The Galway County Council, Failte Ireland, and a committee set up to safeguard the future of Thoor Ballylee near Gort have been continuing their efforts to find a way to reopen the ancient tower, once the retreat of WB Yeats.
Chairperson of the committee, Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, told the Galway Advertiser that work is on-going to ensure the tower is open in time for Yeat’s 150th birthday celebrations next year, but acknowledged there is still “a lot of work to be done”.
“I am determined to see it open,” said the senator, before explaining the committee is seeking to have the tower handed over by Fáilte Ireland to Galway County Council to run, however as the local authority is subject to financial contraints considerable fundraising would be needed to restore the tower for the reopening. The 15th, or possibly 16th, century Anglo-Norman tower has been closed since it was hit by the severe flooding of late 2009/early 2010 and much work is needed to ensure against future flooding damage.
The next step for the committee will be visiting Joyce’s Tower in Sandycove, Dublin, which had been run by Fáilte Ireland but is now in the hands of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council with volunteers in place. The committee hopes to do something similar with Thoor Ballylee and a further meeting on the issue will take place by September.
The closure of the tower has received much attention from Yeats’ fans worldwide with one US arts journalist condemning the Government and Fáilte Ireland for not doing enough to protect the structure and calling for a form of crowd funding to be put in place. In response, Fáilte Ireland says that it understands “the importance of the Thoor Ballylee building in the life of WB Yeats and to Irish literature and is exploring alternative options as to its future operation”. It adds: “In 2012, Fáilte Ireland spent €200,000 in weather-proofing the building and protecting its fabric. Fáilte Ireland is currently in talks with Galway County Council regarding the future operation of the Thoor Ballylee tower house and while these talks are ongoing, Fáilte Ireland are ensuring the safeguard of the property.”
Thoor Ballylee was purchased by WB Yeats as a virtual ruin in 1916 for £35. It was here that Yeats retreated after his marriage proposal was rejected by Maud Gonne and his advances towards her daughter Iseult spurned. He later spent summers there with his wife George Hyde-Lees and children Anne and Michael. Inspired by Thoor Ballylee, Yeats wrote some of his finest poetry including two important collections: The Tower (1928 ) and The Winding Stair (1933 ). It fell into disrepair after Yeat’s death but was restored for the centenary in 1965. The Yeats family signed it over to the now defunct Galway West tourism board and it has been in the hands of Fáilte Ireland since 2006.