50 Years of Yeats

50 Years of Yeats

50 Years of YeatsThis year's Yeats Festival marks the 50th anniversary of the Yeats Society Sligo, and visitors to Sligo in Ireland this July can enjoy a bumper programme of events to celebrate the writings and literary legacy of Ireland's foremost poet, W.B. Yeats.

The Yeats Festival runs from July 26th - August 6th this year in conjunction with the Yeats International Summer School, with a diverse programme of literature, music and drama played at venues in and around Sligo. The highlights of this year's Festival include a reading from Ireland's most pre-eminent contemporary poet; Seamus Heaney, who, like Yeats himself is a Nobel Prize winner for literature. Heaney's famous works include Death of a Naturalist (1966), North (1975), Station Island (1984) The Haw Lantern (1987), the Spirit Level (1996) and Heaney's translation of Beowulf (1999), the latter two winning Whitbread Literature Awards.

Born in Co. Derry in 1939, Heaney taught English and poetry at Queen's University and Harvard University, he was professor of poetry at Oxford University from 1989 to 1994 and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. Seamus Heaney appears at the Hawk's Well Theatre on July 31st.

Appearing alongside Heaney is Gallery Press founder and publisher, Peter Fallon. A renowned poet in his own right, Fallon has contributed on many important titles such as the Penguin Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry and The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing 500AD to the Present. Fallon has been Writer in Residence at Trinity College Dublin, Poet in Residence at the Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and he has given more than 200 readings throughout the USA , Europe, Canada , Japan and Ireland.

In addition the festival features readings from popular local poets Eilo Molloy, Ann Joyce and Kitsy Brady at the Yeats Memorial Building on August 1st from 1pm.

As well as literature, the Festival also offers a host of music events. Female choral group Dordan play at the Hawk's Well Theatre on July 30th. Their delicate mix of traditional and early classical music is a celebration of Ireland's rich musical heritage and Dordan have toured throughout Ireland and the US for around 15 years.

Talented Irish fiddler Oisin Mac Diarmada plays ‘From Sligo To America', presenting tunes of the Sligo fiddle masters in early 20th century America, on August 6th at the Yeats Memorial Building. Finally local band and Shoot the Crows (a local bar in Sligo) stalwarts, No Crows play their eclectic mix of electric, jazz and traditional music at the Hawk's Well Theatre on August 5th.

Drama at the Festival is provided by the Hawk's Well Theatre production of Beezie Gallagher on August 5th. This original play tells the real life story of local character Beezie Gallagher who lived alone on an island in Lough Gill for 60 years. Over the years her wisdom and fierce independence gained her a reputation as a healer, wise woman and a witch.

Beezie was befriended by a young W.B. Yeats, who dedicated his poem ‘The Lonely One' to her. Old age and a bad winter led to her enforced removal to the County Sligo Home. To Beezie's free spiritedness, this was a prison sentence and she eventually escaped to die alone on her beloved island a year later.

This year the Festival marks 50 years of the Yeats Society Sligo which was established in 1958 to perpetuate and celebrate the artistic heritage of the Yeats Family. Although born and educated in Dublin, William Butler Yeats had a strong affinity for Sligo, the county where he spent his childhood with his maternal family. Sligo, its landscape, traditions and folklore provided Yeats with inspiration for his writings that would make him Ireland's most respected and influential poet and win him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923. It is here also that Yeats is buried.

Since it was established, the Yeats Society Sligo has provided a focal point for those interested in the works of W.B. Yeats and his artist brother Jack B. Yeats, as well as promoting Sligo and its association with the Yeats family. Based in the Yeats Memorial Building in the centre of Sligo Town, the Yeats Society Sligo has established the Yeats International Summer School which is run in conjunction with the Festival and the Yeats Winter School ( running from January 25 - 27) both with a programme of lectures, seminars and readings, delivered by leading Yeats scholars from universities around the world. Next year it will be the turn of the Yeats International Summer School to celebrate its 50th Anniversary and it will also be 70 years since the death of W.B. Yeats.

But if you find all this scholarly activity a little heavy going for a vacation, there is a Yeats Society Sligo approved tour of Sligo - the Yeats Poetry Tour that takes in many of the key locations that inspired the great poet. These include Knocknarea the 328m mount towering over the Sligo coastline, which Yeats referred to in ‘Red Hanrahan's Song about Ireland'. The stone Cairn on top is said to be the grave of the legendary Queen Maeve. There's also the ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree on Lough Gill' close to the borders of Co. Leitrim, the picturesque waterfall at Glencar Lough that Yeats wrote about in ‘The Stolen Child'. While north of Sligo town is Lissadell House, the family home of the Gore-Booth sisters Eva and Constance who were both great friends of Yeats.

The sisters were also both controversial political figures of the 19th Century. Eva was a suffragette and Constance Markiewicz (as she was known) was sentenced to death for her part in the Easter Uprising in 1916. Her sentence was commuted and in 1918 Constance became the first woman to be elected to the British parliament, although as an Irish republican, she refused to take her seat. Yeats refers to Lissadell, ‘that old Georgian Mansion' in his ‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz'.

Today the house has been much restored and is open to visitors with tours of the house and gardens and an informative exhibition on the fascinating lives of the two sisters and their relationship with Yeats.

The tour finally comes to Yeats' resting place in the churchyard of Drumcliffe, where on his grave stone the epitaph from his own poem ‘Under Ben Bulben' reads:

‘Cast a cold eye

On life, on death.

Horseman, pass by!'

With an assortment of literature, music and scenery, the Yeats Festival in Sligo offers a unique cultural experience for those looking for a vacation in Ireland this July.

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