The famous holiday home of WB Yeats and his family, Thoor Ballylee, near Gort, could soon be in the hands of a local interest group and the county council.
On Monday in the Lady Gregory Hotel, Senator Fidelma Healy Eames chaired a meeting of possible stakeholders, which included representatives of the county council, Galway Rural Development, elected politicians, Fáilte Ireland, the universities of Galway and Limerick, and interested local people, to try to have the tower reopened under new ownership.
It was suggested that the county council becomes owner of the tower, allowing a committee of local and academic interests contribute to its usage. It was further agreed that a report should be obtained from the county council on possible future flooding risks; and that the furniture, tapestries, documents and books, regarded as an important Yeats’ archive, should be kept together as they formed a fundamental part of the Thoor experience. NUIG will consider digitising the collection for exhibition and teaching purposes.
It was further agreed that Thoor Ballylee would reopen to the public as part of Culture Night, September 20; and that all the artefacts would be on display.
The 16th century Anglo-Norman tower was purchased by Yeats as a virtual ruin in 1916 for £35. His friend, the architect William A Scott, made it habitable. The poet with his wife George Hyde-Lees, and children Anne and Michael, enjoyed long summer holidays there. One of the many attractions was its closeness to Coole Park, the home of his generous collaborator and friend, Lady Augusta Gregory. The family walked through the fields and woods to Coole.
Yeats was immensely inspired by Thoor Ballylee. He wrote some of his finest poetry there including two important collections: The Tower (1928 ) and The Winding Stair (1933 ). However, when the family ceased to come to county Galway, and long after the death of his father and Lady Gregory, Michael Yeats gave the tower to Ireland West. It has functioned as a tourist information office for many years, perhaps the most rhapsodic tourist office in the world.
Thoor Ballylee has always been subject to dampness during winter months, but following the serious floods of 2009 the tower was closed, and has remained closed ever since.
Its closure has been a source of frustration and annoyance among visiting academics and concerned people. However, it has been totally cleaned and heated and restored to pristine condition, even though it remains closed. Engineering works in recent times should ensure that such extensive flooding will be a thing of the past.
Ireland West, however, no longer exists. It has been subsumed into Fáilte Ireland whose mandate does not include protecting or promoting heritage sites.
City arts officer James Harrold advised the group that Galway would be applying for Capital of Culture status for 2020. The term now included not only the city but its hinterland. The importance of Thoor Ballylee, and the recently launched Lady Gregory/Yeats Trail in south Galway would be an enormous influence in winning the award.
It guarantees a minimum of 10 per cent tourist increase in the area. Thoor Ballylee was regarded by Seamus Heaney and others as ‘the most important building in Ireland with huge international significance.’