Yeats Tower

 

We were visiting Limerick and Galway recently and planned a visit to Thoor Ballylee Castle near Gort, county Galway.  I first heard of Thoor Ballylee last year during the Yeats 150th celebrations, it featured on an RTE news report, highlighting it’s connection to the poet and subsequently I saw the castle on news reports about the bad flooding in the midlands and west of Ireland during Winter 2015. The castle lies beside a river and during heavy rainfalls it is liable to flood, the water rose so high it was at the roof of the thatched cottage that is connected to the tower.

Thoor Ballylee Castle is a fortified, 15th (or 16th) century Hiberno-Norman tower house built by the Burgo or Burke clan, near the town of Gort in County Galway, Ireland. It is also known as Yeats’ Tower because it was once owned and inhabited by the poet William Butler Yeats.

Yeats bought the tower and cottage in 1916 as he liked the rural location, the tower was originally part of the nearby Coole Estate, home of Lady Augusta Gregory, Yeats’ lifelong friend. It was in nearby Coole park, the Irish literary revival was established.

Yeats had the tower and cottage renovated and lived here with his wife Georgina and their two children during the 1920’s.

The tower is maintained and run by a group of local volunteers the Thoor Ballylee Society and it is opened to the public as a tourist attraction for the summer months, we were lucky to visit just a few days before it closed for the season. You can tour the tower and climb its winding stairs right to the rooftop with great views over the surrounding countryside.  In the thatched cottage part, that is attached to the tower, they have a visitors section with exhibition information boards on Yeats, his poetry, lovers and muse and his life when he lived in the tower.

I read the book Willie & Maud – a Love story by Barry Shortall last year and it describes in detail about William’s many visits to the nearby Coole Park and his renovations to the tower, how he had the plaque you see in the photos mounted on the front of the tower and about an event during the civil war when the bridge beside the tower was blown up.

 

It is opened to visit during the summer months, you can check out the Thoor Ballylee website here for more opening times and for directions.

The light of evening, Lissadell

 
We visited Lissadell House in May and did the guided tour.  Lissadell House, is a big country house, located in North Sligo.  It originally belonged to the Gore-Booth family, who were Anglo Irish landlords.  They sold it to the Cassidy-Walsh family in 2004, who have since renovated it and use it as their own family home and have also managed to turn it into an interesting visitor attraction, which is open to the public from March until October each year.  This is the family home of Countess Constance Markievicz and her sister Eva Gore-Booth and the poet W.B. Yeats was a frequent visitor and he later wrote the poem, In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz, which refers to Lissadell House.

 

 

 

Lissadell House windows
Sash windows at Lissadell House

 

In 6th class, I had completed a history project and chose Countess Markievicz as the subject, later that same year, I visited Lissadell when I made my confirmation back in May 1992! but it wasn’t opened to the public at the time. We started off the tour in the Billiards room, there were lots of interesting old photos on the wall and memorabilia laid out on the table, which had belonged to Henry Gore-Booth, who was an Arctic explorer and the father of Constance and Eva Gore-Booth.

 

Lissadell House
Lissadell House

 

We also saw the oval shaped Gallery room, which was designed as a Music Room.  The kitchen, one of my favourite rooms to visit in big houses, is located downstairs and reminded me of Downton Abbey.

Lissadell House was designed by the architect Francis Goodwin and built in the 1830’s to a neo-classic greek revivalist style, I think the tour guide mentioned how the architecture of the house is similar to that of an ancient Greek temple.

 

Lissadell Court yard
Lissadell Courtyard which houses the Exhibition centre and Tea rooms.

 

There is a large exhibition centre located in the courtyard buildings, with galleries on Countess Markievicz, William and Jack Yeats.

If you are visiting Sligo, it is well worth a visit and this year, they also have a 1916 Easter Rising themed exhibition.

You can check out their website here for visitor opening times and to find out about special events which take place at Lissadell House.

Memory harbour

Over the June bank holiday, I was out at Rosses Point in Sligo and took a walk along by Deadman’s Point.  I wanted to see the old River Pilot Watch house, this old ruin of a cottage, recently appeared on the Bob Geldof documentary called “A Fanatic Heart”, which was commissioned by RTE for their reflecting the rising series.  I knew the Yeats family had an old summer house at Rosses Point, but I wasn’t aware of the exact location and I didn’t know about the Yeats connection to the River Pilot’s old Watch house.  Bob Geldof can be controversial and he’s no shrinking violet and while I didn’t agree with everything he said in the documentary, it was good to get another view point.  I found the documentary very interesting and it was great to see some of the places in Sligo that inspired William Butler Yeats.

When William and Jack Yeats were boys they spent their summers in Sligo and stayed with their Grandparents, the Pollexfen’s, their uncle Henry Middleton owned the nearby Elisnore lodge at Rosses Point, which now lies in ruins nearby, covered in ivy.  They would visit the River Pilots cottage and he would regale them with old stories of ghosts, smugglers and pirates that visited the bay.  Both brothers remembered their time in Rosses Point fondly and used these stories later in life for inspiration in their respective poetry and paintings.  The Jack Yeats painting called Memory harbour, depicts Rosses Point and the River Pilots cottage.