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Praising the dead, lauding the living

June 15, 2015

It was well worth getting up at 6.30am on a Saturday and heading north west!

Breakfast in Shells Café in Strandhill and then I launched myself at Sligo … which was launching itself at the rest of the world.

I heard Joanna Lumley on the radio as I drove up to Sligo, and as I made my way down O Connell Street there she was in the flesh … looking Ab Fab, sweeties! and enjoying the Yeats fest as much as the next person.

Into Yeats HQ at the Yeats Society Building for the the launch of this year’s International Summer School … and a party for WBY.  I got a welcoming hug at the door  – it’s always nice to be remembered!

Business first though – Martin Enright acted as MC. Prof Meg Harper outlined the 2015 School’s programme and it was formally opened by Senator Susan O’Keeffe who is behind the Yeats2015 yearlong event.

Meg & Susan getting ready to launch ... c. K McDonnell

Meg & Susan getting ready to launch …
c. K McDonnell

There was wonderful music by local children and adults. Some people dressed up in early 20th century costume.  The fizz bottles popped open. We all sang Happy Birthday to WB and his granddaughter Catríona blew out the candle.  You could almost be forgiven for feeling the man himself was watching …

WBY sees all ... c. K McDonnell

WBY sees all …
c. K McDonnell

After all that, there was time for a quick cup of coffee before heading to the Pollexfen Building in Wine Street to hear Prof Harper’s excellent lecture on ‘Yeats and the Power of the Imagination’.  It was like being back at the Summer School. I found myself longing to be in Sligo in a few weeks time. The lectures and lecturers are always so stimulating – and the questions always add to the heady mix.

Then … to Drumcliffe, where Eilo and the Society’s volunteers had arranged readings of Yeats poems, beside his grave.

Eilo and a Yeats reader

Eilo and a Yeats reader

Winners of the Yeats prizes at the Feis performed their winning pieces and local people read their chosen Yeats poems. Also reading were Liz Lockhead and Gillian Clarke – the national poets of Scotland and Wales. Included was  an excerpt from one of Yeats’s final poems, Under Ben Bulben :

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,   
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago; a church stands near,
By the road an ancient Cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase,   
On limestone quarried near the spot   
By his command these words are cut:


               Cast a cold eye   
               On life, on death.   
               Horseman, pass by!
Bare Ben Bulben, from Drumcliffe. c. K McDonnell

Bare Ben Bulben, from Drumcliffe.
c. K McDonnell

The Burren – where I live – is a special place. It can put a spell on a person. Each time I go to Ben Bulben it affects me in the same way. I know someone who lives on its slopes – lucky person.

Limestone landscapes confer their own strange blessings.

And then …. and then … well, Reader, just think of dusk, and the lights and music of a funfair, and the promise of chairoplanes, and candy floss, and staying up late with your bestest friend ever in the world. THAT is just a shadow of what the atmosphere was in the Knocknarea Arena in Sligo on Saturday night:

MC for the main event, Theo Dorgan, was blessed amongst women. Six, to be precise. And all Laureates or National Poets:

Chair of Irish Poetry, Paula Meehan; Poet Laureate of England, Carol Ann Duffy; the National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke; the National Poet of Scotland, Liz Lochhead; the London Laureate, Aisling Fahey and Northern Irish Poet, Sinead Morrissey all read a Yeats poem and then three more of their own.

Sinéad read The Circus Animals’ Desertion, Aisling, a London poet whose family is from Gort (and have a connection with Thoor Ballylee), read The Lake Isle of Inisfree. Paula gave a stirring reading of Easter 1916.

Oh, but the poetry!

Aishling told us about Nanas and holy water and mouth ulcers, Sinéad took us on a sepia journey through the Belfast slums; Paula through the ghostlines of Leitrim. Carol Ann read of Hillsborough, and Gillian of Love. Liz wiped the soot from a Lanarkshire miner’s face, and opened up a lifetime.

Susan and the six poets - no! seven. Theo is there on the right in the MC's chair! c. K McDonnell

Susan and the six poets – no! seven. Theo is there on the right in the MC’s chair!
c. K McDonnell

I wasn’t taking notes – so forgive me if you don’t get the full story. It was a dizzying night, and we were privileged to be in such company. Nothing beats a ‘live’ reading.

There was some powerful singing by Mary McPartlan, accompanied by Aidan Brennan on guitar. She came back on stage at the end of the night and led us all in Down by the Salley Gardens.

Then Susan O Keeffe sent us all home, but not before President Michael D had made a speech and recited WH Auden’s In Memory of WB Yeats

Here – an excerpt:

Follow, poet, follow right

To the bottom of the night,

With your unconstraining voice

Still persuade us to rejoice;

No better words to end a night of poetry.

No better words to bring on inspiration for more.

*  *  *  *  *  *

I drove back to the B&B with the window open and my brain fizzing.

It struck midnight as I drove past Drumcliffe. I blew a kiss into the night air. I’d like think WB captured it and that Mrs WB didn’t mind too much.

Bedtime reading c. K McDonnell

Bedtime reading
c. K McDonnell









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  1. Marion permalink

    Special day! You captured the excitement and surprise of each event and speaker as if they were flowing magically and noisily through a revolving door! Well done! In the meantime, I spent the day at Kiltartan School Museum, Coole Park and, of course, Thoor Ballylee – magic!

    Sent from Windows Mail

    • Hi Marion – thanks for the kind words. There was so much more in terms of music and performances – but I didn’t catch all the names. If there’s anything worse than not being mentioned … it’s someone getting one’s name wrong! I would have been in Thoor Ballylee if I hadn’t gone up to Sligo. I’m glad it went so well. Prof Harper gave it a great mention after her lecture – full of praise for the local effort that went into re-opening the place. Maybe we will meet up again at a reading soon? Hope your writing is going well.

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