New Year at Thoor Ballylee

Remembering the time of WB Yeats’s death eighty-four years ago, when according to WH Auden he ‘disappeared in the dead of winter’, this year sees WB Yeats’s 158th birthday, and the 100th anniversary of his Nobel Prize for Literature from 1923. At Thoor Ballylee we look back and look forward: we reflect on the past year’s happenings, and anticipate the exciting new season.

The clear out of the exhibitions and fittings in the tower and cottage has long been complete and flood barriers are in place until the spring. Many coats of paint were applied to the downstairs area; rich velvet curtains replaced rotten door & jambs (with the help of Anderson contractors); the audio-visual presentation is newly updated ready for the new year. Through this frosty winter the tower waits in welcome, as for so many years, for pilgrims and visitors from around the world.

2022 Season

Following an enforced two-year closure, we were delighted to back in business to in-person, on-site visitors. The past twelve months for Thoor Ballylee brought lots of hard work and many challenges, but it was our pleasure to welcome back three thousand visitors during the 2022 season, all eager to explore the home of WB Yeats and attend the many organised events.

This year’s season opening began with a warm welcome back as we hosted afternoon tea at Thoor Ballylee. This was followed by an evening concert with Ciaran Cannon & guests, all in aid of the Gort Welcomes Ukraine Fund.

The season also featured:

Two performances of Yeats Joyce and Nora by our local Wild Swan Theatre Company;

an evening with Soprano Helen Hancock;

the annual Poet’s Picnic for WB Yeats, attended by our generous benefactor, Joe Hassett;

…and a special performance of Nora by The Curlew Theatre Company, to mark Bloomsday 100 years of James Joyce’s Ulysses, with musical interlude by Nicola and Karina Cahill.

All week long during Heritage Week as ever the local community took the chance to engage, and the Studio @ Thoor Ballylee was the venue for a book launch on the History of the GAA by Steve Dolan.

For Culture Night Jo Beth Young and guests treated us to an enchanting evening of stories and song with her Shadow Navigation Show.

The long-awaited in-person return of the Yeats Lady Gregory Autumn Gathering brought many Augusta Gregory and Yeats enthusiasts, including many Gregory family members, to Thoor, which hosted day two of the Gathering.

The return of The Songbirds brought our visitor events for 2022 to a close.

But that was not all. Thoor Ballylee was represented at the inaugural Gort Community Fair.

The Society was chosen as a delegate in the EU’s Cultural Heritage in Action Programme and was included on the list of Best Practice Sites in Europe.

Mary Hanley’s sons paid a visit and donated a precious and valuable collection of books to the tower.

And schools and education groups returned to the tower to learn about its history and heritage.

We hosted a civil wedding ceremony for a lovely Texan couple and a several wedding parties chose Thoor and its surroundings for wedding day photos.

And his was a year for documentaries! – starring Miriam Margolyes, Julia Bradbury, and our own Ronnie O’Gorman and Rena McAllen. Highlighting the natural world and cultural impact of Thoor Ballylee, RTE, Channel 4, Bat Conservation Ireland, and a German TV crew came to film in the tower beside the stream at Ballylee.

Acknowledgments

We are indebted to our generous benefactors for their continued support. This year with their help we were able to acquire an original Elizabeth Corbett Yeats picture from 1934.

Our thanks go to our army of volunteers and craftworkers and professional contractors helping us at Thoor Ballylee.

Most of all, our appreciation goes to the fantastic group of volunteers (ten of whom joined our team this year) who threw open the doors and shutters, lit the fire and the candles and welcomed in the many guests, pre-booked tours, schoolchildren, and other groups and individual visitors, seven days a week over a period of six months. We thank Pat O Looney, Paul O Donnell, Tonii Kelly, Pauline Kennelly, John Morgan, Aidan Eames, Anne Leahy, Gerry Conneely, Dido, Ruth Lynch Delassus, Gerry Wynne, and more! The call for a Meitheal for the spring clean was responded to with much enthusiasm.

To our reliable car park team Gus and JJ who guaranteed our safety during events, thank you, and for lighting our way to the tower – so spectacularly – thank you JJ Finn.

To our mainstays – the hardworking Nichola Baverstock and Anthony Coppinger – Míle Buíochas.

All requests re maintenance were speedily addressed by local partners: shutters were replaced and painted, presses, windows & doors repaired, a new boiler installed, leaking toilet fixed and a grand new bridge erected in the picnic park.

Thanks go to Eugene Murphy, work on renovating and reinstating the mill wheel continues. The project has caught the interest of former Minister and TD Frank Fahey and other locals, and as a result, a fundraising drive has been set in motion to fund the restoration of the mill wheel.

Let us not forget the tremendous support of Failte Ireland and our many donors and friends.

We have completed another successful and inspiring year at Thoor Ballylee. Whether flood waters arrive or not, we look forward to a wonderful new year in 2023.

Míle Buíochas do cách. Meanwhile if you’d like to contribute however modestly to all the cultural and community work that we do and to the upkeep of this unique building and surrounds please visit our donate page.

Our first visitors of 2023 came all the way from Tennessee! We hope to see you too during this coming season.

Winter greetings from Thoor Ballylee

Following a two-year closure to in-person visitors, Thoor Ballylee opened to all comers in 2022 and all here had a busy and exciting year.  

The Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society was chosen as a delegate in the European Union’s Cultural Heritage in Action program, and was invited to be on the list of Best Practice Sites in Europe. We are also continuing to work nationally and internationally to address the current environmental issues: to that end we are restoring the mill wheel on site, with the hope of generating our own electricity. We hope to implement a biodiversity project, which will help restore the flora and fauna that surrounded Yeats and his family at Thoor Ballylee, and which is mirrored in his writing.

2023 marks an important time for Thoor Ballylee as that year marks the centenary of Yeats winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. To that end, we are planning a series of events to mark the occasion, as we continue our work to preserve and promote Yeats’s legacy. In tandem with the centenary events, we have an equally ambitious programme of performances, tours, talks, and exhibitions for 2023. 

If you’d like to read more about the many cultural events associated with the tower, take time in the new year to visit our website for the latest – https://yeatsthoorballylee.org/  – and why not follow us on Facebook by liking Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society!

As always, we appreciate your continued interest and support in our work to honour the remarkable Yeats family and historic Norman building, and to keep alive the work of WB Yeats through poetry, culture, history, and love of nature. 

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 to all our visitors and well-wishers and donors and friends, and wishing you all the best for this season! We close with a photograph of Thoor Ballylee from just last week in all its winter glory.

Yeats’s Birthday and Bloomsday Play

Today, 13 June, sees the 157th birthday of WB Yeats.

This Thursday 16 June is Bloomsday, a special event this year as 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

James Joyce, Ulysses (Paris: Shakespeare & Co., 1922)

For Bloomsday this Thursday Thoor Ballylee celebrates with a special performance of Noramollyannalivialucia: The Muse and Mister Joyce” written by Irish poet Eamon Grennan.

Curlew Theatre Company presents

Noramollyannalivialucia:

The Muse and Mister Joyce

at Yeats’s Tower, Thoor Ballylee

8pm Thursday June 2022

Admission €15. Tickets available on the door: or for bookings phone 091 631436 / 0858620935

This is a solo play for voices based on Nora Barnacle’s life, in which Joyce’s Galway wife Nora is visited by a group of people (the audience) keen for stories about Joyce, and receive some home truths. Extracts from Joyce’s works interweave with Nora’s memories as she composes a portrait of the artist’s wife as an older woman. The play is performed by Curlew Theatre Company with musical interludes by Nicola and Karina Cahill on harp and flute.

Yeats had the idea that Thoor Ballylee might work as an artistic a hub for Irish artists like James Joyce.

So what did Yeats and Joyce have in common?

Only too much, suggests Joe Hassett in his play Wandering Stars, premiered yesterday at Thoor Ballylee. What they had in common artistically is explored further in an essay by Adrian Paterson published this week by Modernist Studies Ireland.

To find out more, come along to Thoor Ballylee this Bloomsday, or any day this summer!

Opening times for Thoor Ballylee

June 2022

Daily 10 am to 5 pm

Players for Wandering Stars joined by the author Joe Hassett

Plays and Poets Picnic

2022 is a literary summer season! In the run up to WB Yeats’s 157th birthday on 13 June, and Bloomsday on 16 June celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ulysses, we have special cultural events taking place at Thoor Ballylee.

Poets Picnic

3pm Sunday 12 June 2022

+

4pm Wandering Stars

performed by the Wild Swan Theatre Company

Poets Picnic

Our Poets Picnic is free to all young and old! It is an annual gathering of poetry lovers and all folk interested in poetry and culture, in honour of WB Yeats’s birthday. Do come along for our magnificent outdoor picnic spread, with readings of Yeats’s poems, thoughts about his life and legacy, and reflections and poems by other artistic figures.

Wandering Stars

This year the Poets Picnic is followed by a play performed by The Wild Swan Theatre company. Written by Joe Hassett and directed by Marion Cahill-Collins, this explores the intertwined lives of Yeats and Joyce and Nora Barnacle. Admission to the play which starts at 4pm inside the tower is €10 with tickets available on the door.

Cast: Claire O Donnell as Nora, Justin McDermott as Joyce, Gerry Conneely as Yeats.

Ukraine Refugees Tea and Poetry Day Ireland

Tea for Ukraine Refugees

On Saturday 30th April Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is hosting a fundraiser in aid of the Ukrainian refugee crisis. It is a fitting venue as much of Yeats’s work, including “Meditations in Time of Civil War”, conceived and written at Thoor Ballylee, considered the nature of war and violence, and led to him receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The event on April 30th 2022 will consist of a afternoon tea served at the cottage in the 14th century tower between 3pm and 4.30pm.

You will be spoiled with a selection of delicious treats kindly provided by local restaurateurs and businesses.

A photograph from the event: all proceeds go to Ukrainian refugee organizations. For more details visit here. And below Nicolay Homenko shows off his artistic skills – this piece was created during the concert!

Poetry Day Ireland

Poetry Day Ireland takes place today, Thursday 28 April 2022. The theme is ‘Written in the Stars’.

Poetry Ireland ask us all to share a poem, read a poem, speak a poem, participate in a Poetry Day Ireland event or programme your own event on the day. Everyone is invited to join in and celebrate, just remember to tag them on #PoetryDayIrl. 

Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society joins in with this weird millennial poem from The Wind Among the Reeds (1899). It refers to a mythical battle of ancient Ireland whose terrifying violence seems to come again, whereupon the speaker humbly submits in peace before the fates written in the stars, dictated by the demiurge, or prime mover of the heavens.

‘The Valley of the Black Pig’

The dews drop slowly and dreams gather: unknown spears

Suddenly hurtle before my dream-awakened eyes,

And then the clash of fallen horsemen and the cries

Of unknown perishing armies beat about my ears.

We who still labour by the cromlech on the shore,

The grey cairn on the hill, when day sinks drowned in dew,

Being weary of the world’s empires, bow down to you

Master of the still stars and of the flaming door.

WB Yeats, from The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)

‘AE’ (George Russell), ‘Lordly Ones Appearing to a Turf Cutter’

Easter Reopening

Easter Saturday 16th April 2022

Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is delighted to announce our Easter reopening, and welcoming back our visitors – after a two year closure – from 11am this Easter Saturday 16th April 2022! Comhaltas Gaillimh Theas will provide entertainment between 12 noon and 1pm.

Each weekend in April we’ll be open 11-4pm. Further opening hours will be announced for the summer.

Especially thanks to our many helpers, contractors, and volunteers (to help or join us see below) we are primed and ready, and excited to welcome you back!

Volunteers readying the tower for opening!

This Easter Saturday and beyond into spring and summer, come along and learn about the life and work of WB Yeats, the poems he wrote at Thoor Ballylee, and he and his family’s deep connections to the area and the west of Ireland. The cultural revolution his family began would involve the whole island in arts and crafts, so it is fitting that the restoration of the the restoration of the tower with local materials is continued today in the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society’s efforts with local craftworkers and landscape gardeners on the gardens, the Studio at Thoor Ballylee, and the Mill.

Clare Champion

The Clare Champion has an article about us!

Galway Films

For our spring reopening, Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is presenting the online premieres of new films about Yeats and Galway. Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society youtube channel

With the help of the Spot-lit programme for literary tourism, with camera and editing by Morgan Creative and Seanchas Productions, and featuring local musicians and contributors, these short films are voiced by luminaries like Marie Mullen from Druid Theatre and some of our very own members. They highlight places in County Galway important to Yeats and which feature in some of his finest poems, from ‘The Tower’ to (as here) ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, as a ghost returns to old haunts.

Come and help!

Thoor Ballylee historic fourteenth Century tower house, once home to Nobel Prize winning poet WB Yeats and his family, is managed and run by an amazing group of volunteers. We are currently adding to our volunteer pool so if you have a love of literature or history, enjoy interacting with people and have four hours a week to spare, please contact Thoor Ballylee at +353 85 862 0935, email thoorballylee@gmail.com, or contact us above.

We are a voluntary group with no permanent external funding. We’d love for you to help us keep this unique heritage site going for all of us today, and for future generations. To join us or donate any amount large or small see the donate page above.

Countdown to Easter Reopening

Easter reopening

Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is delighted to announce our Easter reopening, and welcoming back our visitors – after a two year closure – on Easter Saturday 16th April 2022!

It’s been a hard road, but after two years socially distanced or online, and with plenty of ongoing work to the thatch, the mill, and latterly our spring clean-up – and especially thanks to our many helpers, contractors, and volunteers (to help or join us see below) we are primed and ready, and excited to welcome you back!

The new thatch at Thoor Ballylee

Kiltartan Gregory Museum

Meanwhile we highlight other gems of the area for our visitors, and invite you to visit the award-winning Kiltartan Gregory Museum. The following film showcases this hidden gem, based in the old schoolhouse at Kiltartan Cross (mentioned in Yeats’s poem ‘The Irish Airman Foresees His Death’), devoted to Lady Gregory and Yeats and featuring all kinds of fascinating art, books, letters, publications, and memorabilia concerning the area and its literary heritage.

In the run up to our spring reopening, Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is presenting the online premieres of new films about Yeats and Galway. Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society youtube channel

With the help of the Spot-lit programme for literary tourism, with camera and editing by Morgan Creative and Seanchas Productions, and featuring local musicians and contributors, these short films are voiced by luminaries like Marie Mullen from Druid Theatre and some of our very own members. They highlight places in County Galway important to Yeats and which feature in some of his finest poems, from ‘The Tower’ to (as here) ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’, as a ghost returns to old haunts.

Come and help!

Thoor Ballylee historic fourteenth Century tower house, once home to Nobel Prize winning poet WB Yeats and his family, is managed and run by an amazing group of volunteers. We are currently adding to our volunteer pool so if you have a love of literature or history, enjoy interacting with people and have four hours a week to spare, please contact Thoor Ballylee at +353 85 862 0935, email thoorballylee@gmail.com, or contact us above.

We are a voluntary group with no permanent external funding. We’d love for you to help us keep this unique heritage site going for all of us today, and for future generations. To join us or donate any amount large or small see the donate page above.

Returning to Thoor Ballylee

New films about Yeats and Galway

In the run up to our spring reopening, Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society is presenting the online premiere of new films about Yeats and Galway. These short films highlight places in County Galway important to Yeats and which feature in some of his finest poems, from ‘The Tower’ to ‘Coole and Ballylee 1931’.

With the help of the Spot-lit programme for literary tourism, drawing on both their expertise and funding, and the work of some crack producers and content creators, Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society produced this film series highlighting the importance of the tower and the Society’s work in “Spreading the News” about the literary connections of WB Yeats and beyond. These films are designed to attract audiences near and far to the delights of Galway, and help bring visitors to Thoor Ballylee and the many other important sites in our region.

Returning to Thoor Ballylee

Returning to Thoor Ballylee features a thin figure in cloak and hat – the ghost of an old poet perhaps? – returning to a place where he was once so fulfilled.

This reintroduction to the landscape and sounds of Thoor Ballylee features Yeats’s poems ‘To Be Carved on a Stone at Thoor Ballylee’ and ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’. It is voiced by Marion Cox and Ronnie O’Gorman with camera by Morgan Creative.

The film inaugurates Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society’s own YouTube channel, on which more content is expected over the next weeks and months. The film is part of an ongoing series promoting Thoor Ballylee, Kiltartan, Coole Park, Doorus House and The Flaggy Shore.

The film invites you, too, to return to Thoor Ballylee this spring, in the summer, sometime in the future, or just in imagination. Long live the returning spirit of WB Yeats and his family!

Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society youtube channel

Wild Swans in Coming Home

Culture Night leaving you hungry for more? Come and join us this weekend at Thoor Ballylee for an exciting al fresco play performance.

The Wild Swan Theatre Company presents:

Coming Homee

by Niall Finnegan

4pm Sunday 19 September

The Mill, Thoor Ballylee

Free Admission

In this short play written by the Wild Swan Theatre Company’s own Niall Finnegan, a chance meeting in the Burren revives both happy and sad memories for two old friends and leads to a lively conclusion…

Performed by Justin McDermott, Max Lee, Judith Gantley and Rose Finnegan.

The play is performed in the beautiful surrounds of the Yeats family’s C14th Norman Tower, Thoor Ballylee. Park in our free car park, walk up the stream, and find us by the mill.

This is an open air venue. If you wish (as well as a jumper!) do bring your own seat.

By the stream at Thoor Ballylee, Galway H91 D8F2

Thoor Ballylee at New Year

Wishing all our friends and everyone around the world Nollaig shona dhaoibh and a happier, brighter new year.

This year many of us have lost friends, family, and colleagues, and we take a moment to remember them: in WB Yeats’s understanding, the best way of keeping them with us. Alongside luminaries such as Dr Margaret MacCurtain, at Thoor Ballylee we particularly remember two good friends, powerful advocates for women and for the arts: Mary McPartlan, singer and cultural activist whose concert closed last year’s season, and Lois Tobin, co-founder of the Yeats Lady Gregory Autumn Gathering, whose determination, generosity, and style ensured that our literary and cultural heritage was shared across generations and borders.

‘Things fall apart: the centre cannot hold’. If you have felt so this year more than ever you are not alone. ‘The Second Coming’, written during a worldwide Spanish flu pandemic when Yeats’s wife George was pregnant and dangerously ill the disease, has been on many lips. The poem, celebrating its one hundredth anniversary after first publication in the The Dial of November 1920, seems curiously made for modern times, as this advent rereading discovers.  

Elihu Vedder, The Questioner of the Sphinx (1863)

Yet Thoor Ballylee stands. With your ongoing help and support, the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society charged with its guardianship emerges from the old year if anything stronger. While Thoor Ballylee was closed to physical visitors for most of the year, we have been open for virtual events, and began a series of films highlighting the place and its hidden delights.

Work has begun on our mill wheel, as part of our plan to remake with craft in metal and wood the fine centrepiece of the old mill just downstream from Yeats’s tower.

While physical labour is paused due to winter flooding, our astonishing volunteers, engineer Eugene Murphy and his team, have produced these blueprints for the new wheel, looking like something out of Yeats’s A Vision:

Eugene Murphy, Mill wheel plan (detail), Ballylee (2020)

This is the first step in a larger project to restore the old mill to become a fitting endpoint of glorious millstream walk. Donations are now open: take this chance to have your name remembered as part of this enduring project. Email us for details of how to sponsor a paddle board! Or as ever donations named or anonymous for this and all our work are gratefully received here.

As every year, The Yeats Lady Gregory Autumn Gathering made a big impression in September. Held virtually this year, and featuring contributions by (among others) Druid director Gary Hynes, and curator of the New York Public Library Exhibition James Pethica, this means events are still available to view online.

This year the DruidGregory project brought the plays of Lady Gregory in outdoor productions nearby Coole Park and other locations in Galway. With them they brought W.B. Yeats’s poems in performance, with fine videos available supported by the Poetry Foundation.

FeliSpeaks reads WB Yeats, ‘When You Are Old’ at Coole Park

Coole Park and the wonders of the heavens were also celebrated in this live outdoor concert by The Coole Players, featuring Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony and exciting new commissions.

The International Yeats Society held a virtual conference this December in Lodz, Poland, on the topic of Yeats and Popular Culture – with full details available on this website.

One hundred years ago, as the year was reaching an end, Yeats was finishing his poem ‘All Soul’s Night’. The strange spiritual revelations he and his wife George were investigating held out the promise of new beginnings – not always comfortable, but rich in thought:

I have a marvellous thing to say,

A certain marvellous thing

None but the living mock,

Though not for sober ear;

It may be all that hear

Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

In this spirit we wish all our friends around the world a rich and revelatory new year, and we look forward to welcoming you all back to Galway and to Thoor Ballylee, spiritually and in person.

Swans on the road to Thoor Ballylee (photograph and film by Rena McAllen)