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.

Yeats candlesticks at Thoor Ballylee

Happy New Year from Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society!

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is delighted to announce the coming of Yeats’s original candlesticks to their home in Thoor Ballylee.

With the unmatched generosity of Joseph Hassett and Ronnie O’Gorman these magnificent large brass candlesticks (or altar-sticks) were acquired for the tower. In the 1920s they stood before the great fireplace in the family sitting room in the Norman tower itself. It must have been a magical sight, beneath the dark blue ceiling painted by George Yeats with stars and symbols and next to the old stonework, reworked by the architect William Scott. Although most of the tower’s refurbishment was done with local materials, the candlesticks themselves were probably made in Birmingham by Pearson-Page, a company specialising in authentic copies of historic metal-work in brass, copper, and iron.

Ronnie O’Gorman of Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society admires the candlesticks at their stop in Galway City Museum

The candlesticks come with excellent provenance. They were purchased in the Yeats Family Collection sale in Sotheby’s in London. The sale attracted considerable publicity  as it included not only manuscripts, drawings, and furniture from the collections of WB Yeats, but artwork from Jack B Yeats, the sisters EC and SM Yeats, and paintings and sketchbooks by their father John Butler Yeats.

Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society are very proud to have these fine objects, and there is no more fitting place for them to reside. An event to celebrate their arrival is planned in January, hosted by NUI Galway.

 

Thoor Closing Night 2017

Thoor Ballylee Closing Night 2017

New writers write back to Yeats

Come and join the excitement as Sarah Clancy, Lisa McInerny, and our Thoor ‘write back to Yeats’ competition winners perform.  Mingle with our indomitable songsters and new warblers.
Saturday 7th October 2017
€10 – & refreshments
This is Thoor Ballylee’s season closing event of 2017. Don’t miss out!

Thoor Ballylee extended an open invitation to new (or old) poets for a poem in response to Yeats’s lines a hundred years ago (1938) in his poem ‘Under Ben Bulben’ (edited a little, from Stanza V):

Irish poets, learn your trade
Sing the peasantry and then
Hard-riding country gentlemen…
Sing the lords and ladies gay
That were beaten into the clay
Through seven heroic centuries;
Cast your mind on other days
That we in coming days may be
Still the indomitable Irishry
 W.B. Yeats, from ‘Under Ben Bulben’ (1938)
There will be a modest award for the poem which, in the opinion of the audience, best responds to Yeats’s poem.

Closing Night Saturday 7th October 2017 also features:

Sarah Clancy, author of The Truth and Other Stories. This is Sarah’s third collection of poetry. In it she excavates the personal and psychological wreckage caused by an unrelenting recession in her native Ireland and further afield – with sacrificing the warmth, wit, or linguistic extremity for which she is known.
Lisa McInerney’s first novel The Glorious Heresies won the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the 2016 Desmond Elliott Prize. Her second novel, The Blood Miracles, was published in April 2017 and she is just finishing her third.  She lives in Gort.

Thoor Poetry Competition

Thoor Ballylee Poetry Competition

 Write back to Yeats!

Thoor Ballylee extends an open invitation to new (or old) poets for a poem in response to Yeats’s lines a hundred years ago (1938) in his poem ‘Under Ben Bulben’ (edited a little, from Stanza V):

Irish poets, learn your trade
Sing the peasantry and then
Hard-riding country gentlemen…
Sing the lords and ladies gay
That were beaten into the clay
Through seven heroic centuries;
Cast your mind on other days
That we in coming days may be
Still the indomitable Irishry
 W.B. Yeats, from ‘Under Ben Bulben’ (1938)
So. Are we still the indomitable Irishry??
One poem only per poet — no pseudonyms.
Add name and address/email/phone to  submitted poem.
Poems should  be under three minutes to say and must reach Galway Bay FM  (arts@galwaybayfm.ie) by Friday 29th September.
Up to three poets may be chosen.
The chosen poet or poets  must be available to come and say or read the poem 7.30 on Saturday October 7th in Thoor Ballylee!
There will be a modest award for the poem which, in the opinion of the audience, best responds to Yeats’s poem.

Poetry Night Saturday 7th October 2017 also features:

Sarah Clancy, author of The Truth and Other Stories. This is Sarah’s third collection of poetry. In it she excavates the personal and psychological wreckage caused by an unrelenting recession in her native Ireland and further afield – with sacrificing the warmth, wit, or linguistic extremity for which she is known.
Lisa McInerney’s first novel The Glorious Heresies won the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the 2016 Desmond Elliott Prize. Her second novel, The Blood Miracles, was published in April 2017 and she is just finishing her third.  She lives in Gort.

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!

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                                               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.” 

Hamlet in my mind’s eye

A reminder that Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is delighted to present Hamlet, not in performance but a talk aimed at Leaving Certificate students.

Denis Creaven, English teacher at the Institute of Education, Dublin, will lecture on several topics on Hamlet and the main characters of the play.

The lecture is designed to be especially helpful for Leaving Certificate examination requirements. Complimentary handouts will be distributed. We are pleased to say all proceeds go to Thoor Ballylee for its continued maintenance.

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Like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Yeats had a habit of prowling his castle. In ‘The Tower’ (1926) he writes ‘I pace the battlements and stare / On the foundation of a house’. Yeats also drew on Shakespeare’s Hamlet for his Noh drama At The Hawk’s Well (1916). As Cuchulain climbs to the holy well, the musician remembers Hamlet’s claim to see things beyond most of us (like his dead father) ‘in my mind’s eye’:

I call to the eye of the mind

A well long choked up and dry

And boughs long stripped by the wind,

And I call to the mind’s eye

Pallor of an ivory face,

Its lofty dissolute air,

A man climbing up to a place

The salt sea wind has swept bare.

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Leaving Certificate 2017 Hamlet Preparation

12-2pm, Wednesday 22 February 2017

Sullivan’s Hotel, Gort, Co Galway

For booking contact yeatsthoorballylee@gmail.com or ring Nichola on 086 855 2124

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Poetry Slam at Thoor Ballylee

Poetry Slam Competition

Thoor Ballylee

Saturday 15 October 2016

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A slam poetry competition will take place in Thoor Ballylee, the former home of WB Yeats on Saturday October 15. Performance poets are  invited to apply for one of 10 places at the event. This is the first competition of its kind to be held at the tower house.

This event will be MC-ed by Galway poets and former Cuirt Grand Slam winners Elaine Feeney and Sarah Clancy who, jealous of the attention being given to the other poets, may decide to perform some of their own poems in the interval.

Prizes are available, for those who like fumbling in the greasy till, including a first prize €250, second prize of €100, and third prize of €50, sponsored by Poetry Ireland.

All poets who perform and all judges will also receive a copy of Poetry Ireland Review Issue 116: A WB Yeats Special Issue, also sponsored by Poetry Ireland.

There will be 10 slots for poets to perform at this event, with the contestants selected in advance by Elaine Feeney and Sarah Clancy based on submissions. Entries for this event are open now and poets wishing to enter must send a poem of their own in any format — text, video, or recording — to sarahclancygalway@gmail.com on or before October 4.  All submissions must include ‘Tower Poetry Slam Entry’ in the title of the e-mail.

Each poem must be three minutes’ duration or less. There will be two rounds, with the five highest scoring poets from round one going through to the second round, after which the winners will be decided. Qualifying poets must perform a different poem in the second round. In each round the judges will be selected from the audience and their decisions will be both subjective and final.

Poets are expected to perform their poems without using a script and scoring will reflect this. Poems must be the performer’s own work and not have been previously published in book form nor have been the winning poem in any other slam competition.

Transport from Galway will be available by bus which will depart from the Spanish Arch (in front of Jury’s Hotel ) at 6.30pm and will return to there after the event. Tickets for bus and admission are €20, €10 for admission only, and there will be no admission charge for performing poets.

Refreshments, including wine, will be available for purchase on the night.

To book tickets call Thoor Ballylee between 10am and 2pm daily on 091 631436. Or email yeatsthoorballylee@gmail.com. There will also be limited admission on the door.

Any funds raised will go towards supporting the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society in its work preserving Thoor Ballylee.

Hear W.B. Yeats read his own verse here! As he says, he reads with great emphasis upon the rhythm.

yeats-radio-mike

Lady Gregory Yeats Autumn Gathering

Lady Gregory Yeats Autumn Gathering

This weekend sees the Lady Gregory Yeats Autumn Gathering, taking place in south Galway at the Lady Gregory Hotel Gort, Coole Park, and Thoor Ballylee from Friday 30th September to Sunday October 2nd 2016.

In this anniversary year,  speakers from near and far will be thinking about 1916 and its local connections, and the imaginative landscape of writers like Gregory, Yeats, and Joyce. As well as memories and revivals it also features theatre: with a tour of the NUI Galway theatre archives on Friday, and on Sunday a play performed at Thoor Ballylee by The Curlew Theatre Company called History!: Reading the Easter Rising.

Below follows a summary programme. Further details and how to register can be found at the Autumn Gathering Website.

W.B.Yeats Rose: Scarlet Floribunda. A new variety of Irish rose bred for the 150th anniversary of W.B. Yeats. Botanical Artist: Holly Sommerville

W.B.Yeats Rose: Scarlet Floribunda. A new variety of Irish rose bred for the 150th anniversary of W.B. Yeats. Botanical Artist: Holly Sommerville

Lady Gregory Yeats Autumn Gathering

Yeats and Lady Gregory’s prominent role in theatrical, poetic, and cultural life in the period is often acknowledged but their particular connections with and responses to 1916 deserve examination. This 22nd Gathering explores the collaborations, creations, and disagreements present in 1916, exploring how the aesthetic conceptions of drama and poetry not only affected the Rising but shaped a response to it.

Within Coole Park’s historic walled garden, sits the famous ‘autograph tree’ where world-renowned authors such as Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Sean O’Casey, John Millington Synge and George Moore, carved their initials, marking Coole Park as the centre of the Irish Literary Revival in the 20th century. Taking place in Coole Park and Thoor Ballylee, Yeats’ 15th century castle-home, the Autumn Gathering will highlight the impact of 1916 to both the literary giants of the time and local people of Gort and South Galway.

Friday 30 September 2016

 

13.00

 

 

 

 

19.00

 

 

 

 

 

19.30

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tour of the Abbey Theatre Archive NUIG

Depart Gort at 13.00 to arrive at National University of Ireland Galway at 14.00

Tour includes display of items from the Abbey Theatre.

 

Registration for Twenty-Second

Lady Gregory/Yeats Autumn Gathering.

Reception & Formal Opening:

Welcome by Director, Ronnie O’Gorman.

Formal opening by Greg White, great grandson of Francis FitzAdelm Persse, brother of Lady Gregory, and cutting of the Gort Barm Brack.

Dedication of Gort Library’s Coole Collection to the memory of Sheila O’Donnellan, co-founder of the Autumn Gathering

Opening Address by Ray Burke, Chief News Editor at RTE and Author of ‘Joyce County’

featuring a new book which explores James Joyce’s ties with Galway

 

Entertainment by Sonic Strings youth orchestra from Coole Music

 

 

Coach leaves from The Lady Gregory Hotel, Gort

 

 

 

 

The Lady Gregory Hotel, Gort

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 01 October 2016

  

 

09.30

 

 

10.00

 

 

11.15

11.45

 

 

 

13.00

 

14.15

 

 

 

15.30

 

16.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19.30

Coach departs Lady Gregory Hotel for Coole Park.

Lecture Sessions chaired by Colin Smythe renowned publisher & literary agent

W.B. Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory and 1916

Dr Adrian Paterson, Director of Graduate Research-English, School of Humanities
National University of Ireland, Galway

 

Tea/Coffee Break

 The first time I saw a whole salmon cooked’:    Encounters with the wealthy in Gort and the GPO

Lucy McDiarmid, Marie Frazee-Baldassarre Professor of English at Montclair State University, N.J.

 

Lunch 

 

Easter Week through Abbey Eyes

Cecily O’Neill, Author and International Authority on Drama Education and Theatre.

Forum: Discussion with the Speakers

 

View the Coole Collection dedicated to the memory of Sheila O’Donnellan at Gort Library, Old Church of Ireland, Queen St., Gort.

or

Stroll through the woods

(accompanied by NPWS Tour Guide)

or

View the exhibition and documentary about Lady Gregory and Coole

 

 

Candlelit Dinner & Entertainment.

 

 

 

Coole Park

Visitor Centre

 

 

 

 Coole Park

Visitor Centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coach leaves from The Lady Gregory Hotel at 19.15

 

 

Sunday 2 October 2016

 

 

10.00

10.30

 

11.30

 

12.00

 

 

14.00

 

 

 

Coach departs Lady Gregory Hotel for Thoor Ballylee.

 

How have we remembered 1916?”

Catriona Crowe, National Archivist of Ireland.

Tea/Coffee.

 

History!: Reading the Easter Rising – Play  

Performed by The Curlew Theatre Company.

 

View the Coole Collection dedicated to the memory of Sheila O’Donnellan at Gort Library, Old Church of Ireland, Queen St., Gort

(open until 17.00 – afternoon tea)

 

Farewell to our Friends!

 

Thoor Ballylee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organising Committee:                                         Booking Info:

Ronnie O’Gorman (Director)                                 Marion Cox

Marion Cox (Organiser)                                         1 Kiltiernan East

Eileen O’Connor (Hon. Member)                          Kilcolgan

Lois Tobin (Founding Member)                            Co. Galway

Tel: 086-8053917                                              e-mail: monaleen@msn.com

Website: www.autumngathering.com

Lady Augusta Gregory, 27 September 1916

Lady Augusta Gregory, 27 September 1916