"Everything is so beautiful that to go elsewhere is to leave beauty behind."
Those are the words of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, referring to his summer home in the gentle countryside near Gort in Co. Galway. I went there recently to take part in the celebrations to re-open the tower to the public, timed to coincide with Yeats' 150th birthday. I think Yeats summed it up perfectly with those words - the beauty of the tower and its setting is breathtaking at this time of year.
All Irish schoolkids learn the poetry of William Butler Yeats (pronounced "Yates"). My classmates and I thought it was brilliant. We wished we could have made Maud Gonne return Yeats' unrequited love, although all we had to do was think of some poor boy who had similar feelings for one of us, and we understood how Maud must have felt. Yeats wrote The Cloths of Heaven for her:
"Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."
By the time we got to university, in the throes of some unrequited passion of our own, it somehow helped to quote the last two lines to our girlfriends over a drink in the College Bar. This happened a lot...and I did science. I can only imagine what it must have been like on the Arts campus.
William Butler Yeats would have turned 150 years old on Saturday. He spent twelve summers at Thoor Ballylee, near Gort in Co. Galway, until 1929. "Thoor" is a sort of anglicised version of the Irish for tower, which is Túr. The tower has been subject to the vicissitudes of the weather over the years, such as flooding of the Streamstown River which flows alongside the base of the tower. The damage the floods wreaked forced the tower to close to the public in 2009. In 2013 a local group got together to have the tower renovated, and the re-opening of Thoor Ballylee finally came about on 13th June 2015. I was lucky enough to be there, and I made a few sketches.
I knew the countryside around Gort was lovely in June, but once my children and I had left the main Limerick road the landscape became truly gentle. The narrow road twisted and turned, rose and fell, and was flanked on either side by fields, some yellow with the stubble of recently-cut grass, some still bright green. A farmer next to his tractor gave directions to the woman in front of me with a friendly smile. My kids - who had tried hard to be cynical and funny about the event on the journey down - were soothed into silence.
After a few more twists and turns, Thoor Ballylee appeared through the trees, rising to our right on the edge of the road. Streamstown River, barely more than a stream in the dry summer weather, runs at the foot of the tower. Soft afternoon light filtered through the trees all around the tower and the thatched cottage built on the far side of the tower. Later, I overheard someone say that the river in flood could rise to the roof level of the thatch, but it was hard to picture on the summer day of our visit. What I could picture, however, was John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara crossing the river in John Ford's The Quiet Man, for a scene which was filmed here at Thoor Ballylee.
More on my website here. You'll also find a rendition of Christy Moore singing The Song of Wandering Aengus....treat yourself, it's beautiful.