Yeats2015 a celebration of the man, the legacy and the inspiration
In 2015 Ireland celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Nobel Prize-winning poet, William Butler Yeats.
Yeats2015 presents a local, national and international series of exhibitions, performances, educational events, festivals, concerts, readings, talks and screenings.
Cultural events centred on Sligo, Galway, Dublin, London and in counties across Ireland are echoed in a diverse international programme. It will be rooted in Sligo, Yeats’ ‘spiritual home’ and include events to celebrate the creative legacy of his father John and his talented siblings Jack, Susan and Elizabeth.
Through the prism of one of Ireland’s greatest artists, Yeats2015 marks a moment to celebrate and promote creativity in Ireland and elsewhere, and to reconsider the role of culture, community and the arts in the contemporary world.
Yeats Fund Awardees 2015
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of WB Yeats’ birth and in recognition of his enduring inspiration to Irish life, the inaugural Yeats Fund has allocated €160,000 to twenty creative organisations and groups in Ireland.
Funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (DAHG) as part of the official Decade of Commemorations and administered by the Western Development Commission (WDC), the Yeats2015 programme celebrates the artistic and cultural vibrancy of Ireland, through the prism of one of its most renowned literary icons.
Recipients of the 2015 funding awards are:
- Coole Music
- Cúirt Literary Festival
- Hawk’s Well Theatre & Fidget Feet Aerial Dance Company
- John Carty – Performing Artist
- Liz Roche Dance Company for Bastard Amber as part of Dublin Dance Festival
- National Gallery of Ireland
- SO Fine Art Editions
- The Model, home of the Niland Collection
- Dublin City Council Arts Office
- Ceol Productions – Where Benbulben Sets the Scene
- KBC Great Music in Irish Houses Festival
- Sligo County Council / Tread Softly Festival
- The Hamilton Gallery – Yeats Related Exhibitions
- Blue Raincoat Theatre Company – Theatre of Yeats
- Lily & Lolly Craftfest
- Sligo Tidy Towns – Yeats Mural & Poetry Trail
- EFACIS, European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies – EFACIS
- The Yeats Society – The 56th Yeats International Summer School
Yeats: The Man
W.B. Yeats is Ireland’s greatest poet and considered by many the finest poet of the twentieth century.
He brought a revolutionary new voice into Irish literature – while initially rooting his work in Ireland’s ancient myths and folklore he was also a distinctly modern poet. Seamus Heaney noted that Yeats was both the founder and inheritor of traditions: with a lifelong interest in the occult and in Irish mythology, an openness to European art and eastern philosophy, and with a sceptical, questioning intellect.
Yeats was born in Dublin in 1865, into an extraordinarily talented artistic family: his father John Butler Yeats was a renowned portraitist, his sisters Susan (Lily) and Elizabeth (Lolly) were innovative craftworkers and printers, and his brother Jack Yeats became Ireland’s most celebrated painter. The family moved between Dublin, London and Sligo while Yeats was growing up. His mother was from the well-established business family of Pollexfens and Middletons in Sligo, and Yeats stayed there for long periods in his youth, coming to think of it as his spiritual home.
The year 1889 was a signature one in his life, as the publication of The Wanderings of Oisin in London marked his debut as a major poet. It was also when he first met the beautiful Maud Gonne (‘a goddess’) who became his muse, although his love was famously unrequited.
His sisters, Lily and Lolly were pre-eminent in the Arts and Crafts movement of Ireland and Yeats became associated with it through his support of their print and craft workshop Cuala Industries, set up in Dublin in 1908.
In adulthood, Yeats continued to divide his time mainly between Dublin and London, although also putting down roots in County Galway. He first met Lady Augusta Gregory in 1896, and was soon spending summers at her home in Coole Park, close to Gort. There the project of an Irish literary theatre was initially developed, with Lady Gregory, George Moore and Edward Martyn. In 1917, Yeats bought a nearby sixteenth century tower house, Thoor Ballylee, as his family home, and, after extensive renovation, was able to live there in the summer months.
By then, after Gonne had turned him down yet again, Yeats had met and married George Hyde Lees. At this time, he was 51 and she was 25. They went on to have two children, Anne and Michael. George shared his interest in the occult and automatic writing, and they were together until the poet’s death in 1939, at Menton, France. In keeping with his wishes, he was initially buried in France, and in 1948 his remains were re-interred at the graveyard in Drumcliffe, County Sligo, where his great-grandfather had been rector. Carved on the simple limestone headstone is the epitaph he composed: ‘Cast a cold Eye On Life, on Death. Horseman, pass by!’ It was an ironic twist of fate that overseeing the operation as Irish Minister of External Affairs was Maude Gonne’s son, Sean McBride.
As well as travelling extensively in France, Spain, Italy, and the United States, Yeats was deeply affected by eastern art and philosophy, especially that of India and Japan. Yeats2015 celebrates the strong connection he had with all the places that inspired him.
Yeats was a maker of extraordinary love poems and an architect of modernism, and many of his most powerful lines have entered the language. Yeats is unusual among poets in that he produced some of his best work after the age of fifty. However, his early poems, such as Song of Wandering Aengus, The Lake Isle of Innisfree and He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, retain a special place in the popular imagination. The way he put words together changed utterly as he grew older: from an early lush lyricism, he developed a spare, hard, late style. An uncompromising attitude to creative excellence was a part of his inheritance.
Yeats lived at a time of national, international and artistic upheaval, all of which is reflected in his writings. He was for a period deeply involved in the nationalist movement. His work explored the complexities of the formation of the new state and helped give expression to a new Irish identity. A spearhead of the Irish Literary Revival, he spurred a resurgence of interest in Irish mythology and in Irish literature.
Yeats was the first Irishman to be awarded the Nobel Prize, in 1923. He saw the award as ‘part of Europe’s welcome to the Free State’, and said he accepted on behalf of all who had worked with him in the Irish Literary Revival. Such artistic generosity was not unusual. Yeats was a cultural revolutionary who became a remarkable cultural entrepreneur.
Passionate about artistic freedoms and minority rights, he was appointed to the first Senate of the Free State in 1922 and again in 1925. He spoke out strongly against censorship and in support of the right to divorce. Yeats also chaired the commission to create the coinage of the new state, seeking a form that was “elegant, racy of the soil, and utterly unpolitical”. The commission produced coin designs featuring Irish animals that remained in use until the introduction of the euro in 2001.
In the final decade of his life, Yeats engaged with the new medium of radio, recording ten of his poems on the BBC between 1931 and 1937.
W.B Yeats’ profound connection with landscape and architecture served as inspiration for many of his greatest works. Ireland is the setting for nearly all his poems and plays, whether the city’s ‘grey eighteenth-century houses’ or the geography, stones and trees of the west.
His unrequited love for the beautiful Maud Gonne affected the course of his life and work, while his collaboration with his wife George altered the texture of his poetry.
Yeats had a multi-dimensional talent; a supreme poet and dramatist, he was also a critic, a journalist, a politician, and leader of Ireland’s literary revival. He was a founding member of what became the national theatre of the new Irish state, the internationally renowned Abbey Theatre. In addition, he had a strong interest in art, and dance. With its diverse programme of events, Yeats2015 celebrates this rich cultural harvest.
A spearhead of what became known as the Irish Literary Revival, he spurred a resurgence of interest in Irish mythology and in Irish literature, and was for a time deeply involved in the nationalist movement. His work explored the complexities of the formation of the new state and helped give expression to a new Irish identity. Passionate about artistic freedoms and minority rights, he was appointed to the first Senate of the Free State in 1922 and again in 1925. He spoke out strongly against censorship and in support of the right to divorce. Yeats also chaired the commission to create the coinage of the new state, seeking a form that was “elegant, racy of the soil, and utterly unpolitical”. The commission produced coin designs featuring Irish animals that remained in use until the introduction of the euro in 2001.
His increasing identification with a Protestant tradition and his brief flirtation with authoritarian politics remains controversial. But most of all he promoted new art, championing writers as diverse as James Joyce, Frank O’Connor, and J. M. Synge, working with an astonishing variety of artists, actors, musicians, theatre designers, printmakers, producers, and dancers. From his involvement in the ground-breaking Cuala Press to his pioneering work as a radio broadcaster, his legacy is just as varied. His belief in art’s power – that words could change the world – makes his example still powerfully resonant today.