tower. The opening of the Studio at Thoor Ballylee represented 2019’s biggest achievement, and one that will keep giving for many years to come. With generous support, we completed in double-quick time the conversion of the Yeats family’s old garage into a new vibrant space for workshops, events, education, art, and community, further enriching this place full of poetry and creativity.

By October 2019, when the curtain came down on our fifth season open at Thoor Ballylee, an estimated 4, 580 visitors had come and experienced the magic of Yeats’s tower. With your help we hope 2020 can be even better! Your continuing support is much appreciated.

The season at Thoor Ballylee opened on Easter Saturday in late April, with spring springing and with tea and Easter Bunny cake kindly provided by our generous and longest serving volunteer, Tonii. This was just the warm up for our regular readings and celebrations for Yeats’s birthday party, held every year (with cake!) on or around 13 June.

‘Sailing to Byzantium’

Launching the Studio at Thoor Ballylee was our first major event of the season.  Guest of honour and speaker of a fine welcoming address was the inimitable Sabina Higgins. Spoken poetry came from poet Mary O Malloy, and was followed by a  fluid rendition of ‘The Salley Gardens’ by soprano, Helen Hancock. Doing the honours of the official opening in cutting the ribbon was our very own esteemed author and educator Sr Mary de Lourdes Fahy.

The exhibition, assembled from materials from our own and NUI Galway’s archives, featured women artists like Elizabeth Rivers and especially the work of Elizabeth and Lily Yeats, in arts and crafts, printing and embroidery, after whom the studio is dedicated. Pride of place went to exquisite embroidered banners designed and made by the Yeats family and female workforce at Dun Emer workshop, rarely seen outside their home St Brendan’s Cathedral Loughrea, woven under the direction of Lily Yeats and featuring saints designed by Jack B. Yeats and his wife Mary Cottenham Yeats. Presiding over the studio space and presenting an expert weaving demonstration was Kathy Mooney. Later in the year the Studio at Thoor Ballylee was the venue for a day of spinning and weaving, now becoming a very popular annual event.

Elizabeth Rivers, from Stranger in Aran, Cuala Press (1946)

So already the Studio at Thoor Ballylee has been put to good use. Local artist, Cindy Lund, came to reside in there  for a week, creating some amazing original work, attracting other artists, giving local children an opportunity to draw in Yeats’s garage, while generating great interest in Thoor.

The studio was also the venue for weekly evening classes with Jackie Quelly, a lecture on Maud Gonne’s Men, by Anthony J. Jordan, an embroidery workshop with Sandra from Sacra King Irish Fibre Crafters and an exhibition and various artistic activities by the wonderful Kinvara Sanctuary group. Later as part of the Yeats Lady Gregory Autumn gathering Marina Carr came to give an expert playwrighting workshop here.

Marion Cox in conversation with Marina Carr

We are indeed indebted to Denis Creaven, from the Institute of Education, who has faithfully, year after year, given his two day mid-term lectures to Leaving Cert students, free gratis, with all proceeds going to Thoor Ballylee.

The mill by the river, on a sunny summer’s day in June, was the setting for a joint recital by Coole Music and an incredible youth orchestra from Norway, conducted by Katherina Baker. Two weeks later we were treated to an afternoon of medieval music by the junior members of Coole Music, fittingly attired in medieval costumes, performing in our medieval tower house.

To mark Heritage week, field archaeologist Dr Christy Cunniffe gave a talk and presentation on vernacular houses. Anna O Donnell gave an fascinating demonstration on the story of butter and butter making while soprano Helen Hancock delighted us with an evening of opera and the story of song. On Culture Night two rare performances occurred at Thoor of Yeats’s and Augusta Gregory’s The Pot of Broth  by a pioneering local theatre group. This was followed by Anna O Donnell‘s own broth tasting, and with Lelia Doolan’s insights into the family life of the Yeatses, audiences went away fully satisfied.

In September we were, once again, honoured to host The Lady Gregory and Yeats Autumn Gathering, and the studio and tower was the host for important sessions on women’s writing and creativity. As noted, internationally renowned playwright Marina Carr with Head of Drama at Trinity College, Dublin, Melissa Sihra, conducted a workshop for playwrights in the studio. Film producer Lelia Doolan gave an enlightening lecture on the actress and artistic director Ria Mooney and the Abbey Theatre, while the local Wild Swan Theatre group brought the weekend to a close with their premiere production of a new play, Lady Gregory’s Ingredients.

World renowned storyteller, Martin Shaw (Cista Mystica) chose Thoor Ballylee as the Irish venue for his sold-out story telling workshop and evening performance. This event attracted participants from as far afield as Germany and New Zealand, and proved a most successful event in terms of enjoyment and publicity. A film made by Grant Thompson around the event with Martin Shaw at Thoor Ballylee discussing Yeats  was featured on social media and widely viewed.

Thoor Ballylee ended the year as it began as a hub for the arts and for community: the many musical events in the series included expert local group The Burren Bandits while Máirtín O Connor, Garry O Brien and singer Mary McPartlan brought another busy season to a close.

Thoor Ballylee would like to give thanks for the generosity of our amazing 2019 volunteers: Rosemary, Rose, Tonii, Karen, Liam, Gus, Pat O Looney, Pat Farrell.For their never-ending help, our Tús members: Khrystof , Dominic, Joe, and Frank (CE scheme).  To JJ and family members for manning the car park, controlling the traffic, lighting our way in the dark and helping where needed. And to our never-failing staff  Eoghan MacDonagh and the dedicated Nichola.

All this hard work, dedication, and passion for W.B. Yeats, for Thoor Ballylee, and for the arts and Galway culture, was fittingly rewarded in when we were awarded the prestigious Cathaoirleach’s (Mayor’s) Award for Arts and Culture 2019.

Marion Cox, Rena McAllen, Colm Farrell, Anna O Donnell, Lelia Doolan of the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society

All this, and we couldn’t have done it all without you!  Despite our recent success in winning a competitive Government of Ireland grant to help open the studio, we rely entirely on volunteers and private donations to keep going, and making sure Yeats’s legacy is preserved and open for worldwide visitors and new generations. Please come and visit us in the new season, and if you can become a friend or donate to our fund!

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.

 

 

Autumn 2017 opening hours

An update on the autumn 2017 opening hours for Thoor Ballylee. Come along, enjoy our exhibitions, climb the famous winding stair, pop into the poet’s bedroom, admire the stranger’s room, and take in the view from the top of the tower.

Or come and see us late for Culture Night, or join our last event of the season, the spectacular Poetry Slam. All before our winter closing on Sunday 8th October. Details below, we hope to see you soon!

Thoor Ballylee Opening Hours

September-October 2017

Until  Friday 8th September

Open 10 to 6 daily

Saturday 9th September until Saturday 7th October

Weekdays: 10 am to 2 pm
Weekends: 11 am to 5 pm

NB our upcoming events

JENNIFER JOHNSTON & RITA ANN HIGGINS: 3pm Saturday 9th September

CULTURE NIGHT: Friday 22 September (from 7pm late opening)

and the 2017 season final event

POETRY SLAM: Saturday 7th October

From Sunday 8th October 2017 the tower closes for the winter months. Till then all visitors receive the warmest of welcomes!

 

Heritage Week Nature Walk

Come along to our exciting latest event:

Heritage Week Nature Walk at Thoor Ballylee

with Gordon D’Arcy

Saturday 19th August 2017 at 2pm

Free & all welcome!

 _________________________________________________________________________
                                               A rat or water-hen
Splashed, or an otter slid into the stream.
We are on the bridge; that shadow is the tower,
And the light proves that he is reading still.
W.B. Yeats, from ‘The Phases of the Moon’ (1918)
Yeats paid great attention to the details of the natural world, and wrote about them. The number of birds in his poetry for instance is almost uncountable. For him and his family the surrounds of Thoor Ballylee, County Galway, were an astonishing natural treasure, as well as grounds for myth. His wife George dropped a line out of the window into the stream to fish for trout for dinner, while the children played in the woods and fields beyond.
To mark the beginning of Heritage Week at Thoor Ballylee, Gordon D’Arcy, environmentalist & author, will lead a nature walk around Thoor Ballylee and along the Ballylee River on Saturday 19th August from 2pm to 4pm.
Explore the flora & fauna of the area and examine the workings of a venerable old mill.
All welcome to this free family  event.

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 on The Poetry Programe

Following the successful poetry slam held at Thoor Ballylee late last year, Thoor Ballylee and its living poets are celebrated on RTÉ’s The Poetry Programme.

tower-slam-poets

The programme samples the lively atmosphere of the inaugural Thoor Ballylee Poetry Slam and hears from organisers Lelia Doolan and Sarah Clancy. Paul McNamara, winner of the competition, is second from left.

tower-slam-crowd1

‘Leabhar na hAthghabhála / Poems of Repossession’ is an impressive anthology of poetry in Irish from the past century with English translations. Editor, poet, and translator Louis de Paor chooses some poems from the anthology and talks about his desire to make this work visible to a wider audience.

Martina Evans is sure we all have a poem in us. She talks with Rick O’Shea and reads from her collection ‘The Windows of Graceland,’ published by Carcanet.

To listen to the programme, broadcast on RTÉ Radio One 7.30pm Saturday 7th January, follow this link.

tower-slam-poets-yeats1

 

Thoor Ballylee temporary closure Sunday 28th August

Due to the Galway Summer Rally taking place in the roads in South Galway around Ballylee, Thoor Ballylee will be closed on Sunday 28th August 2016.  The tower is open to visitors every day for all of the rest of the summer, complete with its new exhibitions and Yeats’s old winding stair.

Yeats Tower Exhibition

Visuals from our newly opened Thoor Ballylee Yeats Exhibition, available to view at Yeats’s Tower

Please accept our apologies for this brief closure. We hope you can arrange to visit another time, and hope to see you back at this historic building very soon.

ThoorBallylee_Cuirt2015%2016