Worship the moon at Yeats & the West

Yeats & the West is an exhibition focusing not just on the work and influence of W.B. Yeats, but on the influence on him and wider impact of people, landscapes, languages, crafts, arts, and music from the west of Ireland and beyond. A major addition to the exhibition is a rare oil painting by Gerard Dillon of a night-time scene featuring a moonlight vista of a ‘typical’ Connemara landscape, its figures recalling some lost play by J.M.Synge. These characters, a shawled woman and a virile, moondrunk (or just drunk) young man, bowed in ritual before a moonlit boghole, also appear as shades from out of Yeats’s western phantasmagoria, reminding a viewer of landscapes Yeats himself had created in his first book, The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889) (a volume praised by Oscar Wilde and William Morris) – in particular these lines from his poem “Ephemera”:

‘Your eyes that once were never weary of mine
Are bowed in sorrow under pendulous lids,
Because our love is waning.’

And then She:

‘Although our love is waning, let us stand
By the lone border of the lake once more,
Together in that hour of gentleness
When the poor tired child, passion, falls asleep.
How far away the stars seem, and how far
Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!’

the Arrow (4)

The artist Gerard Dillon was born in Belfast in April 1916 and grew up there, until moving to London in 1934 where he worked a house painter while honing his craft and trying to further his career as an artist. Despite being reared and working in the early years of his life in the urban streetscapes of Belfast, Dublin and London, it was the west of Ireland, most especially Connemara and the western islands which would have a major and lasting effect and influence on his work. Dillon would spend the year of 1950-1951 living and painting on the island of Inislacken. Over the next decade Dillon would receive substantial international recognition for his expressionism steeped in western culture and imagery.

Gerard Dillon, Self Portrait at Roundstone

Gerard Dillon, Self Portrait at Roundstone

Dillon did not confine himself to painting. He produced designs for posters, playbills, theatre sets and costumes for productions by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in the late 1960s. Working as part of a trio, the artists Arthur Armstrong, Gerard Dillon and George Campbell made up the consortium known, alphabetically, as A.D.C. This group also designed the posters for the first three theatre production posters at the Abbey Theatre after it reopened in 1966 following a fire at the theatre more than ten years before. The programme, from the 1969 production of Juno and the Paycock, two years before Dillon’s death, states in a note that “the posters sprang from the belief that artists should be closely identified with all artistic efforts in the country.”

Gerard Dillon by George Campbell (c) Mrs Joyce Cooper.

Gerard Dillon by George Campbell (c) Mrs Joyce Cooper.

The programme also contains cartoon drawings of characters from the play including Juno and Captain Boyle by Micheal MacLiammóir. Other similar artwork by MacLiammóir can be seen in the exhibition in the bookplate he designed for the personal library of actor and director Arthur Shields, examples of which are on display in the exhibition cabinets.

Cartoons by Michael MacLiammor

Programme for Juno and the Paycock (Abbey 1969). Cartoons by Michael MacLiammor

As central part of Yeats & the West, the painting ‘The Moon Worshipper’ by Gerard Dillon is on public exhibition for the very first time at the Special Collections Reading Room. Dating from 1948, the painting, in oils on sturdy wood panel, is a wonderful example from a series of moonscapes over Connemara inspired, according to the artist, by a walk home after a late night in Roundstone.

Preparing 'The Moon Worshipper' for hanging. Dillon has decorated the reverse of the panel with outline faces.

Preparing ‘The Moon Worshipper’ for hanging. The reverse of the panel has been decorated with outline faces.

With the style deliberately primitivist, and the woman wearing one of the red traditional Connemara costumes noted by Synge, the picture’s central enthusiast perhaps wrily recalls the impassioned western pilgrimages of so many artists and writers. The exhibition curators gratefully acknowledge the loan of the painting for the duration of the exhibition, which is open until Christmas at the Hardiman Research Building, NUI Galway.

Y West Reading Room (2)

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 proviz.ie, 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

An exhibition of western worlds

Yeats and the West logo

A major exhibition celebrating the western cultural revolutions of W.B.Yeats opens this June at NUI Galway. The Moore Institute and the Hardiman Library at NUI Galway presents Yeats & the West, an exhibition exploring Yeats’s life, work, and legacy, and his deep connections to the west.

Yeats & the West reflects W.B. Yeats’s attention to life, love, and landscape in Galway, Sligo, and beyond. The exhibition details the many artistic collaborations that centred on Coole Park and Thoor Ballylee between artists inspired by the western world, and goes as far as the American west tracking the fortunes of western artists.

Panel 2 B

Yeats & the West follows the formation of the Abbey Theatre in Galway, and Yeats’s work with J.M. Synge, George Moore and Edward Martyn, using exclusive materials from NUI Galway’s Lady Gregory Collection, the Abbey Digital Archive, and the Lyric Theatre Belfast. It follows his foundation of Thoor Ballylee as a poetic symbol. It explores his obsession with local poet Antoine Ó Raifteirí, and highlights the gifted artists of Yeats’s own family, whose pioneering work is showcased in exquisite handprinted books and in embroidery from Loughrea’s St. Brendan’s Cathedral.

This interactive exhibition features original watercolour sketches and oils by W.B. Yeats’s brother, the celebrated artist Jack B. Yeats, works by Gerald Dillon and Harry Kernoff, priceless Cuala Press volumes and broadsides, a wealth of visual material from photographers from Fergus Bourke to Nicolas Fève, and rarely seen images and manuscripts from archive collections in NUI Galway and around the world. It follows Ireland’s dramatic political and cultural revolutions, and finds out how Hollywood and the American West began to answer back to these western dramas.

Panel 9 C

Through rare books, original documents, and artworks, and using modern touchscreens, recorded sound, and exclusive film, visitors take a tour of Yeats’s commitment to history, tradition, and new art, all under western eyes. Talks and special events feature throughout the exhibition’s spectacular run from June to December 2015.

Visit Yeats & the West and rediscover western worlds and western revolutions. Click here for visiting details and here for upcoming events.

Window visualisation (1)