Yeats & the West reimagined at Thoor Ballylee

Thoor Ballylee Yeats Exhibition

Yeats & the West reimagined at Thoor Ballylee

Yeats & the West, reimagined and reworked for a new space and a new place, comes to Yeats’s tower, Thoor Ballylee, according to the late Seamus Heaney ‘the most important public building in Ireland’.


Sabina Coyne Higgins, wife of the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, and in her own right an actress and dedicated supporter of theatre and the arts, opens the new Thoor Ballylee Yeats Exhibition at  for the poet’s 151st birthday. A native of Mayo, Sabina Coyne Higgins  has a close relationship with Yeats and western culture as co-founder of the pioneering Focus theatre, and through her work with the Lyric Theatre Belfast, a theatre with a history of staging W.B. Yeats’s plays and those of his brother Jack B. Yeats, as well her long association with Druid Theatre, An Taibhdhearc, and other Galway theatre groups.

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Thoor Ballylee Yeats Exhibition Opening with Sabina Coyne Higgins and guests

Since Thoor Ballylee flooded last winter work has been ongoing to reopen it with a new exhibition for visitors to enjoy. Thanks to the dedication of the local community and the generous support of local and international donors Yeats’s tower has re-opened with its new exhibition in place for the summer summer season. Special guests at the launch include Joseph Hassett, Yeats Scholar & Thoor Benefactor, Fidelma Healy Eames, Chair of the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society, and Councillor Michael Connolly. All gave speeches, commending the exhibition and commenting on the huge importance of Thoor Ballylee to Yeats. The event included local music from Gort Comhaltas.

The Thoor Ballylee Yeats Exhibition is a reimagining of NUI Galway’s “Yeats and the West”, with material from the “Yeats and His Muses” exhibition (conceived and produced by Dr Joseph Hassett). The curator, Dr Adrian Paterson, Lecturer in English at NUI Galway, has created a new exhibition for the Tower which explores Yeats’s relationship with the people and places that most inspired his work. The Thoor Ballylee Yeats Exhibition looks at the culture of the west, its crafts, stories, and songs; the central importance of the women in Yeats’s life, most especially of his wife George; his talented family and long history of artistic collaborations, and in particular his close connections with the landscapes and people of County Galway, with Coole Park and with Thoor Ballylee.

The curator of the new Thoor Ballylee Yeats Exhibition, Dr Adrian Paterson, commented:

“It is especially fitting that Thoor Ballylee is open thanks to the support of the Galway community. Many local families have a strong connection with the tower, going back even before the arrival of Yeats and his family, and the tower will remain long after we have all gone. As the worldwide Yeats2015 celebrations made clear, Yeats has a worldwide audience from Seoul to San Francisco, but again and again he made a commitment to west of Ireland as his home and as the nourishing soil for his imagination. Thoor Ballylee is the emblem of that commitment.

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Thoor Ballylee during winter flooding, now receded

“The Thoor Ballylee Yeats Exhibition is an attempt to reflect the importance of the west to W. B. Yeats, to illustrate his many artistic collaborations, and to understand the role of the women in his life. Thoor Ballylee represents so much for Yeats, as it still does for us. It is a reminder of Ireland’s turbulent history; a magical symbol drawn deep from the well of our collective memory; the setting for stories and songs about local beauty Mary Hynes; a centre for local crafts and collaborations; a home for Yeats’s family, his wife, children, and their pets; a place of inspiration for some astonishing poetry; a beacon for the arts and all artistic communities; and a monument to lasting creative achievement. Now it has a new exhibition, there are even more reasons to visit this special place.”

Samuel Palmer, The Lonely Tower (1879), inspiration for Yeats's 'The Phases of the Moon' and most of Yeats's tower poetry.

Samuel Palmer, The Lonely Tower (1879), inspiration for Yeats’s ‘The Phases of the Moon’ and most of Yeats’s tower poetry.

A series of family and cultural events takes place over summer 2016 to honour Yeats’s memory, his heritage, and his links with the literary revival and with 1916. The Tower and Exhibition will be open to visitors throughout the summer from 10am to 6pm Monday – Sunday.

Tower George Yeats Tower bookplate1


Yeats and the west launch

Monday 13th June saw the official opening of Yeats and the West: an exhibition of western worlds. Coinciding with the launch of the Galway International Arts festival, the exhibition was opened in style with the help of some very special guests, including the poet Moya Cannon.

Noting the impact of local landscape on the poet’s work, the Director of the Moore Institute, Professor Dan Carey, hosted the event, which took place in the midst of the exhibition space in the Hardiman Research Building. He gave warm thanks to staff at the James Hardiman library and the Moore Institute and especial thanks for the donation to the exhibition of two oil paintings, perhaps the highlights of Yeats and the West and only rarely seen: The Good Grey Morning by Jack B. Yeats, featuring a late self depiction of the artist looking out the window from his studio, and The Moon Worshippers by Gerard Dillon, with its astonishing primitivist Connemara landscape.

Prof. Daniel Carey, Ronnie O’Gorman, Sen. Fidelma Healy Eames, Sen. Susan O’Keeffe, and Dr. Adrian Paterson, at the launch of Yeats & the West at the Hardiman Research Building, NUI Galway, 13 July 2015. The exhibition features many talks and special events throughout its run until December 2015 and has free admission.

Prof. Daniel Carey, Ronnie O’Gorman, Sen. Fidelma Healy Eames, Sen. Susan O’Keeffe, and Dr. Adrian Paterson, at the launch of Yeats & the West at the Hardiman Research Building, NUI Galway, 13 July 2015. The exhibition features many talks and special events throughout its run until December 2015 and has free admission.

The President of NUI Galway, Dr Jim Browne, registered Yeats’s worldwide importance and local meaning as craftsman and folklorist. He argued that the exhibition was essentially about collaboration, creativity and community, and stressed the importance of all three of these elements to the Yeats family and to the university. ‘The revolution that happened here in the west’, he said, ‘shaped not only modern Ireland but the western world’. He singled out Jack Yeats’s 1900 Galway Sketch book, owned by the University, and newly on display for Yeats and the West, which features sketches of local figures and landscapes at Coole Park and Galway Races, as a fine example of the worldwide impact of local aesthetics.

Barry Houlihan, co-curator of the exhibition, pointed further west, to North America, highlighting the significance of this western world for Irish culture. He described Yeats’s own lecture tours, and the tours of the Abbey Theatre players, which finally took many of them to Hollywood. Yeats’s 1932 letter dropping his own play The Words Upon the Window Pane from the repertoire, as making less sense to American audiences unaccustomed to Jonathan Swift, expressed, he said, the ready compromise between aesthetic and commercial considerations necessary for a working theatre.

Abbey Theatre American tour participants including Lennox Robinson (l) and W.B.Yeats (r).

Abbey Theatre American tour participants including Lennox Robinson (l) and W.B.Yeats (r).

Dr Adrian Paterson, curator of the exhibition, articulated how local community collaborations could have worldwide implications. The west, he argued, ‘was the landscape of Yeats’s poetry and plays’. With its wellspring of songs, stories, language, artwork, drama, crafts, it was for Yeats the foundation of the Irish imagination. Moreover, ‘significant events of his life took place here; collaborations that shaped his work were forged here’. The August 1902 Killeeneen Feis in honour of ‘Raftery, Connaught poet’ not only brought together different community centred arts, poetry, plays, storytelling, singing and dancing, but Jack Yeats’s fine illustrations, reproduced in the exhibition, caught the presence of John Quinn, New York lawyer benefactor of modernism, and the man whose gift that week of a volume of Nietzsche to  W.B. Yeats changed the course of modern poetry.


Wall Vinyl 3CHe thanked the bountiful generosity of lenders to the exhibition of some fabulous materials: the Berg Collection, the Bodleian library, and in particular the National Library of Ireland for Yeats manuscripts, and St Brendan’s Cathedral Loughrea for its Dun Emer Saints banners (like St Brendan above) highlighting the craft and embroidery of the Yeats family. Local collaborations and places mattered not only to the Irish Revival, he suggested, but today. Kiltartan Musuem, Coole Park, and the landmarks along the Lady Gregory-Yeats trail, above all Thoor Ballylee, had importance then as now as giving rise to creativity. He welcomed in particular Senator Fidelma Healy Eames and members of the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society, who were doing so much to preserve and promote the landscape and architecture of Yeats’s poetry, and a place that influenced so many of Yeats’s most telling poems. Citing Yeats’s ‘my glory was I had such friends’, he gave especial thanks to collaborators who are or have become friends: colleagues at the English department such as Prof. Adrian Frazier and Dr Rebecca Anne Barr; at the library, Marie Boran, Aisling Keane, and Niall McSweeney, photographers Deirdre Holmes and Nicholas Feve, the designer Mel Durkan from, John Conway of Bulabosca films who made the marvellous video, and in particular an exemplary co-curator in Barry Houlihan.

Senator Susan O'Keeffe, chair of Yeats2015, with Yeats and the West curator, Dr Adrian Paterson.

Senator Susan O’Keeffe, chair of Yeats2015, with Yeats and the West curator, Dr Adrian Paterson.

Senator Susan O’Keeffe, chair of Yeats2015, who had found time to be present notwithstanding her work at the banking inquiry, explained that key local events like the Yeats and the West exhibition were part of a larger chain, a worldwide series of creative and cultural events happening in honour of the poet’s 150th birthday, in places as far-flung as Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing; in Melbourne, Moscow, and Madrid; in Istanbul, Paris, Utrecht; in New York, Washington and Atlanta, and closer to home in London, Dublin, Sligo and in Galway. She gave thanks to the curators, Barry Houlihan and Adrian Paterson, and stressed the vital importance of education, and lively and informative shows like this one, in bringing Yeats to a new generation of poetry lovers.

Yeats West exhibition case 5

Our special guest the poet Moya Cannon then gave a fascinating talk and reading subtly elucidating the importance of place and family to artistic endeavour. The artist John Butler Yeats in marrying the sister of a schoolfriend, Susan Pollexfen, had given ‘tongue to the sea-cliffs’, but also kicked off a creative dynasty. The importance of creative women as part of this story, she suggested, should not be underestimated. Susan Yeats and her daughters Elizabeth and Lily, had founded an artistic coterie of major achievements. The Cuala Press, and associated textile industries, with the astonishing beauty and labour involved, were an example to W.B.’s art. She read Yeats’s poem ‘In the Seven Woods’, from their first volume together, as an example, remembering also it was a tribute to Lady Gregory, a master collaborator and friend to the poet. His brother Jack Yeats, in connecting with people, populating his landscapes, and making not only his paintings and sketches but with the help of the Cuala Press the remarkable series of Broadsides, a full set of which would be on display in rotation throughout the exhibition’s run, had brought high art into the real world. She read stanzas from ‘The Tower’ to show how closely the brothers were knitted into the stories, songs, and scenes of local landscape: ‘If I triumph, I must make men mad’. Finally she read her own poem ‘The Singing Horseman’, a tribute to Jack B. Yeats’s painting of the same name, which remembers that while symbolic horses might be W.B.Yeatsian and kin ‘to the white horse that carried Oisin off / Or to the black mare of Fand’, ‘this golden-headed rider is one of us’. And yet in an unmagical age the painting, as the work of the whole family, knows that song can give us voice, as when ‘pressed into black vinyl’ or at a party a song then

released our crumpled spirits,

transported us across skies and oceans

and our hands, our heads,

were golden, golden.

The poem is part of Moya Cannon’s forthcoming new collection from Carcanet, Keats Lives, which might, she noted, have equally been Yeats Lives.

John Cox, Librarian, closed the event and gave thanks to all present, reminding us that the James Hardiman Library’s fine collections for readers and scholars make up the backbone of the exhibition, such as the Lady Gregory Collection, the Arthur Shields Collection, the Colin Smythe Collection, the Thomas Kilroy Collection, and of course the theatre archives at NUI Galway including the Abbey Theatre Digital Archive, and that of the Lyric Theatre Belfast and the Druid Theatre.

1978 10th anniversary

The exhibition, which features special events throughout its run, takes place at the Hardiman Research Building, NUI Galway, and is open Mon – Sat 9-5 till December 2015, with free admission.



Yeats & the West opening


Monday 13th July 2015 at 4.30 pm

Come and join us for the launch of Yeats and the West!

Kick off the Galway Arts Festival in style with our official opening.

Take a tour of the exhibition with wine in hand. The opening features a reception with refreshments, introductory talks, and readings from our special guest Moya Cannon.


Through original artworks, rare books, music, drama, video, and a wealth of exclusive material from archives at NUI Galway and around the world, Yeats & the West explores the crafts, collaborations, and landscapes that revolutionized modern Ireland.

The exhibition features Jack B. Yeats, J.M Synge, Lady Gregory, Antoine Ó Rafteirí, Thoor Ballylee, Coole Park, and material from Loughrea Cathedral, the National Library of Ireland, the Abbey Theatre, the Lyric Theatre Belfast, and the American West.

Panel 9 C

Photo of tour participants

New Poems