The Poet’s Picnic is an annual celebration of WB Yeats’ birthday on June 13. Lovers of Yeats’ poetry have gathered and feasted on the grounds of the Norman tower house that was his summer home, and the inspiration for some of his most beautiful work.
In compliance with Covid 19 restrictions this year’s celebration will be held virtually. Further details will be available via the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society Face Book page or their webpage Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society.org The tower, Thoor Ballylee, (which had been neglected for years after Yeats’ death 1939 ) was given by the children of the poet, to Bord Failte, who opened it as a tourist information office, while offering tours showing its extraordinary literary relevance.
Yeats who bought the tower in 1916 had it renovated by the well known architect at the time, William A Scott (with whom Yeats had a lively relationship, describing him on one occasion as a ‘drunkard’ ), into a comfortable home, and where his wife George and two children, Michael and Anne, came for 12 successive summers.
Living there inspired Yeats to write some of his best poetry, published in two volumes: The Tower (1928 ) and The Winding Stair (1933 ) containing such poems as Sailing to Byzantium, Meditations in Time of Civil War, Coole Park 1929, Blood and the Moon, and many others.
Built in the 14th century as a Norman stronghold, beside the Streamstown River, the tower is subject to sporadic winter flooding. The floods have been severe in recent years, and it was closed by Failte Ireland who decided that it no longer an economic venture to keep it open.
It remained closed for six years until a group of volunteers, now with the rather grand sounding name: Yeats Thoor Ballylee Development Society, appealed to Failte Ireland to allow them re-open the Tower as a tourist and academic centre once again. This was allowed; and it was opened with music and dancing on Yeats’ 150th anniversary of his birth, in June 2015.
After every flooding, it is dried and cleaned out, and it remains open throughout the summer months. It has become a major tourist attraction and is supported by the local community. Poetry readings, exhibitions, performances, student tutorials etc are carried on in a little building opposite, formally Yeats’ garage (he never learned to drive! ) which was converted into The Studio.
The location of Thoor Ballylee is significant. Through the fields, it is about three miles from Coole Park, where his lifelong mentor and friend Lady Gregory lived, who played an important role in the literary Celtic Revival in early last century.
For more than 25 autumns, there is the Autumn Gathering, which celebrates the life and influences of Augusta Lady Gregory.
During the last 4 years The Autumn Gathering events were shared between Coole Park and Thoor Ballylee.
In compliance with Covid 19 restrictions this year’s celebration will be held virtually. Further details will be available via the Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society Face Book page or their webpage Yeats Thoor Ballylee Society.org