Thoor Ballylee Re-opening speech on the occasion of Yeats2015 and Yeats’s 150th birthday celebrations
A dhaoine uaisle, Cathaoirleach an Chontae, a Aire, a Theachta Dala, Seanadoiri, Comhairleoiri, cuirim failte roimh go leir go dti an ocaid speisialta seo, an ait an-speisialta seo.
And I will find some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings
These famous lines help us to understand the importance of place in Yeats’ life and poetry. Places of beauty form the source and substance of poetry, they evoke the flitting essence of life so hard to grasp. Places are where the magic of life is sensed and felt, the magic which our poet sought to catch, like butterflies, in his net of words.
Thoor Ballylee is undoubtedly such a place. It smells of poetry: the trees, the whispering weir, the fairy-tale tower, the rustic cottage…the whole atmosphere of tower, stream, and area.
One could imagine the poet dreaming Eithne imprisoned in the tower’s dusty loft, or himself looking from the window to the stream and out across the deep fields and blossoming hedgerows, himself ruminating words as the lazy cows chew the cud.
I can see him rising bleary-eyed from his cluttered desk ‘because a fire was in my head’, and emerging from the foot of his tower where he might have
cut and peeled a hazel wand
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth like stars were flickering out,
I dropped a berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
For well over ten years the poet came here again and again to breathe in the inspiration of the evening air, of the clear morning, of the lazy afternoon in the company of his wife George, close to his great friend Lady Gregory.
Ladies, gentlemen and children, Thank you for joining with us in celebration today. It was in this spot that Yeats’ dreams were conceived, here that he sought to make them poetry.
This place, however, is not only important for poetry. It was central to forming Yeats’ identity. And it is so often that we look to poetry itself, especially that of an Irish poet, to catch a glimpse and form an idea of our own identity. In more recent times we have done this with Kavanagh and Heaney. Yeats was perhaps the first to unify us in this way.
Yeats’ true identity, and ours too, was not political, although he was a Senator, but rooted in places like this: in the charm of rural quiet, and rustic beauty. These things are real, and stay with us, regardless of all the conclusions and beliefs drawn by rational minds. Rest a while, take it in and savour it today.
This is not to say that Yeats was not a political poet. In a Seanad debate in 1924 when Yeats contemplated a united Ireland he said it would be won in the end not because we fight for it but ‘because we govern this country well ‘by creating a system of culture which will represent the whole of the country and which will draw the imagination of the young towards it’. Wise words we must agree.
And Yeats has a lot to teach us in this regard. I read from his famous poem, ‘The Tower’, drawing its name from this very spot:
I choose upstanding men
That climb the streams until
The fountain leap, and at dawn
Drop their cast at the side
Of dripping stone; I declare
They shall inherit my pride,
The pride of people that were
Bound neither to Cause nor to State,
Neither to slaves that were spat on,
Nor to the tyrants that spat,
The people of Burke and of Grattan
That gave, though free to refuse—
Pride, like that of the morn,
When the headlong light is loose…
It is therefore a great pleasure, no, a great honour rather, to celebrate the regeneration of this magical place, for me to commend our outstanding local community, our donors local and afar, some you will hear more from later, but most especially our committee of dreamers, who have toiled against all the odds to declare Thoor re-open today, for our culture, for our identity, for our sense of selves.
But I being poor have only my dreams
I have spread my dreams under your feet,
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
With Thoor Ballylee, Yeats spreads his dreams under our feet.
We must be careful with them. Together then let us claim this tower. Help us on our journey to restore it. because ‘we have miles to go, miles to go before we sleep’ to realise our vision, to turn it into a home for all to enjoy, to re-claim our past and re-imagine our futures as Yeats did in 1916. To make it a place that will exhibit and tell not just Yeats story but our story. We need your help – volunteer, come along to our events, become a friend of Thoor. All information is available on yeatsthoorballylee.org
Minister Deenihan, I thank you for being with us today and for the unexpected honour you bestowed on me in asking me to chair this committee, Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society. I have a favour to ask you too – that you would take it upon yourself to convince the Government to lift up its head, look out and realise the treasure that Thoor is.
Today we are opening our doors to you and inviting you in.
Come with us. Thoor is the kind of monument that speaks so much more to us than any official column or statue. Let us mind it. It is living poetry, it quivers with life!
Happy birthday Willie! Breithla shona dhuit, a Sheamais!