William Butler Yeats (1865-1939).
The poet and playwright was born in Dublin in 1865 but most of his childhood was spent in Sligo. As a young man he spent some time in England. From that era comes the hauntingly beautiful poem The Lake Isle of Inisfree. He was , probably, Ireland’s greatest poet, a Senator of the Irish Free State and the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Yeats and Coole Park
In 1897 he began his summer-long visits to Coole. What Coole House, the woods, the lake with its swans meant to him, is enshrined in his poems. Besides intellectual stimulus, Yeats also found the peace he so much desired. During the first twenty years of his friendship with Lady Gregory he was sighing for Maud Gonne. His marriage to Georgie Hyde Lees in 1917 made no difference to his friendship with Lady Gregory. In 1919 he wrote the exquisite poem The Wild Swans at Coole. The previous year he mourned in the poem An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, the loss of Robert Gregory, Lady Gregory’s only child, killed in World War One.
Yeats and Thoor Ballylee
Yeats bought the nearby castle of Ballylee for the princely sum of £35! Thoor Ballylee was to be his tower, his inspiration, his retreat and his symbol. He had been fascinated by the stories about Ballylee from his earliest visits to Lady Gregory. He had heard about Raftery, the blind poet and musician and about the local beauty Mary Hynes, whose people still lived in the locality. He was also intrigued by the story and by the claim of Biddy Early, a wise woman who lived in Feakle, Co. Clare some years previously that “there is a cure for all evil between the mill-wheels of Ballylee”.
The poet, his wife, daughter Anne and son Michael lived in Ballylee each summer from 1919 to 1928. His collection of poems The Tower contains a number of poems which were written at and about Thoor Ballylee, e.g. The Tower, Meditations in Time of Civil War, The New Faces. The following poem is inscribed on the wall of Thoor Ballylee:-
“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”.
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